Kelly Teal, Contributing Editor

February 13, 2008

5 Min Read
Markey Revives Net Neutrality Debate

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., revived the net neutrality debate on Wednesday when he introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act.

The bill appeared the day after Comcast Corp. filed comments with the FCC defending its need to manage its network however it chooses. Comcast faces criticism for apparently slowing P2P content such as that from Vuze, which uses the BitTorrent network to distribute movie-studio, TV and game content. Vuze filed a complaint last November with the FCC. Vuze and other open-Internet advocates fear that providers such as Comcast and AT&T Inc. will slow or block content they dont want on their networks if Congress doesnt prevent them from doing so. But several lobby-intensive groups consider those nefarious attempts to regulate the free market.

Markey chairs the House Subcommittee on Telecommunication and the Internet. He said he wants to keep the Internet open for future innovators, such as the next Google Inc. or Yahoo!. To that end, he proposed adding four new policy statements to the FCCs current broadband guidelines, although he stopped short of including enforcement clauses or penalties.

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, Markey said in a prepared statement. Markey has supported net neutrality since 2006, just a few months after then-SBC CEO Ed Whitacre ignited the debate with his comments to BusinessWeek. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., co-sponsored Markeys bill.

Markey said its important that the United States maintain its standing as a high-tech leader, and that net neutrality oversight will help ensure that.

“The global leadership in high technology the United States provides stems directly from historic policies that have ensured that telecommunications networks are open to all lawful uses and to all users, he said.

Plus, he said, broadband fulfills First Amendment rights, so it is important that the United States adopt a policy endorsing the open nature of broadband networks.

But some powerhouse associations and interest groups disagreed with Markey, namely USTelecom, CTIA-The Wireless Association, Hands Off the Internet and an antigovernment-waste council.

The legislation would be antithetical to Congressional goals of improving the environment, personal security, education, and health care, particularly in rural areas, said Walter McCormick, president and CEO USTelecom, which represents large carriers and suppliers. 

Steve Largent, CTIAs president and CEO, agreed. He said as CTIA has emphasized all along that Markeys bill is trying to fix a non-existent problem. He cited evidence collected by the FCC, Federal Trade Commission and independent researchers that proves that wireless broadband adoption is spreading like wildfire across this country, he said. This wouldn’t be happening if consumers weren’t getting the service, value and access to content they desire.

The Hands Off the Internet coalition, whose members include Alcatel-Lucent and Qwest Communications International Inc., concurred.

The continued push by special interests to regulate Internet neutrality undercuts the best hope Net users have for faster, more affordable broadband. Network innovation and deployment free from federal regulation are the keys to meet consumers rapidly growing bandwidth demands, group leaders noted in a written statement.

The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste decried the bill because it calls for the FCC to hold eight summits throughout the country and conduct a study, the costs of which the council said would be too expensive to justify.

More importantly, added David Williams, vice president of the council, during the FCC and FTC deliberations more than a quarter of a million public comments were submitted; there is no way to tell how much money will be wasted on eight summits but what is clear is that after two years of debate the public has spoken.

Markey introduced his bill as the FCC continues collecting comments on its Broadband Industry Practices docket, a look at whether net neutrality rules are necessary. On Tuesday, Comcast filed an 80-page document that defended P2P content-slowing. It said services such as BitTorrent use more than their fair share of bandwidth to distribute videos, music and programs. The cable operator, which boasts more than 13 million Internet subscribers, said it must be allowed to manage its network to avoid congestion and application impairment.

Comcast only manages those P2P protocols that have a demonstrated history of generating excessive burdens on the network based on objective criteria applied equally to all Internet protocols,” the company wrote.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), of which Comcast is a member, filed similar supporting comments on Tuesday. The organization said managing congestion, primarily caused by P2P networks, is essential to ensuring the highest quality and diversity of broadband service. 

Wireline and wireless phone networks, airlines, and roads all experience congestion at times of peak usage, NCTA said in its filing. And with all of these networks, simply building more is not a complete solution. It is in the nature of networks to congest and it is the obligation of network owners to manage that congestion for the benefit of their customers.

The net neutrality debate has lain dormant for several months. But with the FCCs Broadband Industry Practices inquiry and Democratic Congressional interest, it looks to heat up again. The FCC also is slated to hold a hearing on broadband network management practices later this month in Massachusetts.

AT&T Inc.
Comcast Corp.
Council for Citizens Against Government Waste
Google Inc.
Hands Off the Internet
Qwest Communications International Inc.
U.S. House

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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