Markey introduces new net neutrality legislation

by Martin H. Bosworth, Consumer Affairs

Legislation in Congress yesterday would preserve "net neutrality," the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. The bill would prohibit Internet service providers blocking or favoring content or charging content providers additional fees to expedite their offerings.

The "Internet Freedom Preservation Act," introduced by Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chip Pickering (R-MS), would amend the Communications Act of 1934 "to preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of broadband networks that enable consumers to reach, and service providers to offer, lawful content, applications, and services of their choosing, using their selection of devices, as long as such devices do not harm the network."

The Act would mandate that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) conduct investigations to ensure that broadband Internet providers are not blocking or "unreasonably" thwarting traffic within 90 days of the act's passage.

The FCC would also be tasked to conduct at least eight "broadband summits" in different parts of the country, bringing together diverse groups of citizens to discuss "competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues related to broadband Internet access services."

Supporters of net neutrality, led by the "Save The Internet" interest group coalition, cheered the introduction of the bill and urged supporters to contact Congress asking them to pass the law.

"The introduction of this legislation gives hope to the millions of Americans who want the public — not phone and cable companies — in control of the Internet," said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press. "This bill takes the issue outside the Beltway — and away from the corrupting influence of telecom lobbyists — to the communities across the country that want to share in the enormous economic and social benefits of an open Internet."

Second chance at bat

Markey introduced similar legislation as amendments to a massive update of the Communications Act in the previous Republican-controlled Congress. Although attempts to update the Act were scuttled over net neutrality concerns, Markey's bills were not passed into law.

Since that time, cable provider Comcast was caught surreptitiously interfering with users' ability to share media with the BitTorrent file-sharing system, provoking an FCC investigation.

Comcast, meanwhile, is defending its actions. It said yesterday that it purposely slows down some traffic on its network, including some music and movie downloads, saying such actions are necessary to ensure better flow of traffic over its network.

Comcast was also found to cancel the subscriptions of users who allegedly exceeded the company's undisclosed caps on bandwith usage, provoking ire from customers who wanted clear terms on how much bandwith they can use for how long.

The FCC itself, which had formerly taken a generally laissez-faire attitude toward net neutrality and Internet regulation in general, also found itself under increased pressure from the new Democratic-majority Congress over many of its recent rulings and procedures. The FCC recently announced it would hold a hearing to discuss broadband network management practices on February 26 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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