Rep. Ed Markey on Net Neutrality, and ‘Making Sure We Get Policy Questions Right’

As we finish up the editing chores on our coming (now live!) Sidecut Report on net neutrality, we wanted to share with you now an email Q-and-A with Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, while last week’s FCC Comcast ruling was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Sidecut Reports: You have been a passionate advocate for network neutrality for quite some time now. Can you describe what motivated your interest in the topic, and why it became a priority for your office?

Rep. Edward J. Markey: When I was chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet back in the late 1980s, I successfully beat back an FCC proposal that aimed to levy per-minute access charges on enhanced services, such as Prodigy, Compuserve and others. My argument was that rather than subjecting the emerging “information industry” to such fees, policymakers should instead seek ways of nurturing access to such information. Winning that fight is the reason we have flat-rate Internet pricing today and this has helped to make the Internet wildly successful with consumers across the country.

Making sure we get policy questions right helps to allow the geniuses at the edges of the network innovate. Network neutrality is in many ways simply a battle against the certain incumbents’ latest attempts to levy new fees or otherwise constrain innovative new competitors. I’ve spent years actively exploring the future of new media technologies. I’ve been an outspoken advocate of promoting choice and innovation, including minority ownership, diversity and localism, in all areas of telecommunication policy.

I believe that an open, non-discriminatory experience on the Internet continues to be vital for consumers and innovators to reap the benefits of this wildly successful medium. The Internet’s role as an economic and cultural phenomenon must be protected by ensuring that the American people are free from unreasonable discrimination by broadband network providers.

Sidecut Reports: Given the distractions for elected officials in a Presidential election year, why did you decide to introduce legislation this year? Might such legislation have a better chance of passing or have a better chance of reasonable debate at a later time?

Rep. Markey: I offered my legislation, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 (H.R. 5353), now because preserving the openness of the Internet and protecting our global competitiveness is an issue that I believe needs to be front and center in any telecommunications debate, and it obviously helps to educate the public about the issue even as we look to next year for more progress.

Sidecut Reports: While policy and communications are inevitably intertwined, at what level of priority should communications legislation be for voters, given other pressing social and economic issues?

Rep. Markey: Telecommunications policy is critically linked to social and economic issues. The World Wide Web has become indispensable to companies large and small, regardless of whether their commercial aspirations are locally-oriented or of global proportions. Voters recognize that the Internet has no peer in its ability to foster innovation and provide low barriers to entry for new ideas and businesses.

Sidecut Reports: You seem to be in the Congressional lead for using social media tools like YouTube to increase communication between Washington D.C. and the rest of the country. What is the level of technological acceptance among your peers, and how does that affect the debate of issues like network neutrality?

Rep. Markey: For me, the use of new technologies, like YouTube, has enabled me to communicate with my constituents in new and exciting ways. Congress as a whole is increasingly embracing new technologies (beyond just the requisite Blackberry) from Twitter to Second Life. My goal in the Subcommittee is hold hearings to further highlight the benefits of these technologies and important policy questions that need to be resolved.

Rep. Markey’s responses will be part of our upcoming report, along with excerpts from a long string of interviews with top policy execs from AT&T, Google, Verizon and Comcast, along with leaders of top public-policy consumer groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge. For an email note when the report is ready, drop me a line to kaps at sidecutreports.com.

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