Saturday, March 1, 2008

H.R.5353, Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008

Net Neutrality isn't a very hard concept when you think about it. Assume you want to go to the store to pick up a bottle of milk. You drive your Honda to the main road. There you find a gate. You stop and wait for the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper, wearing a Toyota emblazoned shirt, looks at your Honda and says that you can't drive on his portion of the highway unless you are in a Toyota. He would be happy to sell you one. If you are lucky he might tell you that you are confined to the slow lane unless you buy a Toyota. Proponents of Net Neutrality say that allowing Internet gatekeepers to require that you buy their products to seamlessly use the Internet is bullshit.

The potential gatekeepers, mostly giant telecoms like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T want to be able to force you to buy their Toyotas. If they have that power they can make a lot more money and, at least in the case of Verizon, can censor what you know and what you think.

On February 12, 2008, Representatives Edward Markley (D-MA) and Rep. Charles Pickering [R-MS] introduced H.R.5353, Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008

To establish broadband policy and direct the Federal Communications Commission to conduct a proceeding and public broadband summits to assess competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues relating to broadband Internet access services, and for other purposes.
When reading a bill I always first look to its findings because they establish the proponent's underlining assumptions. H.R.5353 finds
(1) The Internet has had profound benefits for numerous aspects of daily life for millions of people throughout the United States and is increasingly vital to the economy of the United States.

(2) The importance of the broadband marketplace to citizens, communities, and commerce warrants a thorough inquiry to obtain input and ideas for a variety of broadband policies that will promote openness, competition, innovation, and affordable, ubiquitous broadband service for all individuals in the United States.
The bill then proposes to amend Title I of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 151 et seq) by adding a new Section 12.

`It is the policy of the United States--

`(1) to maintain the freedom to use for lawful purposes broadband telecommunications networks, including the Internet, without unreasonable interference from or discrimination by network operators, as has been the policy and history of the Internet and the basis of user expectations since its inception;

`(2) to ensure that the Internet remains a vital force in the United States economy, thereby enabling the Nation to preserve its global leadership in online commerce and technological innovation;

`(3) 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; and

`(4) to safeguard the open marketplace of ideas on the Internet by adopting and enforcing baseline protections to guard against unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators based upon its source, ownership, or destination on the Internet.'
It then would require what it calls an Internet Freedom Assessment. I have reprinted that section after the break.


(a) Internet Freedom Assessment Required-

(1) IN GENERAL- Within 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Federal Communications Commission (in this Act referred to as the `Commission') shall commence a proceeding on broadband services and consumer rights.

(2) SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS- As part of the proceeding under this section, the Commission shall assess--

(A) whether broadband network providers adhere to the Commission's Broadband Policy Statement of August, 2005 (FCC 05-151), including whether, consistent with the needs of law enforcement, such providers refrain from blocking, thwarting, or unreasonably interfering with the ability of consumers to--

(i) access, use, send, receive, or offer lawful content, applications, or services over broadband networks, including the Internet;

(ii) use lawful applications and services of their choice; and

(iii) attach or connect their choice of legal devices to use in conjunction with their broadband telecommunications or information services, provided such devices do not harm the network;

(B) whether broadband network providers add charges for quality of service, or other similar additional fees or surcharges, to certain Internet applications and service providers, and whether such pricing conflicts with the policies of the United States stated in section 12 of the Communications Act of 1934 (as added by section 3 of this Act);

(C) whether broadband network providers offer to consumers parental control protection tools, services to combat unsolicited commercial electronic mail, and other similar consumer services, the manner in which such services are offered, and the extent to which such services are consistent with such policies of the United States;

(D) practices by which network providers manage or prioritize network traffic, including prioritization for emergency communications, and whether and in what instances such practices may be consistent with such policies of the United States;

(E) with respect to content, applications, and services--

(i) the historic economic benefits of an open platform;

(ii) the relationship between competition in the broadband Internet access market and an open platform; and

(iii) the policy choices and results of global competitors with respect to access competition and an open platform;

(F) whether the need for enforceable rules governing openness, consumer rights, and consumer protections or prohibiting unreasonable discrimination is lessened if a broadband network provider provides significantly high bandwidth speeds to consumers; and

(G) the potential of policies promoting openness in spectrum allocation, universal service programs, and video franchising to expand innovation through protection from unreasonable interference by network owners of an open marketplace for speech and commerce in content, applications, and services.

(b) Public Broadband Summits Required-

(1) IN GENERAL- As part of the proceeding required under subsection (a), and within 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commission shall conduct a minimum of 8 public broadband summits, in geographically diverse locations, around the United States. The Commission shall publicly announce the time and location of each such summit at least 30 days in advance.

(2) PURPOSE OF PUBLIC BROADBAND SUMMITS- Such public broadband summits shall seek to bring together, among others, consumers, consumer advocates, small business owners, corporations, venture capitalists, State and local governments, academia, labor organizations, religious organizations, representatives of higher education, primary and secondary schools, public libraries, public safety, and the technology sector to assess competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues related to broadband Internet access services.

(c) Internet Input- As part of the proceeding required under subsection (a), the Commission shall seek to utilize broadband technology to encourage input from and communication with the people of the United States through the Internet in a manner that will maximize the ability of such people to participate in such proceeding.

(d) Report to Congress- Within 90 days after completing the summits under subsection (b), the Commission shall submit a report to Congress--

(1) summarizing the results of the assessment under subsection (a), including information gained from the public summits under subsection (b); and

(2) providing recommendations on how to promote competition, safeguard free speech, and ensure robust consumer protections and consumer choice relating to broadband Internet access services.
Monday the FCC held a hearing in Boston on the topic of whether Comcast has violated agency policy by interfering with certain popular point to point applications and, if so, whether "reasonable boundaries" should be put on Comcast's gatekeeper power. Joshua Pantesco of The Jurist filed an outstanding link filled article on the Boston hearing, but he doesn't report one informative little aspect of the hearing picked up by Timothy Karr of the Huffington Post. Comcast hired a bunch of folks off the street to fill up audience seats. Apparently the gatekeepers at the company didn't want to give hearing access to proponents of Net Neutrality. The irony was lost on Comcast's executives.

There are lots of opponents to Net Neutrality on the web. Mostly they seem to be Internet equivalents of Comcast's Boston seat fillers.