On February 13th, 2008, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, introduced a bill to promote the principle known as “Net neutrality,” which prevents Internet service providers from playing traffic cop with Web content based on its source, destination, or ownership.
As drafted, the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008” would not legislate “Net neutrality”—the principle under which all Internet traffic is treated equally—but rather proposes to add a provision to the “Broadband Policy” section of the Communications Act which spells out principles the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) is expected to uphold. The bill was drafted in response to reports that some companies are unreasonably interfering with and stifling connections over the Internet and comes on the heels of an investigation launched by the FCC into Comcast last month, following complaints by a video start-up company, as well as advocacy groups, that Comcast was impeding traffic to peer-to-peer sites such as BitTorrent.
The nation’s largest telephone and cable operators, which have become the Internet gatekeepers, have fought “Net neutrality,” arguing that the ability to manipulate Web speed and to assess additional charges for quality of service to certain Internet applications are necessary to maintain Internet traffic for everyone, protect their investments and encourage additional network innovations.
The bill directs the FCC to conduct a series of proceedings, or “public broadband summits,” to assess “competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues relating to broadband Internet access services.” Specifically, these summits would investigate whether broadband operators are “blocking, thwarting, or unreasonably interfering” with the ability of consumers to access the internet on broadband networks, most notably, access speeds to certain Websites and applications.
The theory behind the bill is simple: To enforce baseline protections on the Internet to guard against unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators based on the source of such content. But how and when these principles will be enacted in law will be something that all businesses operating in the Internet marketplace will need to monitor closely.
We have extensive experience in assisting our clients in understanding the impact of new developments in the law on their businesses across all new media platforms, and will continue to stay apprised of how the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008,” and other related industry developments, challenge and create obstacles for our clients to overcome.