Net Neut Bill Hits House

The legislation seeks to enshrine the FCC's network neutrality principles into law. 

The Federal Communications Commission's network neutrality principles would become law under legislation introduced Feb. 13 by Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Chip Pickering, R-Miss. The bill would also require the FCC to hold eight public "summits" about network neutrality and to report back to Congress with its findings and recommendations.

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 providers.

However, the FCC principles are not law.

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 Internet-related issues.

"There are some who may wish to assert that this bill regulates the Internet," Markey said in a Feb. 13 statement. "It does no such thing. The bill contains no requirements for regulations on the Internet whatsoever. 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."

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Broadband providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have adamantly opposed network neutrality laws, contending it is a solution in search of a problem. However, a series of highly embarrassing incidents over the last year by Verizon and Comcast have breathed new life into the issue.

In September, Verizon Wireless was caught blocking text messages from the pro-abortion group NARAL Pro-Choice America. Blaming the initial decision to block the messages on an "incorrect interpretation" of company policy, the nation's second largest wireless carrier quickly reversed its decision.

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.

The FCC is currently investigating the complaint against Comcast while Verizon admits it made a mistake in dealing with NARAL Pro-Choice America.

"The goal of this ... legislation is to assure consumers, content providers and high-tech innovators that the historic, open architecture nature of the Internet will be preserved and fostered," Markey said. "H.R. 5353 is designed to assess and promote Internet freedom for consumers and content providers."

His bill drew the immediate praise from network neutrality supporters who have been campaigning for more than three years to push Congress into action.

Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, said in a statement that the bill "will make net neutrality the law of the land, and will require the FCC to protect Internet freedom from the predatory efforts of the telco and cable gatekeepers."

Timothy Karr of Free Press, which coordinates the Coalition, contended in his statement that the legislation "takes the issue outside the Beltway-away from the corrupting influence of telecom lobbyists-to the communities across the country."