Network Neutrality Takes On ‘Net Neutrality

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Three weeks ago, I wrote an article questioning the merits of Senator Ron Wyden’s Internet Non-Discrimination Act and Net neutrality. On Monday, March 27, Texas Republican Representative Joe Barton introduced a network neutrality bill that addresses neutrality issues specifically for broadband providers, which can be read at this PDF link.

The broadband bill’s main points, which will be added to the end of the Communications Act of 1934, are as follows:

-A cable operator may obtain a national franchise by filing for a certification from the Commission for each new franchise; the franchise is effective for 10 years.

-The amendment applies to new and existing providers

-A person or group may negotiate a franchise agreement with a local franchising authority

-Cable operators must ensure that all subscribers receive any public, educational, or government programming carried by the operator within the subscriber’s franchise area

-The Act does not affect the state or local government’s ability to maintain the neutrality of the cable operators on a non-discriminatory basis including imposing fines and requiring compliance with the Act

-Within 180 days after the date that this Act is put into effect, the Commission will conduct a study regarding whether the objectives and principles of the broadband policy statement have been achieved, and the report will be submitted to the House Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

The section of the bill that describes the government’s ability to monitor cable operators is confusing because the bill states on the one hand that the government will monitor activity, but on the other hand that no state or local law can impose any consumer protection or customer service requirements on the cable operators. So besides imposing a fine to scare them into compliance, cable operators will most likely be able to jump through this loophole and escape accountability for network neutrality all together.

Moreover, in response to the latest stirs about net neutrality, AT&T and Verizon would like to offer content providers, like Google, multi-tiered services where the providers would have direct access to broadband users through virtual pipes that ensure home users could access the content easily. But, under the proposed network neutrality bill, AT&T and Verizon cannot configure their networks to favor certain content providers.

If this network neutrality act is drafted into law and taken seriously, it may affect online advertising only in relation to the control of content that advertisers seek for specific ad placement. If users can access certain content providers more easily than others, advertisers will favor those providers with their ad placements. Thus, this network neutrality bill is an even weaker government attempt than the proposed Internet Non-Discrimination Act to exercise control over the ever-expanding web abyss.

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