About Net Neutrality
The Internet was born and flourished under well-established Net Neutrality protections. These protections are derived from Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which grants the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to regulate telephone companies as common carriers. As computer technology was developed, data began to flow over telephone lines. In the 1970s and 1980s, the FCC responded by ensuring that network providers would provide access for data transmissions on a non-discriminatory basis by protecting them like other communications services. Title II was strengthened by making common carrier telephone networks available to independent equipment manufacturers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Net Neutrality rests on three guiding principles:
The Internet has become the 21st century’s marketplace of ideas because of these bedrock Net Neutrality principles. Anyone with access to the Internet can create, download, e-mail, or post any lawful content they want without fear of censorship or artificial tiered access. Information can be shared worldwide with just a few keystrokes. Budding journalists who aspire to be the next Matt Drudge can post blogs at the cost of a connection fee that all Internet users pay. Home videos can be distributed at real time speeds equal to the latest unwanted corporate advertisements. Net Neutrality has made the Internet the most democratic forum for free speech in the world.
In 2005, the Telecoms Captured the FCC and Eliminated Net Neutrality Protection Following the Supreme Court's Brand X Decision.
A handful of big telecoms and cable companies provide Internet network services, including AT&T, BellSouth, Comcast, Qwest, Sprint, Time-Warner, and Verizon. Over the last five years, these corporations have spent well over $100 million lobbying Congress and the FCC to eliminate established Net Neutrality protections. In 2002, the network providers captured the FCC and convinced it to abandon consumer protections by reclassifying cable modem services as unprotected information services instead of protected communications services. Federal courts initially rejected the FCC's efforts to strip Net Neutrality.
All of that suddenly changed in June 2005 with the Supreme Court's decision in NCTA v. Brand X. In Brand X, the Supreme Court for the first time found that broadband access constituted information services. The Court concluded that the FCC had discretion to choose whether to retain Net Neutrality protections for all broadband users. Shortly after the Brand X decision, the FCC further curtailed Net protections by reclassifying Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services as information services. Within a span of a few months, the FCC and the Supreme Court managed to destroy decades of Net Neutrality protections for nearly every American.
The assault on Internet freedom will only get worse. Although the FCC imposed Net Neutrality protections in merger agreements for certain network providers such as SBC/AT&T and Verizon/MCI, those protections expire in 2007. In July 2006, the FCC declined to include any Net Neutrality protections in Comcast and Time-Warner's acquisition of Adelphia Cable. The FCC is expected to follow a similar pattern of opposing Net Neutrality in the future, as network providers continue to consolidate into an even smaller pool of Internet gatekeepers.
Without Net Neutrality, network providers are free to discriminate. Although the telecoms and cable companies offer the public gateways to the Internet, they are not considered "state actors" that trigger free speech protections under the First Amendment. Therefore, they can effectively shut down the 21st century marketplace of ideas by screening Internet e-mail traffic, blocking what they deem to be undesirable content, or pricing users out of the marketplace. Historically, Net Neutrality protections under the Communications Act filled the free speech gap. Since those protections were removed, nothing prevents network providers from discriminating against Internet users and application and service providers in terms of content, quality of access, and choice of equipment.
Without Net Neutrality Protections, Telecoms and Cable Companies Are Engaging in Content and User Discrimination.
Big network providers have already begun taking steps to stifle innovation and freedom on the Internet.
Several telecom executives have stated their intent to create tiered access that restricts fast lanes to those willing and able to pay their higher premiums:
In 2006, big network providers have censored lawful content and blocked their Internet competitors:
The big telecoms and cable companies have been on their best behavior while Congress is considering legislation that would reinstate longstanding nondiscrimination principles on the Internet. Despite this heightened scrutiny from Congress, network providers have engaged in content and user discrimination. Their discrimination will only increase if Congress does not immediately restore strong Net Neutrality protections.
Restoring Freedom and Innovation to the Internet through Strong Net Neutrality Protection.
Without the vigorous non-discrimination principles in place before 2005, a few corporate conglomerates will control everything you can say or do on the Internet. Net Neutrality is needed, and it is needed now.
The United States Senate is currently considering a bipartisan bill offered by Senators Olympia Snowe and Byron Dorgan, S. 215, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, that would restore Network Neutrality protections in place before July 2005. The Snowe-Dorgan bill requires that any content, application, or service offered through the Internet be provided on a basis that is "reasonable and nondiscriminatory" 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, and not the telecoms and cable companies.
Only the Snowe-Dorgan bill, or similar legislation that restores the three guiding principles of Internet freedom and innovation, will prevent the content and access discrimination that the telecoms and cable companies are seeking.
Call your senators about this issue. Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121