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TIA to Congress: Net Neutrality Rules Are Not Necessary at this Time
[March 17, 2006]

TIA to Congress: Net Neutrality Rules Are Not Necessary at this Time

TMCnet Associate Editor
 
The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), the leading trade association for the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, has taken a position on the “net neutrality” debate now before Congress.

In its “Broadband Internet Access Connectivity Principles,” a document which the TIA sent to key leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives this week, the organization suggests that broadband network operators should be allowed to build separate, high speed tiers of the Internet to facilitate the express delivery of voice and video signals to consumers.

“Broadband Internet access service providers should remain free to offer additional services to supplement broadband Internet access, including speed tiers, quality of service tiers, security and spam services, network management services, as well as to enter into commercially negotiated agreements with unaffiliated parties for the provision of such additional services,” the document, which can be viewed on TIA’s
website, states.


The document also suggests that the Federal Communications Commission take a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to enforcing whichever “net neutrality rules” Congress might adopt during this year’s short legislative session.

“TIA believes that the FCC has jurisdiction to vigilantly monitor the broadband Internet access service market and expeditiously review any complaint of anticompetitive activity. However, as no significant evidence of a problem exists at this time, it is not now necessary for the FCC to promulgate detailed rules in this area. Rather, the FCC should address any such problems on a case-by-case basis in the event they arise.”

Earlier this week, the TIA sent letters stating its position, along with copies of the document, to the leaders of the key legislative committees working on “net neutrality” legislation, including Rep. Joe Barton, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The proposed “net neutrality” legislation now before the House and Senate is expected to be bundled with other legislation as Congress attempts to redraft the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which has become largely obsolete due to dramatic changes in the telecommunications industry during the past 10 years – in particular the migration of voice and video signals to the Internet. It remains unclear whether Congress will adopt such legislation this year. Some political analysts have expressed doubt that Congress will act on telecom laws this year because they are highly controversial and this is an election year. So far, the push for net neutrality rules seems to have greater support from Democrats than Republicans in both the House and the Senate, however it remains to be seen if this is an issue that will split Congress along party lines – or of it is something that will receive bipartisan support.

In the letters to Rep. Barton and Sen. Stevens, the TIA suggests that Congress use its “Broadband Internet Access Connectivity Principles” to “guide policy decisions regarding ‘net neutrality’ or ‘connectivity.’”

“Our view is that the principles we offer provide an evenhanded and practical approach to this debate,” the letters state. “Importantly, while we offer guidance on how policy leaders should monitor potential behavior, we also observe that no significant evidence of a problem exists at this time.”

The letters also state that network operators should have the ability to “protect and invest in their networks, which they will not do if they are unable to envision realizing a return on that investment.”

Interestingly, TIA’s “Broadband Internet Access Connectivity Principles” goes so far as to recommend that network operators be allowed to adjust, or “scale” their networks, as needed, so as to protect the integrity and efficiency of their networks. This is an issue which complicates “net neutrality” and which is not addressed in the legislation which has been presented in Congress thus far.

“A competitive broadband Internet access market also gives facilities-based broadband Internet access providers competitive incentives to undertake risky, new investments, while precluding anticompetitive behavior against unaffiliated businesses,” the documents states. “In particular, broadband Internet access service providers should remain free to engage in pro-competitive network management techniques to alleviate congestion, ameliorate capacity constraints, and enable new services, consistent with the technical characteristics and requirements of the particular broadband platform.”

In addition to permitting the establishment of faster “paid” tiers of Internet service, the document states that network operators should be allowed to “continue to optimize network efficiency, enable new services, and create incentives for continued build-out to meet increasing capacity demands.”

A significant portion of the document, however, is focused on consumers’ rights. It states that consumers should be free to make “choices with respect to ‘connectivity’ - that is, the ability to access any lawful Internet content, and use any device, application, or service over the public Internet – so long as they do not harm the network,” and also that they should be able to receive “meaningful information regarding their broadband Internet access service plans.” The document also states that consumers should have “access to their choice of legal Internet content within the bandwidth limits and quality of service of their service plan,” and that they should “be able to run applications of their choice, within the bandwidth limits and quality of service of their service plans, as long as they do not harm the provider’s network.”

TIA is the owner and producer of GLOBALCOMM, an annual industry trade show that attracts ICT suppliers, service providers, enterprises and other users from around the globe. The association serves these groups through its leadership in standards development, domestic and international policy advocacy, and facilitating member business opportunities.

TIA represents providers of information and communications technology products and services for the global marketplace through its core competencies in standards development, domestic and international policy advocacy, and facilitating member business opportunities. The association facilitates the convergence of new communications networks while working for a competitive and innovative market environment. TIA strives to further members’ business opportunities, economic growth and the betterment of humanity through improved communications.

Since 1988, TIA has advocated numerous policy issues for the benefit of its members, has sponsored engineering committees that set standards that determine the pace of development in the industry, has provided a marketplace for members and their customers, and has served as a forum for the examination of industry issues and industry information. In the fall of 2000, the MultiMedia Telecommunications Association (MMTA) was integrated into TIA.

TIA is a member-driven organization. Thirty-five board members selected from member companies formulate policy, which is carried out by staff in the Washington, D.C., area, and in an international office in Beijing. TIA’s staff carries out activities through the association’s departments - External Affairs and Global Policy, Standards and Technology, Membership and Trade Shows. In addition, TIA’s five product-oriented divisions - User Premises Equipment, Network Equipment, Wireless Communications, Fiber Optics and Satellite Communications - address the legislative and regulatory concerns of product manufacturers. TIA-sponsored committees of experts prepare standards dealing with performance testing and compatibility.

In August 2005, TIA’s board of directors approved the creation of a new communications research division (CRD). The role of the CRD is to ensure the U.S. communications sector continues to be a world leader in advanced research. The division will provide expert advice to the government and to TIA on the status and impact of research and technology to the communications industry; and will educate the public on the importance of communications research as a foundation for the communications products and services on which they depend.

For more information about the TIA, or to see a copy of its “Broadband Internet Access Connectivity Principles,” visit
http://www.tiaonline.org/.

Patrick Barnard is Associate Editor for TMCnet and a columnist covering the telecom industry. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard’s columnist page.

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