Sunday, November 27, 2005
NETWORK NEUTRALITY: After Brand X, advocacy groups making it a top priority
FROM: Technology Daily
POSTED: June 27, 2005
After Court Ruling, Advocacy Groups
Focusing On 'Network Neutrality'
By David Hatch
Public advocacy groups are making "network neutrality" a top legislative priority after the Supreme Court handed them a defeat Monday -- and they could be boosted by support from Amazon.com, Microsoft and other corporations, sources said.
Those companies, along with other members of the Coalition of Broadband Users and Innovators -- such as Yahoo and eBay -- want to safeguard customer access to their new and existing high-speed Internet services. But opposition from the cable industry is expected to be fierce.
Meanwhile, Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska and Commerce ranking member Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, vowed late Monday to review the impact of the court's ruling in the so-called Brand X case on public-interest obligations -- including contributions to the $6.5 billion Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes telecom service in rural and impoverished areas. Both lawmakers are strong proponents of the fund, and Stevens plans to introduce a universal service reform bill in an effort to strengthen the program.
One source, speaking on background, suggested that the high court's classification of cable-delivered high speed Internet as an "information service" means the technology also would not be subject to public interest requirements governing 911 emergency service, consumer privacy, law enforcement wiretapping, and communications access for the disabled.
"[A committee review] will permit us to consider what steps may be necessary from the Congress or the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that our communications laws preserve competition and protect the interests of consumers," Stevens and Inouye wrote.
Network neutrality would bar cable companies from blocking or degrading competing telecommunications, media or commercial services offered over broadband pipes. The restrictions likely would extend to phone providers of high-speed Internet. The high court ruled Monday that broadband over cable modems should not be subject to "common carrier" rules requiring the sharing of networks with competitors.
"Network neutrality is no such thing," Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, responded during a Monday press briefing. His industry has a business incentive to preserve the rights of cable-modem customers to go anywhere online, he said, and network neutrality would create a solution for a non-existent problem.
Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, will champion the neutrality cause by seeking to add anti-discriminatory protections to telecom legislation being drafted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a source said.
"My goal will be to ensure that national broadband policy reflects the open architecture model of the Internet and remains a medium friendly to innovation," Markey said in a statement. "Congress intended that cable broadband services should be treated with the same openness and access that consumers and Internet providers enjoy today over telephone lines," he added, while declaring, "Unfortunately, today's ruling is both anti-consumer and anti-competition."
But House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, may not be receptive to Markey's goals. "I commend the court for upholding the FCC's deregulatory approach to broadband services," Barton said in a statement, adding that the "FCC correctly determined that broadband services should not be regulated as common carriage."
Said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., chairman of the Senate Commerce Technology Subcommittee, "It is my hope that Congress can build on the Supreme Court's decision today on Brand X by updating our nation's communications laws" and removing barriers to innovation.
SSen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Commerce Committee member, wants the FCC to protect independent players on the Internet and is willing to consider a legislative fix, a source said. But the source suggested that the court's decision could be moot in a few years -- because the telecom legislation envisioned by lawmakers would kill the regulatory framework that classifies technologies as "information" or "telecommunications" services.
"I think it's an uphill battle," Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said of the chances of finding support for network neutrality among influential GOP lawmakers. Nevertheless, he said the court's ruling in National Cable and Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet, would galvanize cable industry critics. "There will be a growing call on the part of the civil-liberties community and the Internet community to reverse this decision," he said.
Gigi Sohn, president of the watchdog group Public Knowledge, said anti-discriminatory safeguards could be outlined in a few sentences. But a congressional source suggested that provisions would be lengthier and more complicated. The FCC or another agency, Sohn said, should be charged with enforcing the requirements.
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