A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the importance of net neutrality. In the meantime, the first actual challenge to net neutrality took place this past week. Time Warner Cable has launched a trial tiered pricing program to new subscribers in Beaumont Texas. The tiers are “$29.95 a month for relatively slow service at 768 kilobits per second and a 5-gigabyte monthly cap to $54.90 per month for fast downloads at 15 megabits per second and a 40-gigabyte cap.” Every gigabyte beyond the cap costs $1. It’s a bit odd that landlines, like DSL service, is going toward tiered service and cell phone carriers are going toward an all you can eat service. How does that affect you? Well, an iTunes movie is between 1 and 1.5 gigabytes or a tv livestream of its primetime broadcasts measure around 300-500 MB depending on the quality of the video. Obviously if you are a big consumer of online video, you’d hit your cap pretty soon every month.
While Time Warner Cable has every right to cap its service and charge more for more users, the tiered pricing, as we discussed last week, can represent an access issue. It further represents the power that the ISPs have over the free flow of information on the internet and their willingness to exert that power.
So what is the history of Net Neutrality legislation?
Internet Freedom Preservation Act. This bill was introduced by Senator Olympia Snow (D-ME) as an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934. The bill, S. 2917, was first proposed on on May 19, 2006 (and had a notable sponsorship by both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton). It was referred to the Senate commiittee and then referrred to Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. It died in committee. It was reintroduced in 2007 by Snowe and Senator Dorgan (D-ND) to no avail. In 2008, however, the Commerce Committee finally held a hearing on the future of the internet and discussed the need for legislation. No action has been taken on this since the committee hearing.
Network Neutrality Act of 2006. This House bill was proposed by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA 7th) on May 2, 2006. The bill, like the Senate bill, would give the FCC the power to prevent discrimination and impose penalties. It would have also explicitly prevented service tiering. It was referred to to the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. The bill did not survive the Committee and instead a telecom based bill called COPE came out of the Committee and was passed by the House in 2006 with the Markey amendment failing (roll call vote). The Senate version of COPE died in committee. (as you know, probably, a bill must pass both chambers and be signed by the Pres – or not signed within 10 days – before it becomes a law).
Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008. Markey is not to be deterred. He re-introduced legislation (PDF link) with support from his fellow Massachussets Congressman, Chip Pickering (R-MS). Bipartisanship FTW!
We’ve got the Snowe-Durgan bill in the Senate and the Markey-Pickering bill in the House that are both designed to allow the FCC the power to enforce discrimination free access to the internet. The good news is that there are major corporations who are interested in net neutality like Amazon, eBay, Google, Microsoft and the like. I would think that any content provider like the major television stations who want to continue to stream video over the internet or Apple and Netflix who want to stream DVD rentals over the internet, would also be supportive of net neutrality.
It’s an issue that I hope we readers will stay apprised of. At least take some time to educate yourself about the issues so you can determine which side you stand on.