Friday, July 01, 2005
TECHNOLOGY DAILY: Brand X and Focusing On 'Network Neutrality'
FROM: Technology Daily
After Court Ruling, Advocacy Groups
Focusing On 'Network Neutrality'
By David Hatch
June 27, 2005
Public advocacy groups are making "network neutrality" a top legislative
priority after the Supreme Court handed them a defeat Monday -- and they
could be boosted by support from Amazon.com, Microsoft and other
corporations, sources said.
Those companies, along with other members of the Coalition of Broadband
Users and Innovators -- such as Yahoo and eBay -- want to safeguard
customer access to their new and existing high-speed Internet services.
But opposition from the cable industry is expected to be fierce.
Meanwhile, Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska and Commerce
ranking member Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, vowed late Monday to review the
impact of the court's ruling in the so-called Brand X case on
public-interest obligations -- including contributions to the $6.5 billion
Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes telecom service in rural and
impoverished areas. Both lawmakers are strong proponents of the fund, and
Stevens plans to introduce a universal service reform bill in an effort to
strengthen the program.
One source, speaking on background, suggested that the high court's
classification of cable-delivered high speed Internet as an "information
service" means the technology also would not be subject to public interest
requirements governing 911 emergency service, consumer privacy, law
enforcement wiretapping, and communications access for the disabled.
"[A committee review] will permit us to consider what steps may be
necessary from the Congress or the Federal Communications Commission to
ensure that our communications laws preserve competition and protect the
interests of consumers," Stevens and Inouye wrote.
Network neutrality would bar cable companies from blocking or degrading
competing telecommunications, media or commercial services offered over
broadband pipes. The restrictions likely would extend to phone providers
of high-speed Internet. The high court ruled Monday that broadband over
cable modems should not be subject to "common carrier" rules requiring the
sharing of networks with competitors.
"Network neutrality is no such thing," Kyle McSlarrow, president of the
National Cable and Telecommunications Association, responded during a
Monday press briefing. His industry has a business incentive to preserve
the rights of cable-modem customers to go anywhere online, he said, and
network neutrality would create a solution for a non-existent problem.
Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the House
Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, will champion the
neutrality cause by seeking to add anti-discriminatory protections to
telecom legislation being drafted by the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, a source said.
"My goal will be to ensure that national broadband policy reflects the
open architecture model of the Internet and remains a medium friendly to
innovation," Markey said in a statement. "Congress intended that cable
broadband services should be treated with the same openness and access
that consumers and Internet providers enjoy today over telephone lines,"
he added, while declaring, "Unfortunately, today's ruling is both
anti-consumer and anti-competition."
But House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, may not be
receptive to Markey's goals. "I commend the court for upholding the FCC's
deregulatory approach to broadband services," Barton said in a statement,
adding that the "FCC correctly determined that broadband services should
not be regulated as common carriage."
Said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., chairman of the Senate Commerce Technology
Subcommittee, "It is my hope that Congress can build on the Supreme
Court's decision today on Brand X by updating our nation's communications
laws" and removing barriers to innovation.
SSen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Commerce Committee member, wants the FCC to
protect independent players on the Internet and is willing to consider a
legislative fix, a source said. But the source suggested that the court's
decision could be moot in a few years -- because the telecom legislation
envisioned by lawmakers would kill the regulatory framework that
classifies technologies as "information" or "telecommunications" services.
"I think it's an uphill battle," Jeff Chester, executive director of the
Center for Digital Democracy, said of the chances of finding support for
network neutrality among influential GOP lawmakers. Nevertheless, he said
the court's ruling in National Cable and Telecommunications Association v.
Brand X Internet, would galvanize cable industry critics. "There will be a
growing call on the part of the civil-liberties community and the Internet
community to reverse this decision," he said.
Gigi Sohn, president of the watchdog group Public Knowledge, said
anti-discriminatory safeguards could be outlined in a few sentences. But a
congressional source suggested that provisions would be lengthier and more
complicated. The FCC or another agency, Sohn said, should be charged with
enforcing the requirements.