By Peter Fricke
TechFreedom, a non-partisan technology policy think tank, announced the launch of its “Don’t Break the Net” campaign opposing utility-style regulation of the InternetTuesday.
The main feature of the campaign is a petition calling on the Federal Communications Commission not to subject broadband to Title II of the 1996 Telecom Act, which would empower the government to enforce “net neutrality” through price controls and other forms of regulation.
The specter of internet regulation surfaced in January, when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down two provisions of the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Under those rules, broadband providers were not allowed to either “block lawful content” or “unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.”
In order to re-instate those regulations, the court said, the FCC would have to classify broadband providers as “common carriers”, exposing them to the same regulations that apply to telephone companies.
Among the most vocal advocates of this approach has been Netflix. In a brief filed with the FCC in July, the company argued that failure to create “meaningful open internet rules,” would result in “legalized discrimination, carriage disputes, gamesmanship, and content blackouts.”
However, groups like TechFreedom believe regulating broadband “would trigger endless litigation, cripple investment, slow broadband deployment and upgrades, and thus harm underserved communities.” Instead, they advocate a return to “two decades of bipartisan consensus against heavy-handed government control of the Internet.”
“President Clinton’s FCC chairman Bill Kennard deserves much credit for choosing not to embroil the Internet in what he called the ‘morass’ of Title II,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. According to Szoka, the principle of “vigilant restraint” pioneered by Kennard “unleashed over $1 trillion in private investment, which built the broadband networks everyone takes for granted today.”
“The best policy,” Szoka said, “would be to maintain the ‘Hands off the Net’ approach that has otherwise prevailed for 20 years.” Under such an approach, he claims, “regulators could still keep a watchful eye, intervening only where there is clear evidence of actual harm, not just abstract fears.”
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