Democracy & Technology Blog Wyden’s ‘net neutrality’ bill needs a lot of work

As a congressman, Ron Wyden once said that competition is too important to be left to the marketplace.
Today, Senator Wyden (D-OR) introduced a “net neutrality” bill (S. 2360) which he thinks is needed to prevent the construction of a “priority lane” on the Internet. National Journal’s Technology Daily ($), paraphrased Wyden saying that “it is perfectly acceptable for broadband providers to charge consumers more for faster speeds, but that it is not acceptable to charge businesses for faster Internet delivery.” That’s like saying businesses shouldn’t pay taxes.
The Wyden proposal may be intended merely to ensure that the Internet will function like the telephone network, but in reality it is a radical proposal that would actually shift future costs from big business to consumers and to mom-and-pop businesses, for that matter.
The fact is consumers do not cover the cost of their phone service. Businesses — large and small — massively subsidize residential telephone subscribers. Under Wyden’s bill, consumers would pay a fully proportional cost of Internet upgrades.
William Smith, the BellSouth chief technology officer, said in today’s Wall Street Journal ($) that 1% of BellSouth’s broadband customers drive 40% of Internet traffic. That means they are getting subsidized by the other 99%. Wyden is doing a huge favor here for large corporations like Google and Amazon.
This is ironic considering that Wyden is a champion on issues affecting people like the elderly on fixed incomes. Wyden ought to explain his proposal to them. Would they rather subsidize Google or would they prefer to pay the lowest possible price and possess the freedom to control their cost by adjusting their Internet usage?
The Wyden bill allows an aggrieved party to file a written complaint, which they can do already. But under the Wyden bill, once the FCC accepts the complaint, the burden of proof is on the network operator to show it did not violate the law. No penalty for frivolous complaints, of course. But more importantly, shifting the burden of proof to the accused is what they do in other parts of the world. Here, you are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Wyden also said he does not believe that service providers should be able to pick winners and losers on the Internet. I agree with that sentiment, but obviously not with his bill.

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.