Speech by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.
Re: network neutrality.
Date: March 26, 2004.
Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Editor's notes:
 • TLJ transcribed this speech from its audio recordings of the event.
 • This transcription omits some comments at the beginning, and at the end, of the speech unrelated to network neutrality.
 • Several words were inaudible.

We all take pride in the dynamic form that the internet has become. From left to right, Republicans and Democrats, rural and urban, young and old, view the internet as a place of freedom, for technology and business innovation, ___. End to end openness has always been at the heart of what the internet community and its creators celebrate. The internet has become a fountain of innovation, a well of opportunity for consumers, and for entrepreneurs. It may just be the most democratic public forum that has ever existed.

But, this internet may not be the one that we know in the future. There are threats to it out there, and I think that we have better begin to understand them before they derail the promise of this technology, not after the damage has been inflicted. Entrenched interests are already jockeying to constrain the openness that has been the internet's defining hallmark. They are lobbying the FCC to aide and abet them. They claim all they are advocating is a deregulated environment, where the market can reign supreme. But, in reality, they are seeking government help to allow a few companies to turn the internet from a place of competition and innovation, into an oligopoly.

Power over the internet would reside with the network owners, with a huge choke point, constrain consumer choices, limit sources of news and information and entertainment, undermine competitors, and quash disruptive new technologies. They may talk in terms of Schumpeter and creative destruction, but in reality, what they are asking is for the Commission to pick winners and losers, and to choose existing technologies and businesses over new technologies and entrepreneurs. They can talk competition all they want, but the race to combine distribution and content spell economic constraint here, just as clearly as they did when John D. Rockefeller married distribution to his product.

We cannot afford to buy into this vision. If we do, we will wind up one day, looking back, shaking our heads, and wondering whatever happened to that open, dynamic, liberating, and promising internet that once we knew.

What promise it held. And if that happens history will not forgive us. Nor should it.

So, it is time to take stock. Where is the future of the broadband internet. What regulation, deregulation, unregulation, whatever, made it, so that this dynamic and open platform can develop as it did? As the internet matures from its dialup infancy to its broadband adolescence, how does it keep it this way.

These are the questions that should be asked ___. We could begin, as Mark suggested, with a little history.

Not so long ago, one company ran the whole show in the wireline world. When the internet showed up with new ideas and technologies, Ma Bell just shooed them away. And the FCC was totally complicit in all of this, keeping those new and novel ideas at bay would to keep the network stable, keep economies of scale in place, and ensure quality service, or so they thought.

But this kind of government protectionism only insured that the network was closed to innovation is closed to consumer __. Thankfully, another FCC changed course. More than thirty-five years ago, the Commission decided to let consumers attach devices, like the Carterphone, to the end of the network. And you know what, the doomsday loss of quality and control did not come to pass. Instead, a new right of attachment came to be. And it brought to consumers the basic freedom to attach any device to the network as long as it causes no network harm. And, look at its benefits, fax machines and computer modems are direct descendents of this principle.

In the years after the Carterphone decision, the FCC reaffirmed its policy of openness and competition in the Computer Inquiry cases. And internet pioneers like Vint Cerf built the network on the now famous end to end principle. This combination of policy and principle charged the nation's entrepreneurial batteries. It has empowered consumers to go where they want, and do what they want, on the internet. We must not allow the core tenants of nondiscrimination to whither and die.

Consider what might happen if your broadband internet provider could discriminate. It might, for example, choose prevent you from using a spam jamming service that blocks its own spam, or a filtering technology to keep you from cruising the back alleys of the internet. Maybe, it is not mere fantasy that someday, somebody might want to decide which news sources, or political sites, you can visit. We ought to at least be thinking about this matter, and maybe even taking some steps to ensure that it doesn't happen.

Where are the boundaries between legitimate bandwidth management and denial of access. The lines, I suggest, are blurred.

I was pleased to read that recent speech by Chairman Powell, setting out some key principles of internet freedom, the freedom to access content, use applications, attach personal devices, and obtain service client information. It is, I hope, a sign that a deeper discussion may finally be starting, and that we may be developing consensus around the idea that there may just be some problems here after all.

I saw his comments as a call to action for the broadband industry. Perhaps this will service a good purpose. But, with so much at stake, I think that we have to ask ourselves if this action is enough to get the job done.

People like Vint Cerf and Larry Lessig have devoted too much time and talent to maximizing the paradigm busting technology to see it subordinated to empty and sterile and outdated debate about regulation versus deregulation. Let's get serious. The reason to get serious now is because consumers and innovators have precious littel recourse discrimination occurs, if they know it is happening.

So, until that happy day when we have robust and competitive market for access and there are no longer any dangerous bottleneck facilities on the network, I believe that the FCC needs to be on the job, actively insuring that ___ are accessible, neutral and open, just as they are in the dial up world.

We are not picking losing and winners when the government makes sure that the roads of the internet are open to all. In the past, too few people outside of Washington have been able to tune into these issues. This classic inside the beltway game.

But, last spring in the media debate, we awoke the sleeping giant. The brazenness of what the FCC decided on media concentration and the stealth process that it used to get around -- aroused the ire of millions of Americans. In previously unheard of numbers, two point three million Americans made it known that they were not interest in surrendering content control over music and entertainment and information, not interested in surrendering gate keeper control over the civil dialogue of our country, not interested in surrendering veto power over the majority of what we watch and read to an ever smaller number of media giants. They got mad. And I think they will get mad again if we let internet go down the same road.

So let's not let this same regulatory tunnel vision drive internet policy that has driven telecom policy and media policy on this Commission. The time is right for those of us who have concerns to, be they businesses, internet, technologists, content providers, regulators, legislators, consumers, citizens all, to seize the opportunity we have now to start thinking and talking about doing something about the internet in the broadband age.

We need to make sure that it fosters freedom and innovation, that the openness that has always been the hallmark and the future every bit as bright as its past. I think we are going to learn a lot about all of this today.