In an effort to advance the net neutrality debate in the U.S.Congress, two groups have offered their own proposals to prohibitbroadband providers from discriminating against competing Internetcontent, while allowing providers to separate out part of theirnetworks for specialized products.
Civil liberties advocacy group the Center for Democracy andTechnology (CDT) and New Yorkers for Fair Use, comprised ofbusinesspeople and technology advocates, both released netneutrality proposals Tuesday, two days before the U.S. SenateCommerce, Science and Transportation Committee is set to debate theissue as part of a hearing to amend a wide-ranging communicationsbill.
The proposals differ in their approaches, but both would allowbroadband providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. toseparate part of their broadband pipes for services they or theirpartners offer. But on the public Internet, broadband providerswould be required to treat all content equally.
The CDT wants a “narrowly tailored” set of net neutrality rules,even though large broadband providers have questioned the need fornew regulations, said Leslie Harris, CDT’s executive director.Broadband providers have said there’s no need for new rules becausethere’s no evidence of them blocking or impairing competingcontent, but a lack of broadband competition makes for a”significant risk” of that happening, Harris said.
If Congress fails to now pass a net neutrality law, it will bedifficult to come back later and force broadband providers toretroactively change their business plans if problems do occur, shesaid. “In our view, the Internet is too important — the opennessof the Internet, the democratic platform it creates, the economicengine it creates — to take that level of risk,” Harris added.
The CDT proposal, available at http://www.cdt.org/speech/20060620neutrality.pdf,would require broadband providers to treat all Internet content andservices equally. At the same time, the providers could experimentwith private network services where they could make exclusiveagreements with services such as broadband video, a practiceobjected to by some net neutrality advocates.
The CDT plan would allow Congress to monitor the Internet forevidence of discriminatory treatment.
The second proposal, authored by Seth Johnson, a member of NewYorkers for Fair Use, would also allow providers to offer tieredservices, but they would not be able to classify them as “Internet”services if they discriminate against competing content. Theproposal is detailed at http://www.dpsproject.com/.
Broadband services that divide content being sent over theInternet would destroy the standards that are the foundation of thecurrent Internet, Johnson said. If broadband providers can settheir own transport standards, the Internet would stop being apublic medium, he said.
Among those endorsing the Johnson proposal are David P. Reed, acontributor to the original Internet Protocol design; Miles R.Fidelman, president of The Center for Civic Networking; and PeterD. Junger law professor emeritus at Case Western Reserve Universityin Cleveland, Ohio.
Congress needs to clarify the meaning of Internet connectivity,the Johnson group said in an e-mail sent Tuesday.
“In effect, under the present circumstances, the system ofdeveloping specifications, which involves the writing and review offormal documents known as RFCs, which has held since the beginningof the Internet, would be tossed out by a few large providers andequipment manufacturers and replaced by corporate fiat,” the groupsaid. “IP-layer neutrality is not a property of the Internet. It isthe Internet.”