Internet Freedom Preservation Act and Network Management Practices

Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chip Pickering (R-MS) introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 (H.R. 5353).
This bill would “establish broadband policy and direct the Federal Communications Commission to conduct a proceeding and public broadband summits to assess competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues relating to broadband Internet access services.”
It amends the Communications Act of 1934 to include open access principles and establish the importance of the internet for the economy of the US.

  1. to maintain the freedom to use for lawful purposes broadband telecommunications networks, including the Internet, without unreasonable interference from or discrimination by network operators, as has been the policy and history of the Internet and the basis of user expectations since its inception;
  2. to ensure that the Internet remains a vital force in the United States economy, thereby enabling the Nation to preserve its global leadership in online commerce and technological innovation;
  3. to preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of broadband networks that enable consumers to reach, and service providers to offer, lawful content, applications, and services of their choosing, using their selection of devices, as long as such devices do not harm the network; and
  4. to safeguard the open marketplace of ideas on the Internet by adopting and enforcing baseline protections to guard against unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators based upon its source, ownership, or destination on the Internet.

Even though there are four principles, these are somewhat broader than former FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s four freedoms.
The bill requests a report from the FCC about broadband network providers. The information the bill specifically requests is (language somewhat simplified to be less precise, but easier to read. See the original text of the bill for the precise language):

    (A) whether broadband network providers refrain from blocking, thwarting, or unreasonably interfering with the ability of consumers to–

      (i) access, use, send, receive, or offer lawful content, applications, or services
      (ii) use lawful applications and services of their choice; and
      (iii) attach or connect their choice of legal devices, provided such devices do not harm the network;

    (B) whether broadband network providers add charges for quality of service, or other similar additional fees or surcharges, to certain Internet applications and service providers, and whether such pricing conflicts with the policies [set out earlier in this bill]
    (C) whether broadband network providers offer to consumers parental filters, spam filters and similar consumer services;
    (D) practices by which network providers manage or prioritize network traffic, including prioritization for emergency communications, and whether and in what instances such practices may be consistent with such policies of the United States;
    (E) with respect to content, applications, and services–

      (i) the historic economic benefits of an open platform;
      (ii) the relationship between competition in the broadband Internet access market and an open platform; and
      (iii) the policy choices and results of global competitors with respect to access competition and an open platform;

    (F) whether the need for enforceable rules governing openness, consumer rights, and consumer protections or prohibiting unreasonable discrimination is lessened if a broadband network provider provides significantly high bandwidth speeds to consumers; and
    (G) the potential of policies promoting openness in spectrum allocation, universal service programs, and video franchising to expand innovation through protection from unreasonable interference by network owners of an open marketplace for speech and commerce in content, applications, and services.

Finally, the bill would require the FCC to hold at least 8 broadband summits in geographically diverse locations around the US.
Rep. Markey’s press release: Internet Freedom Law Will Keep Internet Open For Future Innovators: “The goal of this bipartisan legislation is to assure consumers, content providers, and high tech innovators that the historic, open architecture nature of the Internet will be preserved and fostered. H.R. 5353 is designed to assess and promote Internet freedom for consumers and content providers. Internet freedom generally embodies the notion that consumers and content providers should be free to send, receive, access and use the lawful applications, content, and services of their choice on broadband networks, possess the effective right to attach and use non-harmful devices to use in conjunction with their broadband services, and that content providers not be subjected to unreasonably discriminatory practices by broadband network providers.”
Howard Feld, The Markey-Pickering “Net Neutrality” Bill: Grinding Out One More First Down In The Internet Freedom Bowl: “This is a good bill — probably the best that can get through in the current Congress. It advances the ball forward in a substantial way, and would make a good law if passed. It doesn’t solve all the problems, but it doesn’t pretend to do so either. It deliberate lines things up for the next step — assuming we get that far.”
Derek Slater, Rep. Markey’s new net neutrality legislation: “Net neutrality is too often painted as just about particular companies’ competing interests, but that’s missing the point. Rather, net neutrality and broadband policy are — and should be — about what’s ultimately best for people, in terms of economic growth as well as the social benefit of empowering individuals to speak, create, and engage one another online using the wide panoply of innovations available to them. In other words, broadband policy should come from the bottom up.”
The Wall Street Journal, Officials Step Up Net-Neutrality Efforts: “Big broadband companies are headed for a clash with Washington over whether consumers have a right to get as much as they want from the Internet, as fast as they want it, without paying extra for the privilege.” Maybe this is better framed as whether the broadband providers have an obligation to disclose how they restrict customers’ use of the internet and whether the public interest should require providers to offer access that does not discriminate against content, source or protocol.
In November, Comcast was found to be blocking and degrading certain P2P and groupware network protocols. The issue with Comcast is not that it is imposing limits on users’ bandwidth, but that it imposes those limits on the use of certain protocols and applications while failing to disclose that the limits exist and the extent of those limits.
Vuze, a online video provider whose software uses the BitTorrent P2P protocol to distribute content filed a complaint with the FCC about these practices Petition to Establish Rules Governing Network Management Practices by Broadband Network Operators. Free Press and Public Knowledge also filed a Formal Complaint against Comcast for Secretly Degrading P2P Applications and a Petition for Declaratory Ruling.
The Commission sought Comments for Declaratory Ruling Regarding Internet Management Policies and Comments on Petition for Rulemaking to Establish Rules Governing Network Management Practices by Broadband Network Operators.
The FCC has received more than 28,000 comments. Here is Comcast’s comment. Some of the other recent comments include Verizon and Verizon Wireless, Qwest,
Time Warner Cable, RIAA, American Library Association and CDT.
The FCC is planning on holding a hearing on February 26 in Cambridge, MA on Broadband Network Management Practices.