Thursday, June 22, 2006

Another sub-issue is search engine neutrality

I found this paper:
http://www.publicknowledge.org/node/480


It is fairly complicated. But I can summarize here my own experience, from 1997 to now. Generally, newbies do not have a problem getting search engines to rank their materials favorably (without paying) as long as they make the files content rich, and use a lot of proper names or buzzwords that people search for. Static content tends to rank preferably to dynamic content in many cases. It is no longer necessary to use metatags for keywords, as was recommended in textbooks six or seven years ago.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Where do I stand on Network Neutrality legislation?

This is one of those controversies where lobbyists throw slogans and simpleton paid ads at the public in an attempt to win their position for their constituents. My own view of this problem is evolving and developing, and I can see a lot of wrinkles and questions on both sides.

In general, I am skeptical of government regulation, because if is so easy for politicians to cause unintended consequences, imical to freedom, even if they have good intentions. I am far from convinced that all of the discriminatory behavior by large companies would really occur if the regulations (that apparently expired) were not re-instituted. From an engineering point of view, there seems to be no reason that it is necessary to slow down response when offering content from smaller providers. And there is no real objection to the develop of new hardware and infrastructure technologies that might benefit certain kinds of customers preferentially. For instance, in some of my own screenplay experiments I have pondered what Internet communications could be like between Earth and other bodies in the solar systm once we go there.

I do have a concern as a "newbie" that I could be quashed as an indirect result of efforts to control other abuses on the Internet by others (spam, various kinds of illegal content, protection of minors). I would not want a "dumb Internet" law to hinder technological solutions to these problems that would otherwise protect our continued freedom of self-expression on the Internet. For example, I would not want it to hinder microcharges for sent email. But the wording of both House and Senate versions would appear to allow for "smart technologies" instituted in good faith to solve security problems.

There is also a concern that an entity could be removed from the Internet because its content attracts hecklers -- poses a downstream or indirect risk to others because of "bullying." It sounds like it is possible that previous versions of Net Neutrality may have prevented this and that now we lack this protection. I am not sure if this is true, and would welcome comments.

Arguers against regulation emphasize opening large cable businesses up to competition to lower prices for consumers. A fair pricing policy might depend upon allowing content providers to pay for the bandwidth that they actually use in a less regulated fashion. The overriding concern of anti-regulation arguments, however, seems to be the welfare of the consumer; such arguments accept the idea that speakers need to make themselves financially or socially legitimate in other ways before they can easily and reliably reach large audiences with their content and ideas.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

New Senate Telecomm bill

On June 12, 2006 the Senate Commerce Committee released a draft leaving network neutrality language untouched, but did include language making it easier for telephone companies to purchase franchises in order to offer cable television service. There will be another hearing on June 30, 2006.

Source, Arshad Mohhamad, "New Senate Telecomm Bill Stays the Course on 'Net Neutrality'", The Washington Post, June 13, 2006, p. D4.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Arguments for the Network Neutrality Act

Many of the liberal arguments for network neutrality seem to concern barrier to entry. A major site promoting network neutrality legislation is http://www.savetheinternet.org
Promoters are concerned that communications providers will provide preferential pricing and favored treatment to other large customers that pay them “ransom” for faster access. Examples are given concerning Google searches, iPods, political groups, nonprofits, and bloggers, who might face less favored treatment in posting their own audio or video, possibly motivated by existing media companies that would prefer less competition or erosion of their turf. It is not clear that this would really happen.

Craig Newmark, well known for his http://www.craigslist.org, appeared on CNN on Saturday June 10, 2006 and argued energetically for Network Neutrality. He says that, without this legislation, communications providers or ISPs will provide faster access to paying sites, and that this could gradually shut out "ordinary" sites (like this one) from effective access, because access to them would become much slower.

Robert Combs (the Christian Coalition) and Joan Blades (MoveOn.org) have an editorial "Joined at the Internet blip" in The Washington Times, June 16, 2006, p. A16. They express concern that ISPs will reduce access to content with disagreeable political views, and claim that this has already happened in Canada when an ISP shut down a site sympathetic to some of its workers in a labor dispute. Normally The Washington Times would favor non-inventionist policy, but in this case there is a concern that the speech of socially conservative groups could be affected without Net Neutrality.

The Washington Post published several letters to the editor, "Nothing Neutral about Net Access" on June 17, 2006. Joshua Engleheart in California argued that shared web hosting companies will be charged fees for prioritized bandwidth by cable and phone companies, and will pass this cost along to subscribers offering small (often non-profit) websites. Providers of video will no longer be able to afford to deliver their own work; much "self-publishing" of video and even written content could come to an end as a practical matter.

