Markey Proposes a Net Neutrality Study


A bill sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) would give the Federal Communications Commission one year to study a range of Internet-related competition issues and conduct at least eight “public broadband summits” for some face-to-face contact with the nation’s legions of Web surfers.

The bill from Markey and co-sponsor Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) puts a premium on market-data collection. The measure would not require the FCC to adopt regulations. The agency would need to file a report due 90 days after holding the last broadband summit.

Markey, chairman of the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, has named the bill the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008. He introduced the bill last Tuesday night (Feb. 12).

The eight-page bill’s preamble contains strong language in support of network neutrality principles, but that’s as far the measure goes.

If it becomes law, the bill would not authorize the FCC to regulate cable, phone and other broadband-access providers. “The introduction of this legislation gives hope to the millions of Americans who want the public — not phone and cable companies — in control of the Internet,” said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, which coordinates the Coalition.

Markey failed to pass a net neutrality amendment on the House floor in 2006, just months before Democrats regained power in the House.

The 2006 amendment would have banned discriminatory conduct by cable, phone and other broadband-access providers against companies such as Google, Yahoo and eBay.

That bill would have prohibited network owners from blocking unaffiliated Web-based services and from demanding fees in exchange for priority treatment of such services.

The debate today at the FCC is about network management techniques and the extent to which network owners may take proactive steps to ensure that a few bandwidth hogs don’t spoil Web surfing for the vast majority of customers.

It’s unclear why Markey would need legislation to force a study from the FCC. For example, House Energy and Commerce Committee members in 2004 asked the FCC to prepare a report on the a la carte sale of cable networks. The FCC delivered the report in November 2004, but FCC chairman Kevin Martin secretly revised it the next year to show a la carte could benefit consumers in some ways.

It’s also unclear why Markey waited until the second year of the current Congress to advance legislation. If his bill becomes law in a few months, there’s a chance that a Republican-controlled FCC would begin the report but a Democratic-controlled FCC would finish it after the November elections.