Monday, January 14, 2008

Consumers Union: strong network neutrality legislation is a must (2006)

The Consumers Union (which publishes the magazine Consumer Reports) published a major white paper supporting Network Neutrality back in 2006. The link (a PDF file) is here. The authors of “Network Neutrality: Fact vs. Fiction” are Ben Scott, Free Press; Mark Cooper, Consumer Federation of America; Jeannine Kenney, Consumers Union.

The rather detailed piece does deserve a careful reading. Many interesting points are made in the “Fact v. Fiction” dot points. For example, network neutrality legislation has always existed. Telephone companies have received billions in public subsidies. Telecommunications. Executives tend to see the pricing system as a “zero sum game” unless the legal climate encourages them to offer more broadband resources to the average consumer. (That point could be debated). The Consumers Union is quite critical of what it sees as the inadequacy of HR 5252 and Senate ATOR S 2686, and writes:
“If Congress passes the House bill, or the Senate bill as it was reported out of Conference Committee, there will be no laws guaranteeing consumers’ right to the online content of their choice for the first time in the history of the Internet.” The paper maintains that Network Neutrality is a balanced, bi-partisan concept that supports free market competition, and is not the product of a left-wing “cabal.”

Up until now, technological capacity has grown so fast and economies of scale among giant telecommunications companies, search engine companies, and ISPs have been so effective that they have been able to offer speakers capacities to reach the entire planet that would have sounded unbelievable fifteen years ago. Indeed, the capability of the individual acting alone with no capital and no financial or other accountability is one of the factors that has generated the “reputation defense” crisis that I have discussed recently on other blogs. Even so, many outages that consumers experience are related to capacity and temporary overload issues.

One cannot be complacent that companies will always be able to offer consumers and speakers almost unlimited access to global technology. The falling value of the dollar and various global infrastructure and political issues could make this more problematic in the future. Companies could eventually require more measures of accountability for speakers, probably measured in the ability to "compete" (individually or by manipulating others) and generate revenue.

Soon, I’ll track down these laws, see where they stand and see how well these points, made in May 2006, stack up against the “facts” today in early 2008.

Update: Jan 25, 2008

HR 5252 never became law. Govtrack reference.

S2686 never became law. Govtrack reference.

The most important current legislation in the 110th Congress appears to be S 215, "The Internet Freedom Preservation Act", here on Govtrack. There will be more details on this blog in the near future.

See June 2006 on this blog for the "original" net neutrality legislation, that also died.

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