September 21, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union have been actively involved in promoting an accessible, consumer- and citizen-friendly Internet for two decades. The groups today said they believe the announcement by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski that the commission will launch a rulemaking on network neutrality is exactly the right approach to take at this moment. Nondiscriminatory access to communications is vitally important for democracy and commerce in the digital age, and it is important to move swiftly and decisively to protect open access to the Internet in several ways.
“No consumer should be punished with a slower download speed or with a more expensive Internet experience because the provider they use picks and chooses the companies that are allowed to reach their subscribers,” said Joel Kelsey, policy analyst for Consumers Union. “The time has come to establish clear rules of the road for the Internet so that consumer choice and innovation are assured and an open online environment can flourish.”
“We commend Chairman Genachowski for standing up for consumers and committing the Commission to considering a rule making that will finally make the rules of the road clear on the Internet,” said Mark Cooper, Director of Research, Consumer Federation of America. “Without a non-discrimination rule, Internet Service providers will continue to discriminate what consumers can and can’t do online.”
First, the groups said, it is important to ensure that the four Internet freedoms are enforceable. The FCC adopted four Internet principles in order to ensure that broadband networks are widely deployed, open, affordable, and accessible to all consumers,. The principles attempt to provide guidelines for how Internet service providers can treat the content flowing over the Internet.
Second, it is clear that without an obligation to provide nondiscriminatory access to communications networks, network operators will constantly invent excuses to exercise their market power to undermine competition and limit the freedom of speech.
Third, it is critical to resolve the cloud that hangs over the FCC’s authority to ensure nondiscriminatory access under Title I of the Communications Act, since the Bush administration gutted the Title II authority that was the cornerstone of American communications policy for a century.
Fourth, it is vital to extend the principles of nondiscrimination to wireless broadband, since mobile computing is rapidly becoming one of the pillars of 21st century communications. It makes no sense to allow this mobile communications infrastructure to be operated in a discriminatory manner.
Fifth, establishing clear principles of reasonable and transparent network management practices in a rulemaking will create greater certainty for network operators and the public about what the range of acceptable behaviors is for both.
These are vital and urgent issues that will shape the future of communications in America. The repeated pattern of abuses by network operators since the obligation of nondiscrimination was weakened by the Bush Administration makes it clear that decisive action to preserve access to communications is needed. By moving early and swiftly, the FCC ensures that these important policy issues will be fully vetted at the agency and the courts, with adequate time for Congress to act should that be necessary.
Mark Cooper, CFA, (301) 807-1623
Joel Kelsey or David Butler, CU, (202) 462-6262