Net Neutrality Bill Won’t End Conflicts Between Users and Providers

This week, Representatives Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act aimed at protecting the rights of Internet users and ultimately net neutrality. Yet, before net neutrality advocates unequivocally praise the bill, it should be noted that it protects the rights of Internet service providers as well. For example, as long as ISPs are candid with their customers in regard to their network optimizaiton practices, the bill does allow for “reasonable network management,” stating:

“Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit an Internet access provider from engaging in reasonable network management consistent with the policies and duties of nondiscrimination and openness set forth in this Act. For purposes of subsections (b)(1) and (b)(5), a network management practice is a reasonable practice only if it furthers a critically important interest, is narrowly tailored to further that interest, and is the means of furthering that interest that is the least restrictive, least discriminatory, and least constricting of consumer choice available. In determining whether a network management practice is reasonable, the Commission shall consider, among other factors, the particular network architecture or technology limitations of the provider.”

While this stipulation is extremely important in the protection it provides Internet service providers, it is likely to come into conflict with some Internet users’ ideas of net neutrality.  For example, the bill also states that it is ISPs’ “duty to not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair or degrade the ability of any person to use an Internet access service to access, use, send, post, receive or offer any lawful content, application or service through the Internet.” However, even users of the NetEqualizer, one of the more hands off approaches to network management, don’t have a choice but to target the behavior of certain heavy customers. One person’s penchant for downloading music — legally or not — can significantly impact the quality of service for everyone else. And, increasing bandwidth just to meet the needs of a few users isn’t reasonable either.

It would seem that this would be a perfect case of reasonable network management which would be allowed under the proposed bill. Yet many net neutrality advocates tend to quickly dismiss any management as an infringement upon the user’s rights. The protection of the users’ rights will likely get the attention in discussions about these types of bills, but there should also be just as much emphasis on the rights of the provider to reasonably manage their network and what this may mean for the idea of unadulterated net neutrality.

The fact that this bill includes the right to reasonably manage one’s network indicates that some form of management is typically nececsary for a network to run at its full potential. The key is finding some middle ground.

Related article September 22 2009

FCC rules in favor of Net Neutrality the commentary on this blog is great and worth the read.

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