Saturday, December 4, 2010

Herb Kohl Responds on Net Neutrality

Since the last election, I have been writing letters and sending emails to as many congress people as I can about the issues that I feel are of utmost importance. One of the most important issues, more than the tax cuts, more than health care, more than the debt, I feel is net neutrality. The internet has been the greatest resources for information and mass communication that the world has ever seen. Especially after the Supreme Court decided that votes were OK to be bought, net neutrality, the ability for everyone to use the tool on a level playing field with money being only a small factor in distribution, is more important than ever. So I wrote to Herb Kohl to urge him to address this issue as aggressively as possible.

And he, or at least his office, replied! Here is what I got back:

Dear Ms. Weber:

I appreciate hearing from you about access to content on the Internet and the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate Internet services.  Recently, there has been a lot of debate about "Net neutrality," which describes the concept that Internet network operators should be neutral conduits of content, and who should have the authority to determine whether some Internet traffic is prioritized over other traffic. In recent years Congress has carefully considered this issue. Should the Senate consider legislation related to net neutrality or Internet regulation, I will be certain to keep your thoughts in mind. 

On April 6, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to regulate how Internet service providers manage traffic on their networks. This decision overturned a 2008 ruling that prevented Comcast, an Internet service provider, from blocking users from accessing certain content online. The April 6 decision will further impact the FCC because the National Broadband Plan, which the FCC released on March 17, 2010, includes many provisions that depend on the FCC's authority to enforce net neutrality. 
Since the April 6 ruling, interested parties have asked what this ruling will mean and how it will impact the future of broadband Internet services. This ruling stems from numerous court rulings and decades of debate about the boundaries of the FCC's authority. By definition, the FCC has direct authority to regulate telecommunications services, the authority to regulate information services in certain circumstances, and when appropriate, the authority to reclassify individual services. After the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law, the FCC had to choose whether the Internet should be classified as a telecommunications service, such as telephone services, or as an information service. The FCC chose to classify the Internet as an information service, which it only has the authority to regulate in some circumstances, and the April 6 circuit ruling stated that the FCC cannot regulate the Internet to ensure net neutrality. 
However, almost 15 years after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law, our use of the Internet has changed dramatically and people across the country depend on Internet services for critical communications, education, public safety, and health care. On May 6, 2010, the Chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, issued a statement announcing that the FCC plans to issue a rulemaking to reclassify the transmission aspect of Internet services as a telecommunications service. In his statement, he detailed boundaries to prevent regulatory overreach and limits on which regulations from the Communication Act of 1996 would apply to the transmission of Internet services. The change would maintain the range of obligations that broadband access service providers faced before the April 6 Circuit Court decision. Reclassifying the transmission of the Internet as a communications service would give the FCC the authority to regulate the transmission of the Internet now and in the future.  It would not give the FCC the authority to regulate the Internet itself or Internet content. 
Some suggest that Chairman Genachowski's proposal would clarify the FCC's legal authority over the Internet and allow the agency to move forward with its National Broadband Plan. Others have voiced concerns that Chairman Genachowski's proposal would unnecessarily expand the FCC's authority over the Internet. 

Chairman Genachowski has indicated that the FCC plans to seek public comments on this proposal before moving forward. Should we consider legislation related to Internet classification in the Senate, I will remember your comments.


                                                      Herb Kohl
                                                      United States Senator

I highly recommend that you contact your congress people regarding this issue. With net neutrality the people can continue to get their messages out to potentially millions of people all over the world. If this is taken away and given to the highest bidder, then how will our voices be heard? Speak now, while you still can!

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