Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Today, Rep. Ed Markey and Chip Pickering introduced bipartisan legislation to help preserve Internet freedom and explicitly make "net neutrality" a guiding principle of U.S. broadband policy. The bill would affirm that the Internet should remain an open platform for innovation, competition, and social discourse, free from unreasonable discriminatory practices by network operators. It would also require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to solicit input on the nation's broadband policy from ordinary Americans by conducting eight "broadband summits" around the country and seeking comments online.
As we've discussed before on this blog, innovation has thrived online because the Internet's architecture enables any and all users to generate new ideas and technologies, which are allowed to succeed based on their own merits and benefits. Some major broadband service providers have threatened to act as gatekeepers, playing favorites with particular applications or content providers, demonstrating that this threat is all too real. It's no stretch to say that such discriminatory practices could have prevented Google from getting off the ground -- and they could prevent the next Google from ever coming to be.
While regulations on certain types of discrimination is one way to help preserve the Internet's openness, other remedies including expanding broadband competition and market-based initiatives may be important complements. Rep. Markey's legislation sets a sound course towards properly putting all the options on the table, by adopting the proper general principles and asking the FCC to address the right kinds of questions.
As important, Internet users themselves will get a chance to answer those questions. From the start, the heart and soul of the movement for net neutrality has been the grassroots -- the thousands and thousands of ordinary Americans who have already spoken up for Internet freedom on sites like Save The Internet and beyond.
Net neutrality is too often painted as just about particular companies' competing interests, but that's missing the point. Rather, net neutrality and broadband policy are -- and should be -- about what's ultimately best for people, in terms of economic growth as well as the social benefit of empowering individuals to speak, create, and engage one another online using the wide panoply of innovations available to them. In other words, broadband policy should come from the bottom up.