May 19, 2006
Bipartisan Legislation Reinstates Meaningful Protections for Network Neutrality
WASHINGTON – Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Free Press and U.S. PIRG today pledged their strong support for the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006.” This bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) aims to protect Network Neutrality, the fundamental principle that ensures a free and open Internet.
Dear Senators Dorgan and Snowe:
We offer our strong support for the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006 and thank you for your leadership on this important issue. By preventing broadband network owners from using their market power to discriminate against Internet content and services, the legislation restores key protections for consumers — ensuring that they will continue to benefit from the innovative and competitive services offered over the Internet.
Cable providers and telephone companies currently dominate 98 percent of the broadband market. And the Federal Communications Commission’s decision last year to eliminate regulations that prohibit network discrimination has all but foreclosed future competition among broadband providers. Without anti-discrimination legislation or the threat of meaningful competition, cable and telephone companies that own and control broadband networks now have both the incentive and the ability to discriminate against other content, services and applications transmitted over their wires.
Not only can these companies prioritize their own content and services over those of their competitors, but they can charge Internet-based companies access fees for preferential speeds — creating a fast lane and a slow lane on the Internet. Both tactics are inherently discriminatory and will foreclose competition and innovation that consumers have come to expect from the Internet. Consumers, not the network operator, should determine winners and losers in the online marketplace.
Contrary to industry claims that network discrimination is purely hypothetical, recent media reports describing operators’ plans to create access “tiers” of premium broadband service demonstrate the reality of the threat and necessitate enactment of strong, enforceable laws to prohibit network discrimination. The fees charged to content and service providers would inevitably find their way down to consumers’ wallets – in effect, requiring consumers to pay twice for the same service. Not only will consumers lose, but entrepreneurs and technological innovators who cannot afford to pay steep fees to reach customers will be cut out of the market. Only companies that can afford to buy – rather than innovate – their way onto the Internet will have the opportunity to succeed.
The Internet Freedom Preservation Act not only prevents broadband network owners from blocking and impairing consumer access to content, services and applications on the Internet, but also appropriately prohibits preferential pricing for access tiers – a poorly disguised form of discrimination. Importantly, the bill also creates a meaningful enforcement mechanism to deter network discrimination.
The Internet offers one of the few remaining opportunities for meaningful competition for telecommunications services. The advent of telephone and video service over the Internet has injected new competition into the marketplace, bringing with it greater consumer choice and lower prices. The technological innovation that has produced those benefits will be stifled if only dominant cable and telephone companies and large, established Internet companies are able to reach consumers with their services. Your legislation would ensure that telephone and cable companies are not allowed to transform the Internet from an open, innovative, competitive environment to one in which they control what consumers can buy, see, and use on the Internet.
Thank you for your leadership on this important issue. We look forward to working with you toward enactment of strong, meaningful and enforceable Network Neutrality legislation.
Consumer Federation of America
Craig Aaron, Free Press, (202) 265-1490, x 25
Jennifer Fuson, Consumers Union, (202) 719-5921