The testimony of Blair Levin, Managing Director of Stifel, Nicholaus & Company, before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 14, 2006 is interesting. Notice when he differentiates, under point 2, the business decisions made between hardware infrastructure developers and content/applications developers, the latter of whom need relatively free entry to make their investments. The link is
http://judiciary.senate.gov/testimony.cfm?id=1937&wit_id=5421

Arguments against the Network Neutrality Act

Conservatives and libertarians have tended to oppose network neutrality legislation. ISPs would have a nagging concern about downstream liability issues, and properly handling these issues is the right way to prevent regulation of individual subscribers and publishers. Here is an explanation from "Freedom Works": http://www.freedomworks.org/uploads/20060526.pdf

A major site arguing against this legislation is http://www.handsoff.org. One observation is that already search engines accept payments for preferred placement, yet non-paying sites still are easy to find on Google and may other engines. A similar result could occur for access speed itself.

Another site is http://www.wewantchoice.org
This site talks mainly about increasing competition in the cable industry, which regulation interferes with.

There is a piece by Tom Giovanetti "Network Neutrality: Welcome to the Stupid Internet" in the San Jose Mercury News, June 15, 2006, that argues that a totally indifferent Internet cannot adjust to sudden increases in bandwidth for one particularly popular event (like the Super Bowl). It is at http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/14778336.htm
(You may need an online subscription to that paper to see this content.)

See Timothy P. Carney's website and book "The Big Ripoff", too.

Some observers note that Network Neutrality laws could interfere with future (low cost) constructive steps to prevent abuses of the Internet, such as charging micro amounts for sending emails (to prevent spam), or content labeling (in lieu of possible censorship). The bills, however, appear to allow these developments.

The Washington Post came out with an editorial arguing against requiring neutrality on June 12, 2006, at
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/11/AR2006061100707.html

The viewer may need an online subscription) The editorials emphasizes that hardware and infrastructure innovation receives less valuation from investors than does Content provision, and loosing regulation would encourage more hardware regulation.

In the mid to late 1990s, it was common for individual entrepreneurs to start shared hosting services. I used a stable service (virtualnetspace.com) hosted by a friend in Minnesota from 1997-2001. In more recent years, it has not been as profitable an idea for individuals to provide infrastructure; content development and applications (or games, for example) may seem more attractive. My impression is that shared web hosting has tended to become consolidated into larger companies, which may be better able to offer stability and economies of scale.

Timothy B. Lee has an op-ed "Entangling the Web: Regulating service providers won't help consumers" in The New York Times, Aug. 3, 2006, p. A23. The op-ed compares Internet companies today to the railroads, the high tech companies of the late 19th Century.

Text of the proposed bill

Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 (Introduced in House)
HR 5417 IH
109th CONGRESS
2d Session
H. R. 5417
To amend the Clayton Act with respect to competitive and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
May 18, 2006
Mr. SENSENBRENNER (for himself, Mr. CONYERS, Mr. BOUCHER, and Ms. ZOE LOFGREN of California) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

A BILL
To amend the Clayton Act with respect to competitive and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006'.
SEC. 2. PURPOSES.
The purposes of this Act are to promote competition, to facilitate trade, and to ensure competitive and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet.
SEC. 3. AMENDMENTS TO THE CLAYTON ACT.
The Clayton Act (15 U.S.C. 12 et seq.) is amended--
(1) by redesignating section 28 as section 29,
(2) by inserting after section 27 the following:
`DISCRIMINATION BY BROADBAND NETWORK PROVIDERS
`Sec. 28. (a) It shall be unlawful for any broadband network provider--
`(1) to fail to provide its broadband network services on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions such that any person can offer or provide content, applications, or services to or over the network in a manner that is at least equal to the manner in which the provider or its affiliates offer content, applications, and services, free of any surcharge on the basis of the content, application, or service;
`(2) to refuse to interconnect its facilities with the facilities of another provider of broadband network services on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms or conditions;
`(3)(A) to block, to impair, to discriminate against, or to interfere with the ability of any person to use a broadband network service to access, to use, to send, to receive, or to offer lawful content, applications or services over the Internet; or
`(B) to impose an additional charge to avoid any conduct that is prohibited by this subsection;
`(4) to prohibit a user from attaching or using a device on the provider's network that does not physically damage or materially degrade other users' utilization of the network; or
`(5) to fail to clearly and conspicuously disclose to users, in plain language, accurate information concerning any terms, conditions, or limitations on the broadband network service.
`(b) If a broadband network provider prioritizes or offers enhanced quality of service to data of a particular type, it must prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service to all data of that type (regardless of the origin or ownership of such data) without imposing a surcharge or other consideration for such prioritization or enhanced quality of service.
`(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent a broadband network provider from taking reasonable and nondiscriminatory measures--
`(1) to manage the functioning of its network to protect the security of such network and broadband network services if such management does not result in discrimination among the content, applications, or services on the network;
`(2) to give priority to emergency communications; or
`(3) to prevent a violation of a Federal or State law, or to comply with an order of a court to enforce such law.
`(d) For purposes of this section--
`(1) the term `affiliate' means--
`(A) a person that directly or indirectly owns, controls, is owned or controlled by, or is under the common ownership or control with another person; or
`(B) a person that has a contract or other arrangement with a content or service provider concerning access to, or distribution of, such content or such service;
`(2) the term `broadband network provider' means a person engaged in commerce that owns, controls, operates, or resells any facility used to provide broadband network service to the public, by whatever technology and without regard to whether provided for a fee, in exchange for an explicit benefit, or for free;
`(3) the term `broadband network service' means a 2-way transmission service that connects to the Internet and transmits information at an average rate of at least 200 kilobits per second in at least one direction, irrespective of whether such transmission is provided separately or as a component of another service; and
`(4) the term `user' means a person who takes and uses broadband network service, whether provided for a fee, in exchange for an explicit benefit, or for free.', and
(3) by amending subsection (a) and the 1st sentence of subsection (b) of section 11 by striking `and 8' and inserting `8, and 29'.

