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February 22, 2008 3:23 PM

Reviewing Markey’s “Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008”

Last week Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, co-sponsored by Rep. Chad Pickering (R-MS). What better way to finish up our Net Neutrality week than a running commentary of my first read through this bill? (You can download a PDF of the full text here.) Read on for the thoughts that went running round my head while reading through this bill:

- To start with, I’m not a huge fan of “Internet Freedom Preservation” as it places the emphasis on the Internet and not the consumer. I’d prefer something more like Consumer Broadband Bill of Rights.

- I’m happy to report that at least someone in Congress is acknowledging the “profound benefits for numerous aspects of daily life for millions of people throughout the United States” that the Internet has had.

- Here’s the problem with this attempt to establish what net neutrality is: it all hinges on how you define the word “unreasonable”. On the one hand, unreasonable seems relative. What's unreasonable to you might be different from what’s unreasonable to me. I read the bill as qualifying "unreasonable" as relative to the perspective of the “use for lawful purposes” but what do you do if that use is reasonable to the user, lawful to the public, but unreasonable to the network operator? This is the word that future litigation over net neutrality will hinge upon.

- I don’t understand why one of the items commands that the FCC look into whether or not broadband network providers are adding charges for quality of service to certain Internet applications. I can’t say for sure if they are actually doing that today, but they’ve been pretty upfront that that's what they want to do in the future, so the only thing left to figure out is “whether such pricing conflicts with the policies of the US” which takes us right back to defining what is and isn’t unreasonable.

- I like that it acknowledges the need to look into reasonable network management practices for prioritizing emergency traffic, but I’m not sure if parental controls are worth looking into alongside everything else. I say that assuming these are opt-in systems that parents can opt out of.

- Very interesting, they’ve got a bit in there inquiring about whether or not having sufficient bandwidth lessens the need for protecting against unreasonable network management. Ultimately this seems to be the best clear cut answer to resolving many of these questions.

- I’ve hit their call for having broadband summits across the country. While it’s not a bad idea, what frustrates me is that they only suggest using these summits to gather info about availability, price, and competition. Aren’t there more efficient ways to get that info? Like BroadbandCensus.com? And if we’re going to take the time, effort, and expense to conduct big meetings, then why not also charge the FCC to try and educate and inspire people as to the uses of broadband? It’s time we start thinking outside the box a little more.

- On the plus side, they specifically call for the use of Internet technologies to allow more people to participate in these summits.

All in all, I don’t mind this bill. While it still uses much of the same language that troubled me from the last version, it doesn’t attempt to write any of it into stone. Instead it’s trying to say “Look, we know what we think needs to happen, but we understand that there may be other complexities at work, so let’s sit down with the American people and try to figure this out.” And that’s not a bad thing.

That said, I am worried that this is just a trojan horse for net neutrality. I mean, what do public summits about the availability of broadband have to do with determining proper network management? Shouldn’t these summits be conducted alongside the broadband mapping bill working its way through Congress? I sincerely hope that they aren’t a hidden attempt to get people together and preach the gospel of net neutrality as I don’t think that would help further productive dialog in any way, shape, or form.


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