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Paths to preserving an open Internet
Submitted by jonathan on Tue, 2010-10-19 08:33
by Sen. Tom Udall, Politico
It is beyond cliché to note how important the Internet is in modern life. The Internet has transformed not only the telecommunications landscape but also our economy and society.
Over the years, the Net has morphed from a complicated medium for scientists and computer engineers into a network for telecommuting to school or the office, a marketplace for e-commerce and a place to connect with friends via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.
All these Internet services and applications stem from a complex, decentralized network of computers and data transmission lines. The ability to instantly connect via computer or mobile device to a vast array of destinations on this “information superhighway” has unleashed an explosion of innovation over the past 20 years. As computer processors become more powerful and new online applications and services become available, the Internet becomes increasingly essential to how we live.
This openness to a constant stream of innovations and new services is a defining feature of the Internet. At its core, the principle of “network neutrality” is freedom to access any legal, online content without restrictions from Internet service providers. In our country, we have had the luxury to take this virtually limitless power for granted — despite the fact that it is not guaranteed by law.
Some proponents of Net neutrality argue that this openness may someday be a thing of the past and that the Internet service providers we pay to get online may control our access to this vital communications network.
While these providers should be rewarded for the enormous investments and innovations they bring to the market, the open Internet should not be jeopardized to boost the profit of a handful of companies. This is especially true in a rural state such as New Mexico.
In 2008, the Federal Communications Commission sanctioned Comcast for intentionally blocking their subscribers’ use of a peer-to-peer file-sharing program. Though Comcast agreed to stop this practice, the company challenged the FCC’s authority to force them to do so.
In a far-reaching decision, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals later found that the FCC lacks authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks. This decision has sparked an FCC investigation of ways to protect the open Internet — and ignited a new debate over network neutrality.
So what role should Congress have in this? Republicans and Democrats agree that any potential government involvement regarding the Internet should be minimal. However, it’s clear that, absent any federal oversight to preserve the open Internet, companies could use their market power to check the rise of new businesses or extract excessive fees from both subscribers and content providers. Worse, they could potentially block legal content for commercial or other purposes.
In the wake of the Comcast decision, two clear paths to preserve an open Internet exist.
First, the FCC should reinstate its limited authority over broadband access services by partially reclassifying Internet communications as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act. The goal would be to restore the status quo that existed before the Comcast ruling.
Opposition claims that this partial reclassification of Internet services amounts to a government takeover of the Internet are patently false and outrageous. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has made clear that the agency’s “policies should not include regulating Internet content, constraining reasonable network management practices of broadband providers or stifling new business models or managed services that are pro-consumer and foster innovation and competition.”
Second, at this time of technological transformation to an increasingly mobile broadband era, Congress must reauthorize the Communications Act of 1996 and give the FCC new legal framework to ensure Net neutrality.
The FCC’s mission is to make telecommunications services available to all Americans. Today, that must include open broadband Internet services — and providing clear authority from Congress is the best approach. Unfortunately, the last time Congress seriously attempted to meet this challenge, in 2006, our efforts failed in the Senate.
In the next Congress, I hope that members from both sides of the aisle can work constructively together to assure that the FCC has authority and the policy tools to meet its responsibility to make telecommunications services available across America.
Our constituents expect nothing less of us. Meanwhile, the FCC should use the tools already at its disposal to ensure that our nation has world-class broadband networks that help all Americans.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.article originally published at Politico.