Broadband Deployment and Internet Freedom go Hand-in-Hand

Author of Internet Freedom Preservation Act speaks at FCC hearing in Boston.

by / February 26, 2008

Representative Edward J. Markey, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, delivered the following prepared remarks at the Federal Communications Commission hearing on Internet freedom in Cambridge, MA this morning:

"Good Morning. I'd like to welcome the members of the Federal Communications Commission to Massachusetts. I also want to again thank the Chairman and the Commissioners for adjusting the schedule so as to accommodate my ability to be here with you this morning.

"Just over 20 years ago, in October of 1987, I chaired a field hearing of the then-Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee here in Massachusetts. FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick was the lead witness and the issue was his proposal to levy per-minute access charges on computer users. His argument at the time was that because emerging online services like CompuServe and Prodigy accessed the network in the same way AT&T and MCI did, computer users should foot the bill the same way long distance phone users did. He testified that if such fees were assessed then it might help lower long distance rates by.....a whopping one percent.

"I battled against this short-sighted proposal. I contended that higher, per minute charges would dramatically reduce the use of electronic information services, crippling an infant industry. I stipulated that for education and health care and innovation, we needed to treat this nascent information industry as special and nurture it. And even though AT&T and the other carriers were powerful foes compared to the embryonic information industry, my view prevailed at the Commission.

"As a result, when Congress voted a few years later to permit the commercialization of the Internet, providers were able to offer consumers flat-rate pricing for accessing the Internet, and consumer use and innovation flourished. No wonder that former FCC Chairman Bill Kennard has said that this decision was the single most important decision in fostering the growth of the Internet.

"I am pleased therefore that the Commission has returned to Massachusetts to examine contemporary issues in the development of the Internet. As you analyze the issues before you today, I want to briefly suggest a few thoughts to keep in mind.

"First, let me underscore that the Internet is as much mine and yours as it is Verizon's, AT&T's or Comcast's. Please keep front and center in your examination the needs and wishes of the community of users rather than a small coterie of carriers.

"Much like the policy debate over access charges on information services at the FCC two decades ago -- the key question for safeguarding the Internet is recognition that the nature of the Net is really not about services provided by carriers themselves. They don't provide 'Internet services' -- they provide broadband access to the Internet. There's a difference between the two and this distinction is vital in my view in order to ascertain the proper role for the FCC and for the carriers themselves going forward.

"If we emphasize unduly the present desires by broadband network providers to utilize certain network management tools, it runs the risk of conceding all-too-readily that these network providers have a genuine role in managing -- and in so doing, constraining -- our broadband access to the Internet. I understand that there may be transitional issues until bandwidth increases sufficiently, but the Commission should be wary about the premise posed by any carrier's contention of the need for a significant network management position.

"Perhaps if we had multiple competitors or super-high bandwidth to residential consumers this wouldn't be an issue. The problem today is that we have neither sufficient competition nor affordable, truly high-speed access to the Internet. I fully support and celebrate efforts by industry participants to deliver ever higher bandwidth speeds to consumers and have battled in Washington to ensure that policies are

in place to make sure these key infrastructure assets are deployed over time to all neighborhoods in a given community.

"If the lack of bandwidth is plaguing network operations and posing policy issues needlessly, then the Commission would do well to re-examine broadband policies with a goal of jump-starting competition. Through broadband competition, consumers can reap the benefits of lower prices, higher speeds, and enhanced service quality. Certainly, wireless policy, universal service mechanisms, and other tools can also promote high-speed broadband deployment and affordability, but I continue to believe that competition should be our preferred policy for alleviating the current broadband policy issues of speed and affordability.

"We want to look back years from now and be able to celebrate that this is "No Country for Old Bandwidth"......(I thought that was the most appropriate Oscar reference this morning, certainly better for today's academic deliberations than "There Will Be Blood.")

"In the interim, a broadband network provider will undoubtedly express a reasonable need today to manage the network to address congestion caused by insufficient bandwidth. But such intercession into a user's access to the Internet should not result in the outright blocking of political speech or other content, or the transformation of BitTorrent into 'Bit Trickle.' That's a problematic result whether it is purposeful or purely circumstantial. We must insist on reasonable measures and today's hearing will give you an opportunity to assess whether reasonable approaches are being employed.

"Finally, the Commission should examine these issues not only to discern corporate practice and intent for reasonableness -- but also to ascertain whether these actions truly are temporary or transitory due to the dearth of bandwidth, or instead, managerial creations of the moment that the carriers may find useful and make permanent for non-networking, commercial reasons.

"While carriers will assert the need to manage networks in their current state of evolution, we need to remember that Internet freedoms are most properly thought of as consumer-centric. Such freedoms extend to use of the Net for any lawful purpose.

"The beauty of the Internet is its wonderfully chaotic, ever evolving nature. Its ability to re-invent itself every year.

"The promise for the future is the Net's ability to enhance education, health care delivery, celebrate free speech, mitigate against the problems caused by concentration in traditional media, foster innovation, job creation, and spur economic growth.

"The examination you conduct today -- and going forward -- will go to the heart of that promise and the future of the Internet. I again commend you for taking this step, for making it here in Massachusetts (the birthplace of revolutions), and look forward to working with each of you on this and other issues in the weeks ahead.

"Thank you."