Roadblocking the Information Superhighway by Negating Net Neutrality

Rep. Ed Markey | Washington, D.C. | April 4

The Agonist – First off, I want to thank Sean-Paul and the rest of Team Agonist for inviting me to post here today, as well as for all their hard work in promoting the important issue of network neutrality. I believe that this is a critically important issue, as it addresses a fundamental aspect of the Internet that is responsible for so much of its success: no one owns it.

Since its inception, the Internet has represented an unprecedented free market of ideas, where the quality of a thought or innovation is more closely correlated to success than the money one pays to advertise it. Sure, there are groups that have dropped millions of dollars into websites in an effort to buy their way onto our computer screens, but if the dot-com crash in the late 90’s taught us anything, it was that in the end it is the new ideas and daring innovations that drive success on the Internet, not the amount of money spent promoting flashy but vapid websites.

Sadly, some of the communications colossi and their allies in Congress are trying to change this, with an ill-conceived provision in a new telecommunications bill proposed by Representatives Joe Barton (R-TX) that threatens to erect a toll booth on the information superhighway, permanently changing the fundamental nature of the Internet for the worst.

more after the jump and here’s a link to the proposed bill. MyDD has some solid comments too.

U.S. global leadership in high technology stems directly from a policy of open networks, where the owner of the telephone wire into your home or business has to be nondiscriminatory, or ”œneutral,” with respect to how it treats traffic that flows over its network. For decades, this policy has kept telecommunications networks open to all lawful uses and users, leading to a low barrier to entry for web-based content, applications, and services. The result has been remarkable innovation, economic growth, job creation, and the flourishing of remarkable new forums for discussion – such as this one – that transcend all geographic boundaries.

The Barton bill puts all of this at risk, and heightens the need for legally enforceable, so-called ”œnetwork neutrality” rules. At its core, the term ”œnetwork neutrality” ensures that a broadband network operator does not block, impair, or degrade a consumer’s ability to access any lawful Internet content, application, or service. It means being able to attach any device for use with your broadband connection, as long as it otherwise doesn’t damage service to other users. And it means nondiscriminatory treatment of communications traffic so that phone or cable companies cannot favor themselves or affiliated parties to the detriment of competitors, innovators, and independent entrepreneurs. Finally, net neutrality means that the phone companies should not be allowed to charge extra fees and warp the web into a multi-tiered network of bandwidth-haves and have-nots.

These are not hypothetical concerns. We know from public statements from several industry executives that the owners of the broadband wires into our homes would like to start charging fees to Internet content providers. This represents nothing more than the imposition of a broadband bottleneck tax on electronic commerce and political speech. Such a bottleneck tax for accessing consumers will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on investment, innovation, and the democratic process.

In short, the Barton bill imperils the future of electronic commerce and innovation to the ”˜world wide whims’ of broadband barons, and ties the hands of the FCC in a way that will legally prevent it from saving something very special. This attack on the Internet as we know it will come as an unpleasant shock to the millions of Americans who depend on the Internet to surf and learn and do business and invent our way into the future.

It is critical that we work to ensure that the Internet is not fundamentally changed by this misguided bill, and I plan to do all I can to raise awareness of this critically important topic. I invite anyone with an interest in keeping the Internet free and open to innovation to keep an eye on the Net Neutrality section of my website, where we will have frequent updates on the status of this bill along with video from related hearings and markups.

The next round begins at 5pm tonight with opening statements from the members of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, so be sure to stay tuned.

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Rep. Ed Markey

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  • It is critical that we work to ensure that the Internet is not fundamentally changed by this misguided bill, and I plan to do all I can to raise awareness of this critically important topic. I invite anyone with an interest in keeping the Internet free and open to innovation to keep an eye on the Net Neutrality section of my website, where we will have frequent updates on the status of this bill along with video from related hearings and markups.

    The next round begins at 5pm tonight with opening statements from the members of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, so be sure to stay tuned.

    Thank you Rep. Markey for staying on top of this.

    What do you think of the effectiveness of promoting e-mail writing campaigns to senators and congressmen about this issue? (This link goes to one at Common Cause). Versus the type of campaign in their current ad on the Agonist site, which promotes e-mails to CEOs of telecoms.

    My own thinking is that it’s much more important to get members of the Senate and Houjse of Representatives on board, and knowing that we consumers do care about this issue. Plus, it would encourage them to get more informed about the issue.

    I would guess that the named telecom CEOs already know that what they are planning is not in the best interests of the consumer, and that e-mail campaigns to them wouldn’t make much difference.

    I’d be curious what you thought about both of those options, however, and what you think makes the most difference in general. What can consumers do?

  • Thanks Rep. Markey for taking the time to contribute to the Agonist community and for highlighting the serious damages the Barton bill could impose on a free and open internet. I think there are three key issues associated with this development.

