The debate on net neutrality continues, and now with proposed legislation from two U.S. lawmakers. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy and Representative Doris Matsui have issued the Online Competition And Consumer Choice Act which would require the Federal Communications Commission to use its authority to ensure that internet service providers do not favor certain lanes of internet traffic. The bill essentially would require the Commission to prevent the inception of internet fast lanes, particularly at the cost of slowing down other online services.
VISUAL CONTEXT: INTERNET USE
The Washington Post quotes Leahy:
Americans are speaking loud and clear. They want an Internet that is a platform for free expression and innovation, where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider.
This issue of ISPs controlling the levels of access and the speed with which consumers gain access to certain channels of the internet has grown in concern particularly over the last few months as the FCC struggles to find a middle ground between its old net neutrality regulations and handing over all the power to the ISPs. Since a court decision in January ruled that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate ISPs’ handling of internet speeds, the debate has raged in the U.S. over how to secure fair access to the internet for consumers. Netflix’s publicized argument with Comcast over its unfair treatment of Netflix’s traffic to consumers fanned the flames of this issue. And in May, the FCC approved a controversial decision to allow content providers to pay ISPs for better, more direct access to consumers — a win for the ISPs, and a loss for companies whose pockets aren’t deep enough to afford the prices for faster service.
There have been several suggestions as to what the FCC should do in the face of heavy criticism from the general public as well as major technology companies. Among them is the popular proposition that the FCC make the internet a public utility, much like the public switch telephone network. Mozilla — the company behind the Firefox internet browser — drafted a suggestion that proposed the FCC redefine the way broadband is approached to include consideration of third party providers. The company said that the FCC should create a new definition for the relationships between content providers, internet service providers, and consumers by calling them remote delivery services. The internet would be regulated as a Title II communication service under the Communications Act like other telecommunications companies and common carriers.
Should this bill or any type of legislation similar to it eventually become law, there will still be obstacles to ensuring a “free and open” internet. The FCC will have to actively monitor the ISPs to ensure they are not favoring certain content providers — something that will be tricky. But it is a long road to getting any such legislation approved.