Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pingree and Michaud Differ On Net Neutrality

Maine’s two members of the U.S. House appear to be on different teams in the net neutrality game in advance of the FCC announcing its much anticipated draft regulations tomorrow.

Congresswoman Pingree continues to favor regulation that will “assure baseline rules that allow consumers to access the lawful internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice, connect to their choice of legal devices, and ensure competition among network providers and content/service/application providers.”

Congressman Michaud on the other hand wants the FCC to continue to rely on the “exercise of regulatory restraint.” He along with 71 other members have a strong belief that “continued progress in expanding the reach and capabilities of broadband networks will require the Commission to reiterate, and not repudiate, its historic commitment to competition, private investment and a restrained regulatory approach.”

Net neutrality generally refers to Internet providers treating all data over the Internet the same, and prohibiting discrimination against content or applications. With net neutrality Internet providers can't restrict or delay access to any sites.

For the most part we all enjoy net neutrality now. It enables us to connect to the Internet with the device of our choice and have unfettered access to any application available, whether its Skype that might use a bunch of bandwidth or email that uses very little.

Proponents of net neutrality believe that incumbent telecom companies will use their market share to effectively block out competition and thwart innovative start-ups. The “little guy” will take a back seat and get slower connections and be blocked from accessing applications that might compete with a product associated with the network owner. Regulation is necessary, some say, to insure Internet neutrality remains to be the case, and can be enforced by the FCC.

The fear of some opposed to Internet regulation is that as technology evolves and more people and products enter the market, companies that invest in telecommunications infrastructure may legitimately want to manage their network traffic to offer different products to different consumers. Some use the example of Fed Ex. You can pay a premium to get a package delivered overnight to Machias on Saturday, or you can send it via the U.S. Mail and have it delivered next month.

In the Internet world, users of video applications have different bandwidth needs than consumers who only access the net to do email. A company that wants to offer premium packages to video consumers selling speed of connection at a price, and a different package to consumers of just email capability, would be prohibited from doing so under strict net neutrality rules.

Net neutrality was for a while a partisan battle. Democrats including President Obama made it a rallying cry. As the battle heats up differences of opinion within the caucus are emerging. It should be yet another interesting fight.

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