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Net Neutrality Legislation Returns, But to a Different Playing Field

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, August 3 2009

There might be one silver lining in Apple's shut-out of Google Voice from its iTunes store.
(A development we'll have more on in a bit.) On Friday, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and other net neutrality advocates reintroduced legislation to prohibit network discrimination. This is Markey's third pass at a net neutrality bill. This time, though, he has in hand -- and on the front pages -- a clear example of what happens when them that runs the networks decides what runs on those networks. Our wireless space doesn't operate under principles of neutrality. So if providers (AT&T) and phone manufactures (Apple) decide they don't like something (Google Voice), that's in many ways the beginning and the end of it.

H.R. 3458 seeks to spare the Internet from the wireless world's fate.

Introduced by both Markey and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the Internet Freedom Preservation Act requires that Internet Service Providers "not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use an Internet access service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any lawful content, application, or service through the Internet."

Markey and Eshoo's bill puts consumers at the center. It charges the Federal Communications Commission with coming up with regulations that restrain ISPs from accepting payment to privilege certain content over other content or providing services that improve a users experience using one website or application over another. Additionally, ISPs are required to provide stand-along Internet service to consumers, rather than insisting that they pay for "triple play"-type bundled services that include phone and cable. And H.R. 3458 insists that Internet Service Providers lay out in clear and human-readable language what Internet services and speeds consumers are paying for, and what they should expect to get.

Of course, one (wo)man's Internet discrimination is an ISP engineer's network shaping. To create room for ISPs to legally engage in the sort of service management they all do anyway, the bill reads, "H.R. 3458 makes clear that it does not prohibit an Internet access provider from engaging in reasonable network management consistent with the policies and duties of nondiscrimination and openness set forth in the bill." To address law enforcement concerns, the bill continues, "nor does the legislation affect any law or regulation addressing prohibited or unlawful activity, including any laws or regulations prohibiting theft of content." Ars Technica's Nate Anderson has more detail on what the bill does.

What are the prospects for the Internet Freedom Preservation Act the third time around? Dunno. Advocates like the folks at Free Press are psyched about it. Of course, it behooves them to show enthusiasm around the bill's introduction. But there's also more reason for them to be hopeful this time around. There's a net neutrality advocate in the White House, in the form of Barack Obama. There's another heading up the FCC, in the form of Julius Genachowski. That said, H.R. 3458 is headed for consideration in the House Energy and Commerce Committee led by Henry Waxman. Waxman who has looked favorably upon the idea of ISP non-discrimination by regulation. But he also represents a Beverly Hills constituency that has opposed net neutrality legislation in the past. (Photo by Darren Hester)

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