Net Neutrality Unplugged

Posted on September 30, 2010 by Comments Off

This week, National Journal leaked Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) anticipated draft net neutrality legislation, which seeks to reach a compromise between net neutrality hardliners and industry supporters. The bill, which reads very similar to a plan put forward by Google and Verizon a few weeks ago, would still implement many of the net neutrality principles championed by the FCC, albeit with some caveats:

Now, the debate on why business should oppose net neutrality or why network neutrality is good for business is a long and complicated narrative that I’m not going to touch upon, but talking points aside, where, how and why did all of this net neutrality mess begin? What is this argument all about?

In 2004, then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell developed four governing principles to guide the FCC’s role in maintaining an open and free Internet:

  1. Freedom to access content — Consumers should have access to their choice of legal content.
  2. Freedom to use applications — Consumers should be able to run applications of their choice.
  3. Freedom to attach personal devices — Consumers should be permitted to attach any devices they choose to the connection in their homes.
  4. Freedom to obtain service plan information — Consumers should receive meaningful information regarding their service plans.

Thus, the net neutrality debate in the U.S. began. Last year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski introduced another two principles as part of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan last year:

  1. Non-discrimination — Broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications.
  2. Transparency — Providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices.

Given that Congress is so close to its November election recess, it looks like the window is rapidly closing for any sort of action on net neutrality. Will Waxman fast-track his bill through the House and gain some Republican support? Better yet, will it even matter if Waxman’s bill passes through the House at the last second, given that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) took control of the Senate and vowed to stop all legislation not on his desk by Tuesday? We’ll know soon enough, hopefully.

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