Game On For Net Neutrality - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management
Commentary
8/5/2009
04:49 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
Commentary
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Game On For Net Neutrality

The FCC's abrupt intervention last Friday into the quarrel between Apple and Google may have won more than a stay of execution for Google Voice; it may have heralded the beginning of a wide-ranging net neutrality movement in Washington of which Google has long been a proponent.

The FCC's abrupt intervention last Friday into the quarrel between Apple and Google may have won more than a stay of execution for Google Voice; it may have heralded the beginning of a wide-ranging net neutrality movement in Washington of which Google has long been a proponent.Although the timing was clearly coincidental (bills take weeks to draft and the FCC was moved to act on an event that took place earlier the same week), House Democrats Ed Markey and Anna Eshoo introduced the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009" (IFPA) on Thursday afternoon, a day before the FCC's action.

If nothing else, IFPA answers detractors who claim net neutrality supporters can't define net neutrality, and explicitly states why this legislation is necessary:

Internet access service providers have an economic interest to discriminate in favor of their own services, content, and applications and against other providers.

Among other things, IFPA prohibits network operators from:

  • discriminating against or giving preferential treatment with regards to the delivery of content or applications;
  • preventing anyone from accessing the Internet;
  • charging content or service providers extra fees to deliver particular types of content;
  • preventing users from attaching or using devices unless they harm the operator's network; and
  • prioritizing any content, application or service over any other.
  • IFPA also imposes transparency requirements on network operators, forcing them to disclose detailed information about the speed, nature, and limitations of their services.

    Each Internet access service provider must publicly disclose, at a minimum, network management practices that affect communications between a user and a content, application, or service provider in the ordinary, routine use of such broadband service.

    Art Brodsky of advocacy group Public Knowledge blogged on HuffingtonPost that the bill

    embodies the principles of non-discrimination and openness that would bring the Internet out from under the threatened and actual control of the telephone and cable companies and back to the principles on which the Internet was founded.

    Earlier efforts at enacting net neutrality legislation or regulations were scuttled by promises from industry bigwigs that they would never engage in discriminatory behavior, even to protect their business interests.

    But discrimination against the likes of Skype, EchoStar (Slingbox), BitTorrent and now Google Voice seem to have provided enough evidence to the contrary, and it looks like Congress is about to act. And to no one's surprise, Julius Genachowski is running a much more consumer-friendly FCC than his predecessor.

    Brodsky notes:

    Together, the actions of the FCC and the introduction of the bill in Congress signal that the future of the Internet is now in play in the Washington policy arena.

    There are those who will argue that the operators haven't given government any reason to interfere or, more radically, that government should simply keep its mitts off altogether. They argue that in the long run, the market always sorts things out, forgetting that, as John Maynard Keynes once said, "in the long run we're dead."

    Meanwhile, they also conveniently forget that while Al Gore didn't invent it, the Internet isn't a private venture that sprang ex nihilo from the forehead of some captain of industry; it is the outcome of decades of taxpayer-funded research by government and academia. The Internet is a indeed a public good that shouldn't be quietly ceded to a few well-placed conglomerates who would do what they always do, which is act in their own self interest -- and the devil with the rest of us.

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