June 19, 2006 10:28 AM PDT

Senate panel proposes Net user 'bill of rights'

WASHINGTON--The latest Net neutrality provisions in a mammoth Senate communications bill stopped short of giving Internet companies and consumer advocacy groups all the assurances they've requested.

Unveiled formally at a briefing here for reporters on Monday, new provisions in the latest draft of the sweeping Consumer's Choice and Broadband Deployment Act would allow the Federal Communications Commission to police subscribers' complaints of "interference" in their Internet activities and to levy fines on violators.

Specifically, the bill (click here for PDF) would require all Internet service providers to adhere to what the proposal calls an "Internet consumer bill of rights." The nine principles outlined under that heading include: allowing consumers to access and post any lawful content they please; to access and run any Web page, search engine or application that they choose (including voice and video programs); and to connect any legal devices they please to the network.

Carve-outs would exist for network management purposes, such as parental control technologies and security software.

All Internet service providers, if they're not already doing so, would also be obligated to offer broadband access on a standalone, or "naked," basis--without also requiring, for example, purchase of telephone or cable subscriptions.

But critics say the latest draft, scheduled for an initial committee vote on Thursday afternoon, refrained from addressing a major complaint of advocates of network neutrality--that is, the idea that network operators should give equal treatment to all content that travels across their pipes.

Under the new proposal, "the Internet still ends up split into Lexus lanes and dirt roads, and an FCC rendered powerless to protect American consumers," the It's Our Net Coalition, a group in favor of Net neutrality mandates, said in a statement Monday. Backed primarily by Amazon.com, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, the group includes other members such as the Christian Coalition, the Association of Research Libraries and the Consumer Federation of America.

They'd rather see passage of a bill introduced by North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and seven other Democrats that would flatly prohibit network operators from making deals with content providers and charging premium prices for the privilege of speedier delivery or other special treatment--what they disparagingly call a "two-tiered" Internet.

Some form of that proposal will likely be offered as an amendment to the Senate bill at a committee vote scheduled for Thursday afternoon. But its prospects may not be good--a similar, Democratic-backed amendment was soundly defeated in the House, and Senate Republicans have indicated strong opposition to the idea.

Network operators, for their part, have said repeatedly that they have no intention of blocking or degrading their subscribers' Internet activities and have deemed bills like the Snowe-Dorgan one a solution in search of a problem. Supported mostly by conservative groups, they have defended the business model decried by Net neutrality fans as a way to guarantee better quality of service for high-bandwidth applications and to offset what they describe as vast investments in new fiber.

Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, had emphasized in earlier remarks that he didn't want to get involved in regulating the way that companies do business--a "battle of the titans," he called it. He said instead that he believed it was important to offer protections for consumers, and his bill is designed to reflect those views, committee aides said Monday.

The new language followed ongoing negotiations between Stevens and Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat. Inouye and other Democrats had criticized the original version of the sweeping broadband bill, which simply instructed the FCC to scrutinize the state of broadband competition and to report back to Congress on its findings, for not going far enough. The latest draft retains that provision in addition to the others.

Inouye said in a statement Monday that he still wasn't satisfied with the latest draft's provisions, saying they "utterly fail to protect consumers and preserve an open Internet."

The Senate's latest approach is similar to a version approved earlier this month in the House of Representatives' communications bill. Rather than legislating a detailed "consumer bill of rights," the House addresses the Net neutrality issue by giving the FCC the power to fine violators of its broadband access principles from last summer (click here for PDF). Neither bill would allow the FCC to create new rules--an idea that has also come under attack by Net neutrality fans.

The Senate version isn't immune from new complications. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently indicated it might offer a new legislative proposal that would police violations of Net neutrality under antitrust law. A similar approach offered on the House side was approved initially by the House Judiciary Committee but has stalled since then, failing to gain acceptance of an amendment to the larger House communications bill.

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16 comments

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Government no longer about the people
This is the first hard evidence that the government is no longer working for the people. There is not a single person in Washington D.C. that gives a hoot about the average American. They continually ignore what we want in favor of big business. The problem with that, aside from the fact that it is against everything the Constitution says, is that big business is so disconnected from reality that they have no clue what is going on in the world.

