Cantwell acts to protect broadband access

WASHINGTON Sen. Maria Cantwell made good on a pledge to protect consumer access to the Internet if the Federal Communications Commission was not bold enough.

In December she told the FCC its latest rules failed to ensure the Internet remains open and free. Her answer is the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion and Consumer Protection Act of 2011.

Her legislation introduced last week would prohibit Internet access service providers from discriminating "in favor of their own or affiliated services, content and applications and against other providers of such services, content and applications."

Cantwell's legislation is important on two fronts. Her bill is a straightforward declaration of needed protections for consumers and prohibitions for broadband providers in the pursuit of net neutrality.

As Joel Kelsey, of the Internet advocacy group Free Press, notes, "Senator Cantwell's bill would fill a void where the FCC fell short in its December Net Neutrality order and benefit the public interest, not just corporate interests."

Net neutrality is under assault from legal and legislative challenges, and from media mergers that seek to corral access and content options, with expensive consequences for consumers.

Even the FCC's weak new rules face a congressional review to overturn them.

Cantwell's legislation would also reinforce FCC prerogatives by formally putting net-neutrality values and principles into Title II of the Communications Act, making it clear the FCC has authority to regulate the Internet.

"Without the strong protections provided by this bill, broadband Internet providers will likely favor their own or affiliated content, service and applications because they have the economic incentives and technical means to do so," Cantwell said last week.

The stakes involved will be revealed in the intense opposition her bill draws on Capitol Hill.