Internet Freedom Policy Act

markey-photo.jpg Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Chip Pickering (R-MS) have introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, which will amend Title I of the Communications Act of 1934 to say Internet freedom, commerce, innovation, participation, and speech are the policy of the United States. It’s interesting what this bill does not say. It doesn’t specify any regulations, so that those who oppose net neutrality don’t have a leg to stand on when they say net neutrality is all about regulation. It doesn’t say “net neutrality”: it says “freedom”, “marketplace”, “innovation”, and other positive benefits. (I think I’ll take a cue from Commissioner Copps and start referring to Internet freedom.) It doesn’t say “consumers” except a few times, including once where that word is immediately qualified by
(i) access, use, send, receive, or offer lawful content, applications, or services over broadband networks, including the Internet;
Let’s see, if “consumers” can send their own content, applications, and service, they’re not really consumers in the traditional sense, now are they?

This is all very nice, in that Markey and Pickering apparently get it about what Internet freedom is about. However, why does this bill have no teeth, unlike Markey’s bill of last year or the Snowe-Durgan bill before that?

Well, what it does have is a requirement for the FCC to hold

a minimum of 8 public broadband summits, in geographically diverse locations, around the United States. The Commission shall publicly announce the time and location of each such summit at least 30 days in advance.
Now that’s a big improvement over the FCC’s current practice of not announcing hearings on their own website at all, and not even telling its own commissioners more than a week in advance. Plus it requires the FCC to report back to Congress within 90 days, with substantive summaries and recommendations. That’s a big change from the current FCC Chair’s non-reports to Congress.

Oh, and the best part:

(c) Internet Input- As part of the proceeding required under subsection (a), the Commission shall seek to utilize broadband technology to encourage input from and communication with the people of the United States through the Internet in a manner that will maximize the ability of such people to participate in such proceeding.
The bill requires the FCC to facilitate Internet participation. Ah, the irony.

OK, but it’s going to take more than policies and meetings and reports to stop the duopoly from filtering everything to police Hollywood copyrights or censoring political speech or stifling services it doesn’t like. Yet this Congress won’t pass a law with teeth. Instead this bill requires the FCC that has thus far been an agent of media consolidation and duopoly-enabling to build the case for Internet freedom and deliver it to Congress, by the simple expedient of requiring the FCC to hold public meetings and collect the public’s overwhelming support. Forcing the FCC to facilitate the users’ revolt. Sweet. And if the FCC refuses or fails to do this, there will be even more reason to can some commissioners next year.

Also, while Tim Wu may be naive about what AT&T is up to with filtering, he gets it about what the economic end result will be if nothing is done:

Behind every great and abusive monopoly almost always lies a network … a network that has been co-opted, which has been turned into a discriminatory network, and which has been then used to carry out and further the power of the monopoly.

So when we are talking about these complicated issues of Comcast blocking and what’s going on with NARAL what we are really talking about is whether we will allow these networks to become the seeds of a new generation of dangerous and abusive monopolies.

Your Internet: Open or Closed?, 16 Feb 2008