The Internet Freedom Preservation Act was re-introduced in the House yesterday by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass, according to an article in the Associated Press. The bill, which is cosponsored by Rep. Chip Pickering (Rep), was originally introduced by the two in a Republican house in 2006, but failed to gain passage.
The IFPA seeks to prohibit ISPs from blocking or interfering with consumers’ rights to access content, applications and services of their choosing over the Internet. Markey’s camp would like to point out that this is not to be considered regulation of the Internet, but a general adherence backed by law of the principals of net neutrality that have spurred the growth and development of the web since its inception.
Under the bill, the FCC would be tasked to monitor broadband service providers for compliance, and to determine whether charging extra for certain services (I’m assuming charging by bandwidth consumption) is lawful. They would also be required to hold eight summits around the country to hear input from groups and industry leaders on competition and services.
The FCC is currently investigating Comcast (CMCSA) for blocking p2p sessions (specifically BitTorrent) by sending a packet, seemingly from the computers involved, to disrupt the stream. Chairman Kevin Martin indicates that he understands traffic management is necessary, but Comcast should be forthright about what and how they are doing it.
Comcast complied. On February 12th they submitted an eighty page filing with the FCC, disclosing their traffic throttling practices, and asking the Agency to declare them reasonable. On January 25th they revised their Acceptable Use Policy and updated the FAQ page in an effort to become “more transparent” to consumers.
In early January, Time Warner Cable (TWC) announced that they would begin charging new users on a per usage basis, effectively eliminating unlimited access. TW says that only 5% of users would be affected, and most would not even notice the difference.
The Fox Guarding the Hen House?
Since the beginning of the net neutrality debate, ISPs have agued against “regulation” of the Internet. In an effort to stave off legislation, the industry agreed to abide by the Commissions Internet Policy Statement, a rather toothless document as “Comcast respectively reminds the Commission…of its own words”:
“that the Internet Policy Statement expressly sets forth “guidance and insight in its approach to the Internet and broadband,” not legally binding rules”.
With the failure of the first attempt of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act to pass, the ISP industry has effectively been regulating itself to conform to the vaguest principals of net neutrality. And the results are clear.
The practice of bandwidth throttling clearly violates the principal that consumers have the right to access any legal content, device, or application they choose.
Comcast says, “Independent research has shown that as few as 15 simultaneous BitTorrent sessions . . . in a geographic area served by a single node . . . can severely slow down the time it takes for all users in that area to surf the Web and can degrade the quality and reliability of VoIP calls below the threshold of what is considered to be on par with traditional phone service.”
While traffic management does need to be done to prevent network congestion, spoofing computers to break off a file sharing session is not the way to do it. If a node in a neighborhood is regularly getting congested, then add another node. Tampering with traffic from a specific application is effectively determining what the user can or cannot access. Find other ways. Spend some money.
Paying for bandwidth usage is currently practiced in other countries, with consumers complaining about having to budget their monthly allotment. While it may only affect 5% now, new applications and technologies are being implemented now with more on the horizon.
Public acceptance of streaming video and VoIP is growing, with apps like AppleTV and Netflix’s unlimited streaming plan coming to market. IPTV and Unified Communications are going to be pushing the limits of your pipe, deal with it. Penalizing consumers by making them pay for bandwidth will only serve to stifle development of these emerging rich media technologies.
Without a net neutrality law in place, publicly traded service providers will always straddle the fence between their customers and shareholders. More often than not, they will opt for the bottom line, leaving consumers rights by the wayside.
It is exactly the absence of such legislation that has allowed the cell phone industry to wall in their gardens, offering dumbed down browsers that only access the content that the provider wants you to see (and pay them for). Left to their own devices, ISPs could be headed down the same road. If it starts with BitTorrent, where does it stop?
I have been reading some of the comments around the blogesphere, and have found that many that are against the passage of the IFPA seem to be worried about all the bad things that could happen from a free and open Internet. To them I say, if you’re scared, don’t go there, but don’t deny the millions of consumers their freedom of choice.
When this Democrat Congress took office in 2007, they said a Net Neutrality act was on the agenda, and now it is here. As might be expected, generally Republicans are against it and Democrats for. Read my post Where the Candidates Stand, Technicaly Speaking to find out where our Presidential hopefuls fall on the issue.
For consumers that feel as I do, and believe that legislation preserving the Internet as we know it should be in place, visit SaveTheInternet.com, type in your zip code, and urge your Congressman to vote Yes on the Internet Freedom Preservation Act in 2008.