Now There Are Two Net Neutrality House Bills
Congressional Net Neutrality proponents appear to be taking a multi-pronged approach to passing legislation to cement what many call the First Amendment of the Internet, a moniker that may oversimplify it a bit. Two days after Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) Internet Freedom and Preservation Act was debated in the House Energy Committee, Representatives John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) re-introduce the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act.
Why two bills? Well, it’s complicated. Markey’s bill is an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934 and seeks to cement the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to enforce four principles internet service providers have all agreed to in principle, so long as they couldn’t be enforced.
Conyers and Lofgren’s bill is a reprisal of a 2006 proposal buried so deep over the past two years it was presumed dead and lost its number to a pesticide tariff bill. Now labeled HR 5994, the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, introduced again today, is an update of the Clayton Antitrust Act making it illegal for broadband providers to "discriminate against, or to interfere with the ability of any person to use a broadband network service to access, to use, to send, to receive, or to offer lawful content, applications or services over the Internet."
Confused? Yeah well, it’s a lot to take in. Most basically, one provides promises for ISPs to live up to and the other makes it so the FCC has the power to make them live up to their promises.
"Americans have come to expect the Internet to be open to everyone," said Conyers, in a statement. "The Internet was designed without centralized control, without gatekeepers for content and services. If we allow companies with monopoly or duopoly power to control how the Internet operates, network providers could have the power to choose what content is available."
Illustrating he doesn’t read the news or has fairly poor reading comprehension, National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow testified on Capitol Hill, in regards to Markey’s bill, that "Broadband providers do not block access to content." Broadband providers’ recent actions have shown otherwise, and one wonders why, if there are no plans to block or manipulate access, providers would be against legislation ensuring they don’t.
Rep. Lofgren agrees. " Recent events have shown that net neutrality is more than a hypothetical concern," she said in a statement related to her own bill. "We need a meaningful remedy to prevent those who control the infrastructure of the Internet from controlling the content on the Internet. [The Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act] will help guarantee that the innovative spirit of the Internet is not trampled."
When AT&T and BellSouth merged, they agreed to a set of Net Neutrality principles set forth by the FCC with Chairman Kevin Martin reminding everybody they were unenforceable. It’s pretty easy, as one might imagine, to agree to an unenforceable hypothetical. Markey’s Bill would enshrine those commitments into law with these goals:
(1) the freedom to use broadband networks without unreasonable interference from or discrimination by network operators
(2) enabling the United States to preserve its global leadership in online commerce and technological innovation
(3) promoting the open and interconnected nature of broadband networks that enable consumers to reach, and service providers to offer, content, applications, and services of their choosing
(4) guarding against unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators based upon its source, ownership, or destination on the Internet.
Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast have all been avid opponents of making these goals stick, (weakly) arguing legislation will stifle innovation and perhaps even kill people*. Interestingly, Comcast recently got in bed with Google, a strong Net Neutrality supporter, via a huge investment in WiMax. Given both companies contentious relationships with AT&T and Verizon, they appear to have at least found a common enemy in the name of wireless competition.
However, Sprint’s involved too, so it’s not like it’s new competition, which is a major point in this debate. When choices are slim, network providers can pretty much do what they want.
*Both have argued that if they are not allowed to discrimate people won’t get much needed medical help that is possible in the next broadband buildout.