Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce the “Network Neutrality Act of 2006.” Joining me today as original cosponsors of this important legislation are Rep. Rick Boucher, Rep. Anna Eshoo and Rep. Jay Inslee.
Broadband networks, Mr. Speaker, are the lifeblood of our emerging digital economy. These broadband networks also hold the promise of promoting innovation in various markets and technologies, creating jobs, and furthering education. The world-wide leadership that the U.S. provides in high technology is directly related to the government-driven policies over decades which have ensured that telecommunications networks are open to all lawful uses and all users. The Internet, which is accessible to more and more Americans with every day that goes by on such broadband networks, was also founded upon an open architecture protocol and as a result it has provided low barriers to entry for web-based content, applications, and services.
Recent decisions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and court interpretations, however, put these aspects of broadband networks and the Internet in jeopardy. The corrosion of historic policies of nondiscrimination by the imposition of bottlenecks by broadband network owners endanger economic growth, innovation, job creation, and First Amendment freedom of expression on such networks. Broadband network owners should not be able to determine who can and who cannot offer services over broadband networks or over the Internet. The detrimental effect to the digital economy would be quite severe if such conduct were permitted and became widespread.
This network neutrality bill has essentially three parts. The first part articulates overall broadband policy and network neutrality goals for the country, and spells out exactly what network neutrality means and puts it into the statute so that it will possess the force of law. The second part embodies reasonable exceptions to the general rules, such as to route emergency communications or offer consumer protection features, such as spam blocking technology. And the final part of the bill features an expedited complaint process to deal with grievances and violations within thirty days.
The legislation states that a broadband network provider may not block, impair, degrade or discriminate against the ability of any person to use a broadband connection to access the content, applications, and services available on broadband networks, including the Internet. It ensures that broadband network providers operate their networks in a non-discriminatory manner. The bill also ensures that consumers can attach any device to the broadband operator’s network, such as an Internet phone, or wi-fi router, or settop box, or any other innovative gadget invented in the coming years. Moreover, in order to prevent the warping of the World Wide Web into a system of “tiered service,” the legislation will prevent broadband providers from charging new bottleneck fees for enhanced quality of service or the prioritization of bits.
Finally, if a broadband provider chooses to prioritize data of any type, it requires that it do so for all data of that type and not charge a fee for such prioritization. For instance, if a broadband provider wants to prioritize the transmission of bits representing a VOIP phone call for its own VOIP service, it must do so for all VOIP services so as not to put its competitors at an arbitrary disadvantage.
Mr. Speaker, from the beginning of Internet time until August of 2005, the Internet’s nondiscriminatory nature was safeguarded from being compromised by Federal Communications Commission rules that required nondiscriminatory treatment by telecommunications carriers. In other words, no commercial telecommunications carrier could engage in discriminatory conduct regarding Internet traffic and Internet access because it was prohibited by law.
In August of 2005, however, the Federal Communications Commission re-classified broadband access to the Internet in a way which removed such legal protections. And how did the industry respond to this change? Just a few weeks after the FCC removed the Internet’s protections, the Chairman of then-SBC Communications made the following statement in a November 7th Business Week interview: "Now what they [Google, Yahoo, MSN] would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. . . .”
In a December 1, 2005 Washington Post article, a BellSouth executive indicated that his company wanted to strike deals to give certain Web sites priority treatment in reaching computer users. The article noted this would “significantly change how the Internet operates” and that the BellSouth executive said “his company should be allowed to charge a rival voice-over-Internet firm so that its service can operate with the same quality as BellSouth’s offering.” Meaning, that if the rival firm did not pay, or was not permitted to pay for competitive reasons, its service presumably would not “operate with the same quality” as BellSouth’s own product.
Finally, on January 6, 2006, the CEO of Verizon, in an address to the Consumer Electronics Show also indicated that Verizon would now be the corporate arbiter of how traffic would be treated when he said the following:” We have to make sure [content providers] don’t sit on our network and chew up our capacity.”
I think these statements should give pause to those who might argue that we shouldn’t do anything to enact strong network neutrality provisions because currently no harm is being done.
Do we really have to wait till these corporate giants divide and conquer the open architecture of the Internet to make that against the law? These telephone company executives are telling us that they intend to discriminate in the prioritization of bits and to discriminate in the offering of “quality of service” functions – for a new fee, a new broadband bottleneck toll – to access high bandwidth customers, we cannot afford to wait until they actually start doing that before we step in to stop it.
Once they start making money by leveraging that bottleneck position in the marketplace, will a future Congress really stare them down and take that revenue stream away?
Mr. Speaker, if we don’t protect the openness of the Internet for entrepreneurial activity, we’re ruining a wonderful model for low barrier entry, innovation, and job creation. Broadband network owners should not be able to determine who can and who cannot offer services over broadband networks or over the Internet. The detrimental effect to the digital economy would be quite severe if such conduct were permitted and became widespread. The deterioration of significant policies of nondiscrimination by the imposition of artificial bottlenecks by broadband network owners imperil economic growth, innovation, job creation, and First Amendment freedom of expression on such networks.
The Network Neutrality Act of 2006 offers Members a clear choice. It is a choice between favoring the broadband designs of a small handful of very large companies, and safeguarding the dreams of thousands of inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. This legislation is designed to save the Internet and thwart those who seek to fundamentally and detrimentally alter the Internet as we know it. Mr. Speaker, I urge Members to support this bill and urge the House to take a decisive stand in favor of network neutrality.