Net Neutrality Gets a Second Hearing
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A bill that would have prevented broadband Internet providers from charging content providers for priority access died before reaching the Senate last year. But that was in mid-2006, before the Democrats regained control of Congress. That bill is now getting a second chance.
It’s known as the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act,” and the name alone is enough to gain it adherents. Intended as an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934, the bill’s co-sponsors include a slew of Democrats – and only one Republican, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. While this level of partisanship was part of what killed the bill before, it’s now working for the proposed legislation.
The nine-page bill lays out the duties of broadband Internet providers. The first point is of particular interest to consumers. It stipulates that each provider “shall not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use a broadband service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any lawful content, application, or service made available via the Internet…” But it’s the fourth duty that leaps out at you. In several parts, it insists that “any content, application, or service made available via the Internet” must be accessible on a basis that “is reasonable and nondiscriminatory…with respect to quality of service, access, speed, and bandwidth…is at least equivalent to the access, speed, quality of service and bandwidth that such broadband service provider offers to affiliated content…does not impose a charge on the basis of the type of content…”
In layman’s terms, what does this mean? Well, with the usual proviso that I am neither a lawyer nor a politician, it says that broadband service providers can’t offer access to Google at a slower speed or quality than, say, their own content or content from their partners. It also says that they can’t charge for access to certain types of content, so they can’t hit you up for more money if you like to use Google a lot (and, if I’m reading this correctly, they can’t hit Google up for more money if lots of web surfers on their networks are using the search engine a lot).
Those aren’t the only important provisos in the bill. There is also a section that obligates broadband service providers to offer broadband access as a “standalone” product and not only as part of a package featuring other services such as cable TV, telephone, and/or VoIP. Another section permits broadband service providers to offer different speeds of Internet access at different prices to consumers. But it’s the net neutrality section of the bill that has been attracting the most attention, and that’s the section I’m going to focus on in this article.
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