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Original Signer of Anti-Net Neutrality Letter Writes His Own Pro-Net Neutrality Letter

Last week, 72 Democrats sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, stating a series of “concerns” they had about the Chairman’s proposed rule codifying net neutrality. As Jason Rosenbaum notes, it was an odd letter for several reasons:

Clearly, these Members of Congress are urging the Commissioner not to adopt net neutrality standards. But the argument they’re making is very curious. They point to the innovation that drove the creation and adoption of the Internet and broadband technologies as a reason to keep government regulation out of the picture.

On the surface, this might be convincing. After all, the Internet has grown up just fine without these regulations, why would we need them now. That is, until you realize that net neutrality is already the de-facto law of the land […]

In this light, the 72 Democrats who signed this letter don’t have much of an argument. They correctly note that the Internet has grown up well in the open platform it was given, a platform that includes net neutrality. And then they proceed to argue against making these rules formal.

These 72 Democrats, which included members of the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus as well as Blue Dogs, have almost all received campaign donations from big telecom companies and Internet service providers, who would like to see a gateway on the Internet acting as another revenue stream for them. This is part of an all-out lobbying push by companies like AT&T to derail efforts by the FCC to put net neutrality into law.

The fact that Jared Polis, a freshman member from Colorado, signed the letter, was particularly baffling to net neutrality supporters. Polis, who made his fortune on the Internet with, was thought to be a strong supporter. He took some heat on Daily Kos and reiterated his support, vowing to come back with a letter of his own:

I strongly support Net Neutrality and have been working on a letter to circulate advocating a regulatory approach that keeps the internet public and free… I’ll post my own letter on dailykos later this week, and encourage you to ask your reps to sign it.

I have seen that letter. In it, Polis strongly supports the FCC’s proposed rule on net neutrality, and commits to the principle of a free and open Internet. It’s so unequivocal, in fact, that it’s hard to reconcile writing this letter to signing the other one. But it’s good to see Polis responding to criticism by making such a strong statement of support, and to promise to circulate it among his colleagues, which is happening now.

More on this in a moment…

UPDATE: A Polis staffer refers me to a circulation draft of the letter, available on Polis’ website. I’m adding the full letter on the flip.

October 21, 2009

The Honorable Julius Genachowski
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Genachowski:

We are writing in support of your initiation of a network neutrality rulemaking to assure baseline rules that allow consumers to access the lawful internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice, connect to their choice of legal devices, and ensure competition among network providers and content/service/application providers.

We praise your efforts to include a non-discrimination principle that would prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against any legal content or applications and a transparency principle that would require ISPs to disclose their policies. With the growth of wireless access, we also agree that the same network neutrality laws should apply to all providers regardless of whether they are wireline or wireless. Your efforts in ensuring net neutrality will allow a free and competitive market for internet content.

Our regulatory system is being asked to define the marketplace. The most efficient market-based approach is one that empowers hundreds of millions of American consumers to determine the success or failure of a website, application, or service, rather than a handful of internet access providers acting as gatekeepers and deciding whether or how quickly users have access to lawful content. Rather than obliging internet users to purchase or use the content, service, or application favored by access providers (through ownership or deals that lock out or restrict the competition), free and unfettered access to all legal content is critical to fostering the progression of a free marketplace of ideas and services.

The intense competition and level playing field among providers of online content, services and applications and the low-barriers to entry that have allowed the garage start-ups of one year to be the multi-billion dollar companies of the next, have made the internet a great success. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should preserve the ability of free content to be created and delivered through the internet unhindered; to do otherwise stands in the way of the continual evolution of the internet and its value to humanity.

We believe that consideration of the potential consequences that the proposed regulations would have on network investment will support rules enshrining the principles mentioned above. A recent Harvard study examining the critical role played by private and public investment and competition throughout the world found that open access policy is “playing a central role… throughout the highest performing countries.” The extensive Harvard study looks at the regulatory approach of our international peers, and found that “in Japan and South Korea, the two countries that are half a generation ahead of the next best performers, this has taken the form of opening up not only the fiber infrastructure but also requiring mobile broadband access providers to open up their networks to competitors.” The study concludes that “the positive impact of such [open access] policies is strongly supported by the evidence of the first generation broadband transition.”

As part of a transparent, data-driven process, the evidence presented in the Harvard study clearly and unambiguously shows that an open access approach will not only foster the development of content and applications, but is also consistent with the development of the next generation of broadband infrastructure.

We recognize that it is the freedom of the internet itself and the diversity of applications and content that drive increasing demand for broadband access. Tiered access could not only hurt the ability of new content and service providers to enter the market, but could also reduce the demand for, and value of broadband services.

We believe that the proposed rules enhance the FCC’s historic commitment to competition and innovation, and are necessary to ensure that internet users can go to any legal web site and access any legal online service that they choose.

The internet is one of humanity’s greatest cultural achievements and the most powerful
infrastructure for free speech and innovation. We hope that you will join us in our efforts to ensure that it remains an open access network.

Yours truly,
Congressman Jared Polis

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