In the Senate:

Internet Freedom Preservation Act (Introduced in Senate)

S 2917 IS

109th CONGRESS

2d Session

S. 2917

To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to ensure net neutrality.

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

May 19, 2006

Ms. SNOWE (for herself, Mr. DORGAN, Mr. INOUYE, Mr. WYDEN, Mr. LEAHY, Mrs. BOXER, Mr. OBAMA, and Mrs. CLINTON) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

A BILL

To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to ensure net neutrality.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Internet Freedom Preservation Act'.

SEC. 2. INTERNET NEUTRALITY.

Title I of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 151 et seq.) is amended by adding at the end the following:

`SEC. 12. INTERNET NEUTRALITY.

`(a) Duty of Broadband Service Providers- With respect to any broadband service offered to the public, each broadband service provider shall--

`(1) not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use a broadband service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any lawful content, application, or service made available via the Internet;

`(2) not prevent or obstruct a user from attaching or using any device to the network of such broadband service provider, only if such device does not physically damage or substantially degrade the use of such network by other subscribers;

`(3) provide and make available to each user information about such user's access to the Internet, and the speed, nature, and limitations of such user's broadband service;

`(4) enable any content, application, or service made available via the Internet to be offered, provided, or posted on a basis that--

`(A) is reasonable and nondiscriminatory, including with respect to quality of service, access, speed, and bandwidth;

`(B) is at least equivalent to the access, speed, quality of service, and bandwidth that such broadband service provider offers to affiliated content, applications, or services made available via the public Internet into the network of such broadband service provider; and

`(C) does not impose a charge on the basis of the type of content, applications, or services made available via the Internet into the network of such broadband service provider;

`(5) only prioritize content, applications, or services accessed by a user that is made available via the Internet within the network of such broadband service provider based on the type of content, applications, or services and the level of service purchased by the user, without charge for such prioritization; and

`(6) not install or utilize network features, functions, or capabilities that impede or hinder compliance with this section.

`(b) Certain Management and Business-Related Practices- Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit a broadband service provider from engaging in any activity, provided that such activity is not inconsistent with the requirements of subsection (a), including--

`(1) protecting the security of a user's computer on the network of such broadband service provider, or managing such network in a manner that does not distinguish based on the source or ownership of content, application, or service;

`(2) offering directly to each user broadband service that does not distinguish based on the source or ownership of content, application, or service, at different prices based on defined levels of bandwidth or the actual quantity of data flow over a user's connection;

`(3) offering consumer protection services (including parental controls for indecency or unwanted content, software for the prevention of unsolicited commercial electronic messages, or other similar capabilities), if each user is provided clear and accurate advance notice of the ability of such user to refuse or disable individually provided consumer protection capabilities;

`(4) handling breaches of the terms of service offered by such broadband service provider by a subscriber, provided that such terms of service are not inconsistent with the requirements of subsection (a); or

`(5) where otherwise required by law, to prevent any violation of Federal or State law.

`(c) Exception- Nothing in this section shall apply to any service regulated under title VI, regardless of the physical transmission facilities used to provide or transmit such service.

`(d) Stand-Alone Broadband Service- A broadband service provider shall not require a subscriber, as a condition on the purchase of any broadband service offered by such broadband service provider, to purchase any cable service, telecommunications service, or IP-enabled voice service.

