A Florida congressman has introduced a bill aimed at preventing the Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband and imposing net neutrality unless it can find examples of systemic market failure. The bill, called the Internet Protection, Investment, and Innovation Act, sets pretty high hurdles over which the FCC would need to jump before it could get involved in regulating information services such as those Google offers or access, such as the broadband pipes. In short, it’s exactly what I picture legislation written by Verizon or AT&T would look like.
The FCC has clearly said it doesn’t want to regulate the information services, and is willing to go pretty far out in excluding ISPs from regulations that they would fall under as part of its efforts to reclassify broadband as a transport service. This bill, submitted by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), proposes that instead of the fairly reasonable approach the FCC has chosen to implement — and it really is pretty reasonable — the agency would have to take several time-consuming steps, including a cost-benefits analysis and a formal rule-making process, before it actually could stop an ISP from, for example, blocking VoIP calls or even P2P files, both of which have happened before.
Personally, this bill was damned in my eyes from page two when I read the clause about the FCC needing to show how monopolistic practices harmed consumers by “preventing a substantial number of consumers nationwide from accessing a substantial amount of lawful Internet content, applications and services.” Internet access and the lack of competition is a profoundly local issue in many areas – something that ISPs continually try to gloss over (try to catch Verizon praising its DSL lines).
My service choices are vastly different here in Austin than those of my colleagues in New York or even in rural Pennsylvania. Should my ISP decide to filter or mess with content in Austin, it doesn’t have to do it nationwide in order to still create a problem for me and my neighbors. I might argue it’s a nationwide problem to have isolated chunks of the population living in a digital backwater, but this language assumes that unless a problem is nationwide, it’s not worth FCC involvement. Our government is supposed to protect everyone and promote equality, not gloss over those that aren’t equal simply because they aren’t part of a nationwide problem.
Anyhow, for those who want to check out the telecommunications lobby and agenda in bill form, read Stearns’ legislation.