Cantwell, Franken introduce legislation to protect net neutrality

Office of Senator Maria Cantwell:

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011 to ensure the broadband Internet continues to serve as a source of innovation, free speech, and job growth. Though Cantwell believes that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) acted within its authority to issue its own net neutrality rules last December, she stated at the time that they were not strong enough to ensure the Internet remains a source of innovation and economic growth. U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) is an original cosponsor of the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act.

“Network neutrality principles are the foundation the Internet was built on,” said Senator Cantwell. “They support a layered architecture, open standards, and an end-to-end design that gives end users the power to create and commercialize their innovation without having to ask permission from network operators.

“The reason a seemingly technical issue such as net neutrality has become such a politicized fight is that the financial stakes are so high. If we let telecom oligarchs control access to the Internet, consumers will lose. The actions that the FCC and Congress take now will set the ground rules for competition on the broadband Internet, impacting innovation, investment, and jobs for years to come. My bill returns the broadband cop back to the beat, and creates the same set of obligations regardless of how consumers get their broadband.”

“Net neutrality is one of the most important issues facing our country today,” said Senator Franken. “The recent FCC ruling on net neutrality does not do nearly enough to protect consumers, and this bill is designed to maintain a free and open Internet. This isn’t just about speech, it's also about entrepreneurship and innovation, and it’s about our economy.”

The Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act creates a new section in Title II of the Communications Act by codifying the six net neutrality principles in the FCC’s November 2009 Notice of Proposed Rule Making for preserving the open Internet. Additionally, the legislation prohibits broadband operators from requiring content, service, or application providers from paying for prioritized delivery of their Internet Protocol (IP) packets, also known as pay-for priority. The bill also calls for broadband providers to work with local, middle-mile providers on fair and reasonable terms and network management conditions. All of these obligations apply to all broadband Internet platforms, both wireline and wireless.

Cantwell’s legislation also takes several steps to promote the adoption of broadband, such as requiring broadband providers to provide service to an end user upon reasonable request and requiring broadband providers to offer standalone broadband Internet access at reasonable rates, terms, and conditions. The bill also tells the FCC that if it extends the Universal Service Fund (USF) to include broadband access, only those broadband providers offering standalone broadband Internet access service will be able to participate in the new broadband fund.

This legislation further increases consumer protection by requiring all charges, practices, classifications, and regulations related to broadband Internet access service meet a public interest “just and reasonable” standard. Currently, broadband Internet access falls under Title I of the Communications Act, making it unclear what protections consumers have. Cantwell’s legislation allows broadband service users who believe their broadband provider has violated their net neutrality obligations to file a complaint at either the FCC or a U.S. District Court (but not both). Additionally, State Attorneys General can file on behalf of its residents and seek either to enforce the act or to seek civil penalties.

“Without the strong protections provided by this bill, broadband Internet providers will likely favor their own or affiliated content, service, and applications because they have the economic incentives and technical means to do so,” said Senator Cantwell. “This could lead to a tiered Internet with premium fast lanes and slow lanes for the rest of us. We can’t afford to let this happen if our nation is to achieve the important broadband goals put forward in the National Broadband Plan.”

Several organizations provided letters of support for Cantwell’s legislation. Free Press wrote, “[Cantwell’s] legislation provides a responsible long-term solution to the shortcomings of the Commission’s rules and is necessary to protect the Internet against the threats it faces.” Public Knowledge wrote, “Enacting [Cantwell’s] legislation into law or updating the FCC rules will ensure equal protection for all broadband consumers and would guarantee to all Americans that the Internet will remain open to competition, free speech, and innovation.” And Consumers Union wrote, “Your bill to preserve a free and open Internet provides certainty regarding the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to propose and adopt rules that will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of affordable broadband and access to all devices and available content on the Internet.”

article originally published at Office of Senator Maria Cantwell.

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