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Time for Net Neutrality

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Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a historic step towards developing new rules to safeguard the free and open nature of the Internet, fulfilling a key campaign promise of President Obama's and kicking off a process that has been years in the making.

If adopted, the Commission's net neutrality protections will ensure that users have unfettered access to all lawful online content and applications. These measures, which will be crafted over the coming months by the FCC, are urgently needed to preserve the openness and competition that have made the Internet the most successful communications medium in human history.

Since its earliest days, the Internet has been guided by the principles of non-discrimination and freedom. That means that all ones and zeros are treated equally and special interests and Corporate America can't direct Internet traffic to serve their own purposes at the expense of the public.

From the very beginning of the Internet, this electronic equality has enabled users to innovate, to get their voices heard, to launch new services and business enterprises, and to participate in cultural communications across the planet. Whether you're in the Fortune 500 or the freshman class at the University of Massachusetts, the Internet treats your online activities in the same manner. Whether you're trading stocks or selling socks, the true genius of the Internet is that you never have to ask permission to innovate.

That has always been the genius of the Internet's architecture. But that genius is now under attack - threatened by the prospect that corporations will seek to erect roadblocks on the information superhighway, charging telecommunications tolls every time you visit your favorite website or blog or even watch a video clip. Some corporations are now seeking to provide fast Internet speeds only to those who can afford to pay. Such a two-tiered system would be a radical, wrong-headed departure from the Internet's historic rules of the road and a new financial burden on consumers.

As the Internet continues to evolve, we are now faced with a choice. Can we preserve this wildly successful medium and the freedom it embodies, or do we permit a few large corporations to fundamentally alter how the Internet has historically functioned? Do we retain a level playing field or do we allow the imposition of new fees and the artificial creation of slow lanes and fast lanes for content providers on the Internet?

I strongly believe that we must enshrine basic principles of openness and fairness into the rules governing how Internet service providers operate - giving the FCC the authority to be the proverbial cop on the cyber beat, to ensuring that these principles of freedom and competition are upheld in the marketplace. In this way we can preserve the best of what the Internet is even as it continues to evolve.

The FCC has taken an historic step. Still, we should also ensure that future administrations do not cast aside net neutrality rules. To prevent this from happening, I believe it would be useful to incorporate these principles into law. That's why in July, I introduced H.R. 3458, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, along with my colleague in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA). Our bill, which is also cosponsored by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA):

• Stipulates that unfettered access to the Internet to offer, access, and utilize content, services, and applications is vital for consumers and our economy;

  • States that our country's global leadership in high technology stems directly from Internet policies that embraced competition and openness, ensuring that telecommunications networks are open to all lawful uses by all users - policies that now may be under threat if the ability of Internet content, service, and application providers to reach consumers were frustrated by interference from broadband telecommunications network operators;
  • Calls for the United States to adopt a clear network neutrality policy preserving the open nature of Internet communications and networks based on non-discrimination while also permitting Internet service providers to take action to protect network reliability, prevent unwanted electronic mail, and thwart illegal content consistent with the overarching principle of non-discrimination;
  • Directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to promulgate rules that ensure that providers of Internet access service abide by the duties established in the bill, including not blocking or impeding consumers' ability to access lawful content, applications or service; not preventing consumers from attaching any lawful device that does not harm the provider's network; and providing consumers with detailed information about their Internet service;
  • Makes clear that nothing in this legislation affects any law or regulation addressing prohibited or unlawful activity, including any laws or regulations prohibiting theft of content. Our bill applies these network neutrality principles only to lawful Internet content. It does not undermine carriers' ability to perform network management, nor does it hinder carriers' capacity to fight piracy, or spam, or impact parents' ability to utilize content controls.

The FCC is now in the early stages of developing the rules of the road for the Internet, and our bill, which directs the FCC to undertake such a rulemaking process to preserve the Internet's openness for all users, is a complement to the FCC's efforts. Now more than ever, as this historic process unfolds and the legislation advances, the voice of the online community - from bloggers to gamers, from artists to small business entrepreneurs, from software engineers to those folks who just sent their first email - now is the time to rise up to defend internet freedom. Anyone reading the words on this blog has a vital role to play - get your voice heard, register your opinion, express your viewpoint. The future of the Internet may depend upon it.