House Reps Take Stand for Real Net Neutrality

As members of the Federal Communications Commission prepare for a vote on Net Neutrality next week, some of Congress’ most Internet-savvy members say the rule before the agency doesn’t fully safeguard consumers nor clear even the lowest bar for real Net Neutrality protections.

The group, led by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), sent a letter to all five FCC commissioners saying that the proposal outlined by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski needs to be strengthened in order to get their full support.

Markey was joined on the letter by Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

As so many in Congress take their cues from powerful phone and cable companies, it’s refreshing to see several representatives go against the grain to take a principled stand on behalf of Internet users. The representatives are reportedly already taking heat from the phone and cable lobby for not falling into line to bless Genachowski’s flawed compromise.

The letter says the rule must be improved to protect four core principles of Net Neutrality:

1. Nondiscrimination: It must ban "paid prioritization" or Internet payola schemes that give big companies an unfair advantage over smaller competitors, which, according to the letter is “contrary to the Internet’s fundamental nondiscrimination principles.”

2. One Internet: It must protect both wired and wireless broadband access equally, they write. “Exclusion of wireless services from open Internet protections could stifle this growth [in broadband adoption]” and “could impede attainment of national broadband goals."

3. No loopholes: It must make "narrow" exceptions for so-called “managed services,” which if not clearly delineated “could have significantly negative consequences for consumers and commercial enterprises.”

4. A clear broadband definition: It must not allow Internet service providers to repackage the Internet as some other “specialized service,” over which the FCC has no consumer protection authority. To allow ISPs to do this, according to the letter, would “[divide] the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes where only the slow lanes would be under FCC regulation.”

That Genachowski’s compromise order lacks these basic protections is strong indication that this chairman, who routinely speaks of his commitment to protect the open Internet, lacks any real conviction to cross swords with broadband carriers.

In their critique of Genachowski’s draft order the House members join Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who wrote the FCC earlier in the week arguing that weak rules would give network operators the green light to abandon Net Neutrality protections and undermine the Internet’s open architecture.

The FCC is slated to vote on Net Neutrality principles at its Dec. 21 meeting next week. Chairman Genachowski is now negotiating with commissioners to gain the three-vote majority he needs to pass the rule.

In the give-and-take among commissioners, the chairman has the ability to fix his rule to reflect a stronger Net Neutrality standard. Hopefully, he’ll see the wisdom of matching his record with his rhetoric.