Net Neutrality Gets Two Wins
Net Neutrality supporters got two major victories this week since the introduction of legislation designed to protect Internet users, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has scheduled a public hearing about the issue for later this month.
Already the troops have gathered on both sides of the issue, some on grassroots, others on Astroturf.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) made good on a pledge to bring Net Neutrality before Congress by introducing the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, a bill Markey denies is a form of Internet regulation. The bill grants the FCC much needed authority to investigate whether Internet service providers are abusing their positions.
The approach is important because opponents of regulation fear the legislative approach is too heavy-handed. But shortly after the FCC said it would investigate Comcast because of accusations of blocking BitTorrent traffic, the cable company argued the FCC had no authority to do anything about it.
Markey’s bill would give them authority to do so, and the ability to investigate: how well ISPs are conforming to the FCC’s 2005 broadband policy; to make sure ISPs are not "unreasonably interfering" with customers’ messages or Internet services; to make sure broadband prices are fair; that they provide parental controls; how ISPs run their networks.
That last one is a large and complicated issue, which is why it is the focus of the FCC’s hearing on network management practices. If successful, the FCC may have the actual teeth to ensure AT&T follows its own commitment to Net Neutrality the company signed in order to gain merger approval with BellSouth.
Comcast has argued that it has to manage the traffic on its network, which includes delaying or blocking signals, in order to keep the network at a certain speed for its customers, and Comcast blames bandwidth hogs for that necessity.
They don’t say much about currently losing the capacity war, or the return of metered pricing to cable, but the issue of bandwidth hogs should be moot if the customer has paid for unlimited access. "Unlimited" recently has had a rather fluid definition.
Grassroots organizations have rallied the troops to refute Comcast’s arguments against both the FCC and the proposed legislation. Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press, the organization that founded SaveTheInternet.com, suggests there’s more to Comcast’s actions than just traffic-shaping.
"What Comcast is really doing is specifically squashing new innovative Internet video services that compete with their own online and video-on-demand offerings — and threaten to topple its tightly controlled cable model. Comcast is looking at a future where consumers can access millions of channels online without the cable company’s permission, and doesn’t like it."
Comcast isn’t alone in terms of vehement opposition. AT&T and Verizon have both caused Net Neutrality uproars in the past year, disproving at the same time the old telco argument that Net Neutrality was a solution in search of a problem. Who knew they were that interested in helping their opponents locate the problem?
Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, had similarly fiery rhetoric. "Over the last several months, we have seen repeated activities by the telephone and cable companies that threaten the existence of an open Internet. Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast have all engaged in actions that collectively, if left unchecked, will hasten the end of the Internet as the greatest platform for openness and innovation in our nation’s history."
The fiery rhetoric hasn’t just come from grass roots activists, though. It’s come from the other side, too. The Hands Off the Internet Coalition, an Astroturf organization backed by AT&T and other ISPs, called Markey’s bill "a stalking horse for federal Internet regulation."
The Progress & Freedom Foundation, one of those "think tanks" you hear so much about, also came against the legislation. That’s not surprising given the impressive collection telecom industry chums that run it. W. Kenneth Ferree, president of the PFF, was, at least at one time, pretty good chums with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who ordinarily just hates upsetting the telcos unless the public is coming down on him harder.
Note, though, there’s an investigation pending against Comcast cable, not AT&T. Martin hasn’t gotten along with cable much, which might explain his willingness to break with an old friend over Comcast. The list of companies that fund the PFF reads like a regular who’s-who of despised super-corporations: Big Pharma, Tobacco, Microsoft, the Music Industry, and of course AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner.
Maybe we should change the names of all these "think tanks" that have popped up to "propaganda wagons."