    1. To what extent do the telecommunications companies already play the role of gatekeeper for the internet? The FISA wiretapping scandal has only given us a hint of the unannounced collaboration between the telecommunications giants and the federal government. Some of this collaboration may be necessary and important in preventing terrorist attacks, but clearly Congress and not just the public have been kept in the dark about exactly what private information is being shared with the government. If the telecommunications companies are going to hold a public trust by managing the internet, the public has to have trust in these companies not to abuse reasonable privacy standards.

    2. The moral dimension of the role of the telecommunications companies needs to be clarified by Congress. It is already accepted that these companies can charge consumers for access to the internet, and these charges should cover expenses and some reasonable profit. Additional fees that are not justified by any additional expense – that are described by these companies as “efficiency” charges – place the commpanies in the role of gatekeepers to an important communications network. Companies in the past that played this role were defined legally as utilities, and their activities and profit were regulated. It seems appropriate to place the telecommunications companies in the category of utilities, at least in regards their internet roles, and federal regulation should be applied to prevent the sorts of distortions and impediments that the Barton bill would allow.

    3. U.S. citizens are not the only consumers affected by these developments; the internet is a global network and the telecommunications companies are proposing actions that affect consumers in many countries. There needs to be a multilateral discussion about these issues, possibly leading to treaties which help govern the internet.

    We all appreciate your efforts in preventing abusive taxes being imposed on the internet by public companies.

  • Searching Electronic Frontier Foundation shows these links:


    Harris Miller defends Net Neutrality:

    In terms of a very important concept, though, that we have to promote, that’s net neutrality. The idea that you’re not going to have an internet which starts to have different tiers on it and only wealthy people and large businesses can take advantage of the internet. Why the internet has been so powerful is it has been so egalitarian. The rich people, poor people – everybody, once you get on the internet, has been able to access it.

    Now we haven’t done a very good job, as you know, of getting broadband deployed throughout this country. Even though the internet was created right here in Virginia, not very far from where I live, we have now fallen to 14th in the world in broadband deployment. So we have to take more proactive steps to make sure that every person around the country and every person in Virginia has access to the internet.

  • Thanks for your comments. Members of Congress are not allowed to engage in grassroots lobbying but I think you are on the right track, Quiet Bill.

    I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion, but I am about to head to the Committee room – here is a copy of my opening statement.

  • I’m not sure if you want an opinion from someone other than an American, but I’ll offer it anyway. The Internet is international in scope. Don’t discount people from other nations. For instance, if I’m looking to relocate to your country, the first place I’d look for a home is the Internet. Real estate companies, newspapers, motels and eating establishments profit when visitors come to your country for business or pleasure. Tourism is a burgeoning industry; people come from all corners of the world. Revenue would fall if international visitors have to pay to click to make their travel arrangements. If there are charges on sites, they’ll go elsewhere. Long distance telephone rates and newspapers will be affected in many countries. Television and its delivery are also affected across borders.

    If you want to stay competitive on a global basis, you have to cater to people that live in other countries. The repercussions of allowing special interest to take control of the Internet are far-reaching.

    The United States controls ICOM. The reason countries don’t insist that service be under the wing of the United Nations is because its net neutral.

    What the telephone and cable companies are proposing affects people from other nations. There currently are debates in my country from telephone companies that affect the neutrality of the Internet. The United States has always been a leader. Congress and the Senate have the opportunity to maintain impartiality by rejecting the present proposal. The air waves need to be net neutral.

  • Here’s what Team Agonist has found out so far about how to go about contacting Members of Congress in support of Network Neutrality, and against the Barton bill:

    The markup on the Barton bill (the bill threatens to eliminate Network Neutrality) taking place right now (April 4) is in the
    Telecommunications and Finance Sucommittee. Here is a list of its

    The main Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121. If you call that number,
    you can ask to be connected to any Congressman’s office and register
    your views on the issue.

    If the Barton bill is approved by the Subcommittee, it then goes to
    the Energy and Commerce Committee, of which the Subcommittee is part.
    Here’s a link to the names of the Members of the full Committee.

    If the Barton bill gets out of Committee, it then goes to the House
    Rules Committee, who vote on what amendments get made in order to be
    offered on the House floor (such as an amendment to ensure net
    neutrality). Here’s the link to the names of the members of the Rules Committee

    The bill would next go to the House floor, where it gets amended and
    voted on by all 435 House members.

    To figure out who your member of Congress is, and then send them an
    email, you can go to this site.

    Or, you can just call 202-224-3121, asked to be transferred to them,
    and weigh in in the issue.

    (There is also the Congress E-Mailing Link from Common Cause about Net Neutrality, which has a sample e-mail you can edit.)

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