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Top lawmakers slam Google-Verizon 'net neut' scheme

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The "suggested legislative framework" for internet regulation proposed last week by Google and Verizon has run into a buzz saw of opposition from four well-connected US Congressfolks.

"The recent proposal by Google and Verizon of an industry-centered net neutrality policy framework reinforces the need for resolution of the current open proceedings at the [Federal Communications] Commission to ensure the maintenance of an open Internet," wrote four members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet in an open letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

"Rather than expansion upon a proposal by two large communications companies with a vested financial interest in the outcome," the letter continues, "formal FCC action is needed. The public interest is served by a free and open Internet that continues to be an indispensable platform for innovation, investment, entrepreneurship, and free speech."

The four signers of the letter, all Democrats, are Representatives Ed Markey of Massachusetts; Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania; Anna Eshoo, whose California district encompasses chunks of Silicon Valley, including Google's digs in Mountain View; and Jay Inslee, whose Washington district includes Microsoft's Redmond headquarters.

In a joint statement, the four elaborated on their positions:

  • Markey: "No private interest should be permitted to carve up the Internet to suit its own purposes. The open Internet has been an innovation engine that has helped power our economy, and fiber-optic fast lanes or tiers that slow down certain content would dim the future of the Internet to the detriment of consumers, competition, job creation and the free-flow of ideas."
  • Doyle: "I am concerned that the proposal put forward by Google and Verizon could have the effect of choking off much of the most important, creative, and valuable contributions the Internet can make to the idea-driven economy of the 21st century."
  • Eshoo: "In my Silicon Valley district there are people building the next generation of internet breakthroughs. We cannot undermine their success by 'cable-izing' the Internet. That's why my colleagues and I remain steadfast in our commitment to net neutrality."
  • Inslee: "Americans [sic] online experience shouldn't be dictated by corporate CEO's... Net neutrality is not about imposing a new set of rules, net neutrality is about preserving the open Internet and empowering consumers and small businesses to bring the next generation of entrepreneurial drive to the world wide web."

The open letter outlines four "fundamental principles" that the signers believe should guide the FFC's broadband-regulation deliberations:

  1. The FCC must have oversight authority for broadband access services.
  2. Paid prioritization would close the open Internet.
  3. Wired and wireless services should have a common regulatory framework and rules.
  4. Broad "managed services" exceptions would swallow open Internet rules.

The four signers aren't johnny-come-latelies to the net-neut wars. Last July Markey and Eshoo introduced H.R.3458, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009, which has attracted 24 co-sponsors, including Inslee but not Doyle. That bill is currently languishing in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

This June, Inslee wrote his own letter to Genachowski, co-signed by 32 other representatives. In that missive, he supported the FCC chairman's "third way" proposal for internet regs, saying: "It is both proper and fitting to have public policies that oversee critical infrastructure to achieve the goals of the nation. The path you have chosen is well-reasoned, appropriate, and consistent with the law."

Inslee and his 32 co-signers, however, were outnumbered by the 74 members of his own party who sided with the anti net-neut brigade after Genachowski unveiled his "third way" proposal.

This group's leader, Representative Gene Green of Texas, penned a letter to the FCC chairman saying: "We cannot expect broadband providers to continue investing tens of billions of dollars a year into their networks when they don't know how much ability they will have to manage and protect that investment."

Being on the pro-carrier side of the equation, Green predictably used the oft-brandished "j-word" in his argument. "This uncertainty not only slows deployment and expansion of broadband, it costs jobs associated with laying the lines and connecting households."

Not that the anti net-neuts have a monopoly on the j-word. In an op-ed piece for the Seattle Times, Inslee wrote in support of network neutrality. "The Internet has become an economic engine generating 3.1 million new jobs and giving more than 20,000 of the smallest businesses in the United States access to the global marketplace."

That's the news. Now comes the editorializing.

At the core of the network neutrality debate is whether job creation can best be accomplished by a level playing field where entrepreneurial effors have an fighting chance, or by a profit-promoting environment in which existing large corporations will have sufficient cash to invest in an expanding job force.

Or, to argue from the other side of each viewpoint, the debate is between freetard irresponsibility and unbridled corporate avarice.

Or all of the above.

In these days of high unemployment and economic uncertainty, the US electorate is insecure and angry — and most of that anger is being directed not at corporate America, but at a government from which Average Joe and Average Jane feel increasingly estranged.

A good portion of the popular media — which, it must be admitted, is owned by large corporate interests — is working to convince the aforementioned A.J.s that government regulation is the enemy of corporate profits, and that the lack of said profits is what's preventing hiring from rebounding.

Lofty concepts such as those voiced in the Markey-Doyle-Eshoo-Inslee letter — preserving "free speech", enhancing "consumer welfare", promoting "energy independence", expanding "educational opportunities", shrinking "the digital divide", and helping "traditionally underserved regions and demographic groups" — don't, as the saying goes, feed the bulldog.

Whether you side with the freetards or the greedheads, the smart money is on the anti-net-neuts in this dog fight. ®

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