This kind of BS makes me seriously consider moving to Canada because the United States of America is no longer a good place to live.
Posted by thenet411 (415 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not really
The government while no longer about the people is not much about big business. Senators are more about their personnal missions than they are about big business. If a company support their cause all the well, but if they oppose it then they do not care. For these time of senators the only time they care for people is when its election time.
Posted by VI Joker (231 comments )
Link Flag
give me a break
What the heck do you think America stands for? Socialism? Please, move to Canada. I hope you enjoy the lack of competition, the higher prices, the must higher tax rates, and the overall regulatory framework that Canada's monopoly will give you. As for me, I will stay here in the US and enjoy my slow, but reliable 3MB/sec DSL.

Note: my wife is Canadian and her family really envies our cheap telecom.
Posted by p.shearer (60 comments )
Link Flag
not all politicians
Not all politicians, just the Republican Party. Note, There are a very few republicans who might side against a corporation or lobbyist in an issue, and a few phony democrats who act like republicans. However the general rule is true.
Do some research, find out your politicians, and then vote for the ones who support the public.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Link Flag
These "improvements" are a joke
Thanks to a cavernous exception in current federal law (see 47
USC S 230), these protections for free speech aren't worth the
bandwidth they're transmitted on. Further, it still permits
Verizon, Comcast & friends to charge Website X for the "right" to
have their transmissions delivered with all due diligence.

For more, see:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://shoutingloudly.com/2006/06/19/stevens-bill-1st-am-" target="_newWindow">http://shoutingloudly.com/2006/06/19/stevens-bill-1st-am-</a>
protections-in-name-only/
Posted by ShoutingLoudly (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let's try the website again
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://shoutingloudly.com/2006/06/19/stevens-bill-1st-am-" target="_newWindow">http://shoutingloudly.com/2006/06/19/stevens-bill-1st-am-</a>
protections-in-name-only/

Sorry to post twice if the link still requires some manual fixing.
Include the whole URL and it works. Or just go to:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://shoutingloudly.com/" target="_newWindow">http://shoutingloudly.com/</a>
Posted by ShoutingLoudly (22 comments )
Link Flag
Too much trust
I think that there needs to be a modification to the Internet as it is now. Some traffic should be facilitated faster over networks. VoIP and video traffic should have higher priority as they need a 'minimum-best efforts' routing - a gauranteed speed, whereas getting my web pages slightly slower won't cause jitter in any picture or echo in any voice call.

The problem is, even with so-called FCC regulation and fines, the telecos and cable companies are given too much trust from the govt. to do the right thing. In a perfect world, broadband companies would have price wars and drive the cost down to gain more customers, but this isn't a perfect world. It's not a competitive market, it's a duopoly, and who's to say Teleco #1 and Cable Co. #2 won't come to a gentleman's agreement to not charge BELOW $45 for Internet access for instance?

I know Comcast already straight-armed me and my family into a buying digital cable subscription by scrambling our analog cable signal, and having the signal drop out in the middle of local sporting events. Who's to say they won't start "unintentionally" dropping say traffic from a Vonage call in order to force people to upgrade?

And how do you prove a telco or cable company is intentionally degrading your service? It's my word against their money.

FCC regulation? Fines? Hardly a solution, and remotely far away from 'middle ground.' I don't know how to solve this issue, but I know that this isn't it.
Posted by jdscardino (22 comments )
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Net neutrality is best
If they did do this modification, there would permanently be a slow, low-quality tier that would never get improved.

If net neutrality was enforced, then the telcos would have an incentive to improve their entire network speeds. This would mean high speeds and a high quality connection no matter what you're browsing.

The solution for a better internet is creating faster high-speed connections, not "modifying" the internet into high vs. low priority traffic.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Link Flag
Holes
The bill also leaves the ISPs open to say that any blocking is for reasons of network security. When they block ports, they already cite these reasons, yet still offer higher priced "business" accounts for those willing to pay for the "privilege" of an unfiltered connection. If that is not a two tiered Internet, I don't know what is.

Since these rights are "(4) subject to the limitations of the Internet
service such subscriber has purchased." (See page 146 of the PDF), this kind of practice would still be legal. They can place any limitations they want on the connection.
Posted by CagedAnimal (67 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why oppose the "solution"?
"Network operators, for their part, have said repeatedly that they have no intention of blocking or degrading their subscribers' Internet activities" - If this where really true than why stand in the way of legislation to prevent it? Because this is precisely what these corporations want the freedom to do!
Posted by zanzzz (138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Legislate Everything!
You'd make a great politician...or bureaucrat.

Hey, the taxpayers are stupid! They'll pay for it! Look how much money the government wastes already. What's a few billion more? Who the hell cares?
Posted by freemarket--2008 (5058 comments )
Link Flag
 

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