`(e) Implementation- Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, the Commission shall prescribe rules to implement this section that--

`(1) permit any aggrieved person to file a complaint with the Commission concerning any violation of this section; and

`(2) establish enforcement and expedited adjudicatory review procedures consistent with the objectives of this section, including the resolution of any complaint described in paragraph (1) not later than 90 days after such complaint was filed, except for good cause shown.

`(f) Enforcement-

`(1) IN GENERAL- The Commission shall enforce compliance with this section under title V, except that--

`(A) no forfeiture liability shall be determined under section 503(b) against any person unless such person receives the notice required by section 503(b)(3) or section 503(b)(4); and

`(B) the provisions of section 503(b)(5) shall not apply.

`(2) SPECIAL ORDERS- In addition to any other remedy provided under this Act, the Commission may issue any appropriate order, including an order directing a broadband service provider--

`(A) to pay damages to a complaining party for a violation of this section or the regulations hereunder; or

`(B) to enforce the provisions of this section.

`(g) Definitions- In this section, the following definitions shall apply:

`(1) AFFILIATED- The term `affiliated' includes--

`(A) a person that (directly or indirectly) owns or controls, is owned or controlled by, or is under common ownership or control with, another person; or

`(B) a person that has a contract or other arrangement with a content, applications, or service provider relating to access to or distribution of such content, applications, or service.

`(2) BROADBAND SERVICE- The term `broadband service' means a 2-way transmission that--

`(A) connects to the Internet regardless of the physical transmission facilities used; and

`(B) transmits information at an average rate of at least 200 kilobits per second in at least 1 direction.

`(3) BROADBAND SERVICE PROVIDER- The term `broadband service provider' means a person or entity that controls, operates, or resells and controls any facility used to provide broadband service to the public, whether provided for a fee or for free.

`(4) IP-ENABLED VOICE SERVICE- The term `IP-enabled voice service' means the provision of real-time 2-way voice communications offered to the public, or such classes of users as to be effectively available to the public, transmitted through customer premises equipment using TCP/IP protocol, or a successor protocol, for a fee (whether part of a bundle of services or separately) with interconnection capability such that service can originate traffic to, and terminate traffic from, the public switched telephone network

`(5) USER- The term `user' means any residential or business subscriber who, by way of a broadband service, takes and utilizes Internet services, whether provided for a fee, in exchange for an explicit benefit, or for free.'.

SEC. 3. REPORT ON DELIVERY OF CONTENT, APPLICATIONS, AND SERVICES.

Not later than 270 days after the date of enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter, the Federal Communications Commission shall transmit a report to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives on the--

(1) ability of providers of content, applications, or services to transmit and send such information into and over broadband networks;

(2) ability of competing providers of transmission capability to transmit and send such information into and over broadband networks;

(3) price, terms, and conditions for transmitting and sending such information into and over broadband networks;

(4) number of entities that transmit and send information into and over broadband networks; and

(5) state of competition among those entities that transmit and send information into and over broadband networks.

Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006


A practical definition of “network neutrality” is the principle that Internet Service Providers should not discriminate based on different kinds of Internet content.
Wikipedia’s definition is “the ideal that network designs and operators show not discriminate between network applications.”

This bill is being debated as Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 (Introduced in House)
HR 5417 IH
Congress voted against a version of this bill on April 27, 2006
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5365854

(may require a Post subscription)
In the Senate, the bill is S 2917, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act.

According to some sources, Apparently an older version of this law expired in June 2005, and there is concern over how cable and communications companies may "behave" without statutory requirements for neutrality.

Some ads say that the F.C.C. still enforces network neutrality, and the new bills would give it the force of law. Other sources say there are new bills that would eliminate network neutrality. I will try to get the exact legal facts. Anyone who would like to quote the exact facts is welcome to do so here in the comments.

An earlier Washington Post article by Christopher Stern, "The Coming Tug of War over the Internet," Jan. 22, 2006, indicates that the FCC informally has "enforced" neutrality, particularly when approving telecommunications mergers. Apparently it is the codification of this enforcement preference into law that is at issue.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/21/AR2006012100094_2.html

Jeffrey H. Birbbaum has a "K Street Confidential" editorial on the subject that poses net neutrality as simply whether telephone and cable companies should be able to charge other large users for add-ons to make those users more efficient. That is, should it charge Google for preferred access from Google's server farms. The article is "No Neutral Ground in the Internet Battle" at
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/25/AR2006062500735.html

Update: Jan 25, 2008

This bill (HR5417) never became law. Govtrack reference

Same for S 2917 Reference.