Goodbye network neutrality, hello Internet openness

by Steve Blum • , , ,

A limited resurrection of network neutrality rules is under consideration in the U.S. house of representatives, with emphasis on limited. This effort has a realistic chance of success, unlike most of the political reaction to last week’s Federal Communications Commission decision to scrap network neutrality rules and end broadband’s status as a common carrier service.

Introduced by Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee) and co-signed by 15 of her fellow republicans, house resolution 4682 reads like it was written by a Comcast lobbyist. It prohibits throttling and blocking of Internet traffic by service providers, unless it’s “primarily used for and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose”.

Otherwise, it fences off “broadband Internet access service” from any law or regulation, local, state and federal, that deals with “Internet openness”. Which could be almost anything to do with how broadband service is marketed and provided – the bill doesn’t define the term.

That means, for example, that paid prioritisation – Internet fast lanes – would be allowed. So would “specialised services”, which are “services other than broadband internet access service that are offered over the same network as, and that may share network capacity with, broadband internet access service”. In other words, imposing a data cap on all the video you watch, except for the content you buy directly from your Internet service provider – also known as zero rating would be just fine. It opens the door to a wide range of other practices that would allow your ISPs to use its gatekeeper power to block competitors or charge them for the privilege of reaching you.

There are a couple of reasons to believe this bill, or something like it, will become law. It has a respectable number of republicans, and only republicans, onboard already. It lets them position themselves as champions of Internet freedom during an election year – the vast majority of their constituents are not going to dive into the details – and it preempts all future action, in court, at the state and local level and at the FCC, even when the partisan balance of power inevitably tips.