Restoring Long-Standing Net Neutrality Protections

September 22, 2006
Massive innovation on the Internet since its creation is in part the result of pre-2005 Net Neutrality protections. Starting nearly forty years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concluded that under Title II of the Communications Act, telephone companies and network owners were prohibited from interfering with or discriminating against "telecommunications services" offering computer network access. The availability of common carrier telephone networks to independent equipment manufacturers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) led to the Internet's birth. Entrepreneurs freely developed pioneering services and products resulting in a technological revolution driving our nation's economic growth in the last decade.

All of those protections were suddenly lost in 2005 after the Supreme Court's decision in NCTA v. Brand X. Since 2002, the FCC attempted to reverse decades of applying Title II's nondiscrimination principles to net providers by reclassifying cable modem services as unregulated "information services." Federal courts initially rejected the FCC's efforts to strip long-standing Net Neutrality protections. In mid-2005, the Supreme Court abruptly reversed course in Brand X by concluding that the FCC had that discretion, notwithstanding well-established consumer protections.

Following that ruling, network owners began taking steps to stifle innovation and freedom on the Internet. They have stated their intent to establish tollbooths on the Information Superhighway by restricting fast lanes to those willing and able to pay high premiums. Some network owners, such as Time Warner's AOL and BellSouth, have already blocked user content. Internet discrimination will only increase after the 2007 expiration of Net Neutrality restrictions in merger agreements for other network owners such as SBC/AT&T and Verizon/MCI.

S. 215, the Snowe-Dorgan "Internet Freedom Preservation Act," restores longstanding Net Neutrality protections in place before June 2005. It requires that any content, application, or service offered through the Internet be provided on a basis that is "reasonable and non-discriminatory" and equivalent to the access, speed, quality of service, and bandwidth of services offered by network owners. It further prohibits network providers from blocking or degrading lawful Internet content. Finally, it leaves the choice for attaching legal devices to networks squarely in the hands of consumers, where it rightfully belongs.

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