U.S. Net neutrality bill big leap over Canadian law

Last week, Congressional Representatives Ed Markey and Anna Eshoo introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009. Public Knowledge provides a great rundown of the net neutrality bill. While some have suggested that the bill merely allows the U.S. to catch up to Canada, a closer look reveals that the bill would move the U.S. far beyond Canada in dealing with net neutrality issues as it directly addresses many of the issues raised during the CRTC network management hearing. In particular:

1. Traffic management guidelines. It establishes reasonable network management traffic management guidelines similar to those proposed by the OIC and CIPPIC. The bill states:

a network management practice is a reasonable practice only if it furthers a critically important interest, is narrowly tailored to further that interest, and is the means of furthering that interest that is the least restrictive, least discriminatory, and least constricting of consumer choice available.

This is not current Canadian law, though the CRTC has been asked to adopt something very similar.

2. Transparency. The bill requires full public disclosure of traffic management practices, something opposed by some ISPs at the traffic management proceeding. The bill states:

each Internet access service provider shall provide to consumers and make publicly available detailed information about such services, including information about the speed, nature, and limitations of such services. Each Internet access service provider must publicly disclose, at a minimum, network management practices that affect communications between a user and a content, application, or service provider in the ordinary, routine use of such broadband service.

This bill would provide far greater mandated transparency than that found in Canada.

3. Unbundling. The bill ensures that broadband providers don't force consumers into buying additional services if all they want is Internet access. The bill states:

rules to ensure that an Internet access service provider does not require a consumer, as a condition on the purchase of any Internet access service offered by such provider, to purchase any other service or offering. The Commission shall adopt any other rules it determines necessary to make such requirement effective and meaningful for consumers.

4. Net neutrality conditions. The bill includes a whole series of net neutrality conditions, some of which are much more specific than those found under Canadian law. PK notes that they include that Internet access providers:

  • Must not block, interfere with, discriminate against, or degrade the ability of a user to engage in lawful activity on the Internet
  • May not charge users additional fees for accessing specific Internet content or services
  • Must allow a user to connect any lawful application or device to the network, so long as that application or device does not harm the network
  • May not provide or sell any technology that prioritizes any one party's traffic over that of another party

Michael Geist is a law professor and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa.