Bill keeps 'open access' nature of the Web

A key lawmaker has introduced a Net neutrality bill intended to guarantee preservation of the “open access” nature of the Web without deploying the heavy hand of government regulation.

Bill, called the Internet Freedom Preservation Act and sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), would require the Federal Communications Commission to “adopt and enforce baseline protections to guard against unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators based upon its source, ownership or destination on the Internet,” according to a draft copy.

The FCC currently has open-access guidelines for Internet service, but Markey’s bill would likely compel the agency to establish them as formal rules. The commission’s GOP majority has so far resisted activist calls for this action, preferring to let market forces dictate whether rules are required.

Bill would also require the FCC to initiate wide-ranging studies of broadband management practices to determine the fairness of different Internet service provider fees for different levels and speeds of service and answer other related questions.

The FCC announced on Tuesday an open hearing on broadband management to be held later this month, but Markey’s bill would require at least seven more such hearings in geographically diverse locations across the country.

“The goal of this bipartisan legislation is to assure consumers, content providers and high-tech innovators that the historic, open-architecture nature of the Internet will be preserved and fostered,” Markey said in a statement.

“There are some who may wish to assert that this bill regulates the Internet,” he continued. “It does no such thing. The bill contains no requirements for regulations on the Internet whatsoever. It does, however, suggest that the principles which have guided the Internet’s development and expansion are highly worthy of retention, and it seeks to enshrine such principles in the law as guide stars for U.S. broadband policy.”

Net neutrality proponents hailed the bill.

“The studies and public meetings that the FCC will conduct as a result of the bill will be helpful tools in making certain the essential character of the Internet does not change,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, in a statement.

“The introduction of this legislation gives hope to the millions of Americans who want the public, not phone and cable companies, in control of the Internet,” said Free Press campaign director Timothy Karr in a statement. FP also coordinates the SavetheInternet.com Coalition.

Meanwhile, not everyone was pleased with the developments.

“We are concerned that an effort to seek public input is intended to be a stalking horse for federal Internet regulation. The continued push by special interests to regulate Internet neutrality undercuts the best hope Net users have for faster, more affordable broadband. Network innovation and deployment free from federal regulation are the keys to meet consumers’ rapidly growing bandwidth demands,” said the Hands Off the Internet coalition in a statement.

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