A surfeit of US network neutrality legislation

Largely due to the continued dumb statements and actions of a few apparently PR-challenged carriers, the network neutrality issue is alive and well in the US

Largely due to the continued dumb statements and actions of a few apparently PR-challenged carriers, the network neutrality issue is alive and well in the United States. Since any issue like this seems to create a legislative void that must be filled, we now have at least two network neutrality related bills for Congress to consider. If one liked legislation-based solutions, merging these bills and tossing out a bit of Federal Communications Commission make-work would not be too bad, but there would still be some questions left unanswered.

Historically, it has been uncommon that legislation resulted in just what the supporters professed to intend. Even under ideal situations, legislation is a far from ideal tool to ensure reasonable behavior in the real world. Furthermore, it is unlikely that discussion about any legislation affecting companies that spend as much on lobbyists as the telcos and cable companies do will result in an ideal situation.

Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 on May 8. This bill joined the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008, which was introduced by Representatives Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) on Feb. 12, in attempting to deal with the network neutrality issue made so prominent by carrier actions.

It is likely that legislation (or regulations) about network neutrality would not be needed if there were real competition in the US broadband business (See "The elusive third wire for Internet service.")

Regulations requiring full and easy-to-understand disclosure of ISP service offerings and prices is likely necessary in any case, but in an ideal world there would be no need to tell a carrier to treat its customers fairly. In this world we may get legislation, so we might as well look at the proposals on the table.

The Conyers/Lofgren bill is recycled from 2006, when it did not make a lot of progress. It would expand the Clayton Antitrust Act to outlaw some types of discrimination by broadband ISPs. It basically requires that ISPs not treat data from different service providers or customers in different ways. An ISP could provide better quality for VoIP service but would have to for all VoIP service, not just the service it sells. It is possible to read the current text to require that ISPs let their customers run servers, such as Web servers, which many do not currently permit.

The Markey/Pickering bill takes a very different approach. It defines four high-level broadband policies, then gives the FCC a bunch of mostly useless things to do. The policies are a variant of some issued by the FCC a few years ago. (See also "Broadband regulation: Why wait for Congress?"), but which do not have the force of law. The policies do include open access to lawful content and applications and protection against "unreasonable discriminatory favoritism" based on the source, ownership or destination of traffic on the Internet (I'm not quite sure what reasonable discriminatory favoritism would be.).

In looking at it again it's not clear to me that the Markey/Pickering bill brings much to the table over the Conyers/Lofgren bill. Among other things, the FCC thinks it has too much to do already.

We may not need new regulations since the carriers may decide to not live up to the things their bosses were saying a few years ago -- it would be nice if this were the case. But if we do need new rules, the Conyers/Lofgren bill is a good start.

Disclaimer: Harvard alums write this kind of legislation but I know of no university opinion on this topic, so the above review of proposed legislation is mine alone.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Scott Bradner

Network World
Show Comments


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >


Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?