Rep. Markey's legislation would enshrine FCC principles into law.
While the Senate seems content to let network neutrality slide for
another two years, House members are pushing ahead with a hearing May 6
to turn the Federal Communications Commission's principles on the issue
Introduced by Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Chip Pickering, R-Miss.,
the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 would also require the
FCC to hold eight public "summits" about network neutrality and to
report back to Congress with its findings and recommendations.
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In August 2005, the FCC ruled that consumers are entitled to access
the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and
services of their choice and plug in and run legal devices of their
choice. The FCC also said consumers have a right to competition among
network providers, application and service providers, and content
However, as Comcast has repeatedly pointed out in defense of the
cable broadband provider's throttling of some peer-to-peer
applications, the FCC's principles are not likely to hold up in court.
"It is settled law that policy statements do not create binding
legal obligations," Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen
wrote in a March filing with the FCC. "Indeed, the Internet Policy
Statement expressly disclaimed any such intent."
Nevertheless, broadband providers such as Comcast, AT&T and
Verizon have adamantly opposed congressional actions on network
neutrality, contending that whatever issues arise are best sorted out
by the FCC.
Markey's bill would change that.
"The bill contains no requirements for regulations on the Internet
whatsoever," Markey said when he introduced the legislation in
February. "It does, however, suggest that the principles which have
guided the Internet's development and expansion are highly worthy of
retention, and it seeks to enshrine such principles in the law as guide
stars for U.S. broadband policy."
Comcast has been at the center of a network neutrality controversy
since the Associated Press reported the cable company is "throttling"
its broadband network traffic, which involves blocking or slowing the
uploading and downloading speeds of lawful applications and content,
particularly P2P applications such as BitTorrrent.
While Comcast admits to throttling traffic, the cable giant says its
policy falls within the FCC's reasonable network management exception
to the agency's network neutrality rules. Comcast also claims the
throttling is "imperceptible to the customer."
The FCC has held two public hearings so far on the matter, and last
month FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told a Senate committee the cable giant
is throttling more traffic than it has previously admitted. Martin also
told lawmakers it appears Comcast broadband customers are not free to
access all content on the Internet, including the ability to fully use
"It does not appear that this technique [throttling] was used only
to occasionally delay traffic at particular nodes suffering from
network congestion at that time," Martin told the lawmakers April 22.
According to Martin, the testimony so far presented to the FCC
indicates Comcast's efforts at managing P2P traffic "is typically
deployed over a wider geographic or system area and would therefore
have impacted nodes within a system simultaneously."
Markey, who as a member of the then-minority Democrats
unsuccessfully pushed for network neutrality in the 2006 telecom reform
bill, has been a longtime proponent of net neutrality. Since the
Democrats took over Congress last year, Markey has used his new
chairmanship of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the
Internet to hold a series of hearings on network neutrality and other
Senators Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine,
introduced legislation in January 2007 to impose network neutrality
conditions on broadband carriers. The bill, also known as the Internet
Freedom Preservation Act, would prohibit broadband carriers from
discriminatory practices such as pricing in handling traffic from
Internet content, application and service providers.
The legislation would also require carriers to offer consumers
individual broadband service that is not bundled with television or
The Senate has yet to hold a hearing on the bill.