House Democrats oppose Net neutrality deal

Four Democrat members of the U.S. House of Representatives will oppose a network neutrality proposal offered by Google and Verizon Communications last week. The lawmakers say the two companies shouldn't set the rules for how U.S. residents access the Internet.

The four lawmakers -- Reps. Jay Inslee of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Anna Eshoo of California and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania -- said they opposed several pieces of the Verizon/Google plan in a letter sent to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Monday.

"Americans' online experience shouldn't be dictated by corporate CEOs," Inslee said in a statement. "Innovation and creativity online have given rise to millions of jobs and tremendous economic growth, in large part because individual consumers have been free to access what they want. Net neutrality is not about imposing a new set of rules, Net neutrality is about preserving the open Internet and empowering consumers and small businesses to bring the next generation of entrepreneurial drive to the World Wide Web."

The FCC should continue with its efforts to reclassify broadband as a regulated, common-carrier service in an effort to enforce Net neutrality rules, Markey added. "No private interest should be permitted to carve up the Internet to suit its own purposes," he said in a statement.

The four lawmakers, all members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called for the FCC to set the same Net neutrality rules for wireless broadband as it does for wired broadband. The proposal by Google and Verizon would exempt wireless broadband from Net neutrality regulations. The committee has jurisdiction over most Internet-related law.

The lawmakers also called on the FCC to exert its oversight authority over broadband and to reclassify broadband as a regulated common-carrier service. The Google/Verizon plan calls for Congress to prohibit the FCC from making new Net neutrality rules, although it would allow the agency to impose $2 million fines for broadband providers that violate Net neutrality rules set up by Congress.

The lawmakers also raised concerns about the Verizon/Google proposal's exemption from Net neutrality rules for managed services, separate from the public Internet.

"An overbroad definition of the proposed 'managed services' category would sap the vitality and stunt the growth of the Internet," the lawmakers' letter said. "In fact, an overly broad interpretation of managed services would create an exception that swallows the rule. Managed services might be rebranded or repackaged services and applications -- only with priority treatment not available to competitors."

Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, defended the proposal in a blog post Thursday. The proposal would allow Congress to keep a "watchful eye" on the wireless broadband market, and the FCC could continue to monitor the managed services that broadband providers offer, he wrote.

"Our two companies are proposing a legislative framework to the Congress for its consideration," Whitt wrote. "We hope all stakeholders will weigh in and help shape the framework to move us all forward. We're not so presumptuous to think that any two businesses could -- or should -- decide the future of this issue. We're simply trying to offer a proposal to help resolve a debate which has largely stagnated after five years."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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