Democracy & Technology Blog Shallow and misinformed debate on net neutrality

The House Judiciary Committee has approved H.R. 5417, the “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006” mostly along party lines. The committee’s Democrats and a few Republicans voted to expand government oversight of the marketplace, and, specifically, to require that consumers bear the full cost of maintaining and upgrading the Internet, rather than permitting telephone and cable companies from spreading these costs amongst consumers, vendors and advertisers. This isn’t how television became a cultural phenomenon — that required billions of dollars in advertising — nor, in all likelihood, will it allow the Internet to reach its full potential.
The debate in the committee was exceptionally shallow and misinformed. No one, for example, asked whether broadband will have to be priced out of the reach of many consumers, thus forcing public subsidies down the road.
The committee’s chairman, F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) claimed that “Most Americans are subject to a broadband duopoly [or a monopoly].” Aside from the cable and telephone providers–who are the biggest contributors to congressional campaigns and thus apparently get most of the attention of lawmakers–cellular, Wi-MAX and satellite providers are also rushing into this space. Regulation and taxation are the chief obstacles to competitive entry, not hypothetical risks of anticompetitive behavior. USF subsidies, RUS lending guidelines, local franchising and rights-of-way management, industry-specific taxes and a shortage of spectrum all distort the risks and opportunities of entering the broadband market.
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the committee’s ranking member, was also misinformed when he stated that “Last year, in August, the FCC voted to change the way it enforces Internet rules, deciding to no longer enforce net neutrality.” The FCC deregulated DSL. Then it issued a set of principles which it will incorporate into its future policymaking.

  • (1) consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice;
  • (2) consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement;
  • (3) consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and
  • (4) consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

This is a far cry from a decision to not enforce net neutrality, and it would be nice if Congressional leaders would get their facts straight.

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.