Senators Push FCC on Network Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should expand the focus of its
network neutrality inquiry to include the impact of carrier practices on
content providers, U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe
(R-Maine) said Monday.

Dorgan and Snowe, who have introduced network neutrality legislation in the
Senate, also expressed disappointment that the FCC chose to start an inquiry
instead of propose concrete network neutrality rules.

Following its 2005 decision
approving four network neutrality principles for end users, the FCC in March
launched a
Notice of Inquiry to determine if the marketplace behavior of broadband
carriers threatens the historic open nature of the Internet.

“We…believe you should be asking how all Internet users are affected rather
than just consumers,” Snowe and Dorgan wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin
Martin. “With a neutral network, any Internet user can be a producer or
consumer. That is the beauty of a free and open Internet.”

Both AT&T and Verizon have floated tentative plans to charge content providers
extra fees based on bandwidth consumption. Neither telecom giant has
implemented the idea.

Proponents of network neutrality claim speed tiers on the Internet would
amount to discriminatory network traffic management, creating fast and slow
lanes for content providers based on ability to pay.

“If [the carriers] get their wishes, the Internet would become a new world where
those content providers who can afford to pay special fees would have better
access to consumers,” Dorgan and Snowe wrote.

Dorgan and Snowe’s bill — 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 telephone service.

The bill is similar to an unsuccessful amendment introduced in the 109th
Congress by Dorgan and Snowe. The then majority Republicans on the Senate
Commerce Committee defeated the
legislation on a narrow vote with Snowe the only Republican voting for the

Other Democrats signing onto the new bill include John Kerry of Massachusetts,
California’s Barbara Boxer, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, New
York’s Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama of Illinois.

“Broadband providers are now technologically capable and financially
incentivized to exercise considerable control over how, when and even if
information can be viewed and shared,” Dorgan and Snow wrote Monday. “They’ve
always had the financial incentives; the technical ability is relatively new,
as is the FCC’s permission to exert such control over content.”

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Congress
should move “very cautiously” on network neutrality laws. The FTC said it was
unable to find any significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm
from conduct by broadband providers.

“Policy makers should be wary of calls for network neutrality regulation
simply because we do not know what the net effects of potential conduct by
broadband providers will be on consumers,” the FTC report states.

“Similarly, we do not know what net effects regulation to proscribe such
conduct would have on consumers.”

The report concludes that a “young and evolving” broadband market will hedge
network discrimination fears, because it is “moving in the direction of more
— not less – competition.” Cable and telephone companies currently control
98 percent of the U.S. broadband connections.

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