Net Neutrality Bill Calls On FCC to Babysit Isps


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Net neutrality took center stage again Friday when several House members introduced a bill intended to preserve the open nature of the Web by asking the Federal Communications Commission to keep a watchful eye on Internet service providers.

The Internet Freedom Preservation Act would ban ISPs from blocking, interfering with, or discriminating against lawful applications and devices on the Internet. Those ISPs would also be banned from offering prioritized Internet access or requiring customers to sign up for service other than Internet access.

The bill does allow for “reasonable network management," though the bill calls on the FCC to define what that actually means.

“The Internet is a success today because it was open to everyone with an idea," bill sponsor Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement. “That openness and freedom has been at risk since the Supreme Court decision in Brand X. This bill will protect consumers and content providers because it will restore the guarantee that one does not have to ask permission to innovate."

The 2005 Brand X decision held that cable networks did not have to provide ISPs with access to their networks.

The bill once again highlights the issue of Net neutrality, an issue that gained steam during the Comcast network management inquiry at the FCC and was a focal point in the tech debate during the 2008 election. The main idea behind Net neutrality is that ISPs should provide equal access to the Internet for all – a major company should not be able to go to a major ISP and request that their Web site load faster than the Web site of the mom-and-pop store next door.

Though some have issued support for this kind of tiered approach, most are in agreement that the Internet should remain free and open to all. There is a disconnect, however, over whether the issue should be handled within the industry or by Congress. Democrats like Markey and his co-sponsor Anna Eshoo, are in favor of legislation, whereas Republicans have traditionally pushed for industry self-regulation.

“The Internet has thrived and revolutionized business and the economy precisely because it started as an open technology," Eshoo said in a statement. “This bill will ensure that the non-discriminatory framework that allows the Internet to thrive and competition on the Web to flourish is preserved at a time when our economy needs it the most."

The bill gives the FCC 90 days to come up with rules to make sure the ISPs are staying in line, disclosing their procedures to consumers, providing consumers with adequate bandwidth, and basically not doing anything illegal.

The commission has 180 days to establish rules to ensure that ISPs are not requiring customers to sign up for any other service besides Internet. Forced bundles or packages? Not with this bill.

The FCC has the authority to collect damages from ISPs it finds in violation of these rules.

Under former chairman Kevin Martin, the FCC chose to examine network management issues on a case-by-case basis, but it remains to be seen how new chairman Julius Genachowski will approach the issue.

This is the third time Markey has introduced this bill, the last time being in February 2008.

Markey's bill quickly gained the support of Net neutrality proponents, including U.S. PIRG, Public Knowledge, the Open Internet Coalition, and Free Press.

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This story appears courtesy of PC Magazine.
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