Net Neutrality: A Historical Timeline

With the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes coming soon to the FCC (and to some Congressional committees) there is a lot of news lately about the debate over network neutrality, a topic near and dear to our hearts. In case you’re new to the game or want to catch up, there’s never a better time to order our report on the subject, titled Net Neutrality Phase II: The Battle of 2009.

Starting with the FCC’s recent order punishing Comcast for its blocking of peer-to-peer applications, our report examines all technical and political parts of the debate, and how proponents and their opponents will position themselves following the November elections. Which is now, so there’s still time to get up to speed before the debate gets going in 2009. As a public service, we are offering below our historical net neutrality timeline, which was vetted by several experts; however, if you see errors or omissions, feel free to comment and add your bit to the cause. Timeline, after the jump. One more pitch to order our report, right here.

(Thanks to Silicon Flatirons and for the great archives.)


Feb. 3, 2003 — Law professor Tim Wu presents a paper on “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination,” at the Silicon Flatirons conference in Boulder, Colo. Wu’s paper is believed to be the first use of the term.

Feb. 8, 2004 — FCC Chairman Michael Powell introduces the “Four Freedoms,” the base of the net neutrality arguments, in a speech at the Silicon Flatirons conference in Boulder, Colo.

Feb. 13, 2005 — Larry Lessig reveals that Vonage has complained to FCC about a service provider “blocking” its Voice over IP services at Silicon Flatirons event; FCC Chairman Michael Powell confirms issue the next day, says FCC will aggressively pursue the matter.

March 3, 2005 — FCC names rural ISP Madison River (which billed itself as “the 17th largest phone company in the U.S.”) as the firm that was blocking Vonage’s VoIP services. Madison River, in the process of filing for an IPO, quickly agrees to a consent decree with the FCC and pays $15,000 to the U.S. Treasury.

March 16, 2005 – Kevin Martin nominated by President Bush as Chairman of the FCC.

June 27, 2005 — The Supreme Court rules in favor of cable companies in the so-called “Brand X” case, overturning a federal court decision that would have forced cable companies to open their networks to third-party ISPs. The decision is seen as to specifically suggest that the agency has jurisdiction over competition issues in the broadband environment, a move that will also allow the FCC to deregulate DSL services, a process it starts about a week later.

Aug. 5, 2005 — The Kevin Martin-led FCC adopts the so-called Internet Principles order, which largely embraces Powell’s “Four Freedoms” but adds an important footnote that tempers the commitment to the principles by allowing for “reasonable network management” by operators. In published comments, Martin says that such policy statements “do not establish rules nor are they enforceable documents.” The order is issued the same day that the FCC declares its intentions to deregulate DSL services.

Sept. 13, 2005 – eBay buys Skype for a reported $2.6 billion, a deal that turns Internet telephony (especially Skype, which promotes free calls between Skype users) into a big, front-page business that directly challenges the telcos.

Sep. 19, 2005 — Vonage’s Jeffrey Citron calls for a “Broadband Bill of Rights,” which mirrors net neutrality principles, in a speech at the Fall VON tradeshow in Boston.

Oct. 31, 2005 — The FCC approves the SBC-AT&T and Verizon-MCI mergers, with “enforceable conditions” that include two-year pledges to “conduct business in a way that comports with the Commission’s Internet policy statement.”

Nov. 7, 2005 — Then-SBC CEO Ed Whitacre interview with Roger Crockett appears in BusinessWeek (the article actually appeared online about a week before the publish date), which provides net neutrality proponents with an endless amount of ammunition. To quote:

BusinessWeek: How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google, MSN, Vonage, and others?

Ed Whitacre: How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes? The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

Jan. 5, 2006 – Verizon CEO Ivan Siedenberg says after a speech at the CES trade show in Las Vegas that Google and Microsoft should “share the cost” of operating broadband networks, and claims Google is in talks with Verizon about fees. Google denies having such talks. A month later, another Verizon executive calls Google out for enjoying what he called “a free lunch” at the telcos’ expense.

April 24, 2006 — Free Press launches “,” a national campaign to “stop Congress from gutting Network Neutrality — the First Amendment of the Internet.”

April 25, 2006 — Telecom lobbyists launch “Hands Off the Internet,” an organization that presumptively represents grassroots support for opposition to network neutrality. Critics call HOTI one of the most egregious forms of “astroturfing,” claiming that AT&T and other telcos provide the monetary backing for HOTI’s extensive lobbying and advertising campaigns.

May 11, 2006 — Online video show “Ask a Ninja” weighs in on the Net Neutrality debate, forever linking the girl at Hot Dogs on a Stick, Robin Williams’ hairy cousin and bacon juice in its plea for its watchers to support net neutrality. Online video show Rocketboom weighs in a bit more seriously on June 23, also in support of net neutrality. (Both of these follow online video-show host Ze Frank’s April 20 take on the subject where his description of AT&T as an “asshole” is among the more polite things he says.)

May 18, 2006 — Net neutrality officially goes mainstream when musician Moby appears with Rep. Ed Markey at a Capitol Hill press conference. Moby joins fellow celebrity actress Alyssa Milano, who had earlier supported net neutrality in a blog post.

June 9, 2006 — The U.S. House votes 269-152 to reject Rep. Ed Markey’s net neutrality amendment to the COPE telecom reform bill, HB 5252.

June 28, 2006 — Sen. Ted Stevens makes his “Tubes” speech during a Senate markup hearing, trying to decry net neutrality but instead delivering a performance that later wins him infamy on the Daily Show and in YouTube’s hall of fame. Stevens and other Republicans on the subcommittee approve the Senate’s version of the telecom reform bill, but the bill never makes it to the floor for a full Senate vote.

Dec. 29, 2006 — FCC approves AT&T merger with BellSouth, with stipulations that the firm adhere to the FCC’s 2005 net neutrality principles for 30 months.

January, 2007 — Google hires former MCI lobbyist Rick Whitt, showing that the search giant is finally getting serious about D.C. operations.

Jan. 9, 2007 — Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Me., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., introduce the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007,” which includes net neutrality language that closely models Powell’s Four Freedoms.

Feb. 15, 2007 — Tim Wu publishes a paper calling for more open wireless networks, via a “Cellular Carterfone” provision that would allow users to use devices of their choice on cellular networks. A week later, Skype files a petition with the FCC to apply the Carterfone principles to wireless networks.

July 9, 2007 — Google asks the FCC to consider making “open platforms” part of the rules for the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auctions. A day later, the FCC does in fact issue a draft of the proposed rules saying that 22MHz of the spectrum would be subject to open-access regulations, meaning providers could not control what devices could be used or what the bandwidth could be used for.

July 20, 2007 — Google announces its intentions to bid on the 700 MHz spectrum if the open access rules are adopted. Eleven days later the official rules are released, with only some of the “open” conditions Google asked for included.

August, 2007 — During a live webcast of a Pearl Jam concert, AT&T mutes singer Eddie Vedder as he sings lyrics criticizing President Bush. AT&T later admits it has edited other such webcasts, but says it is “taking steps” to ensure such censorship doesn’t happen again.

Sept. 13, 2007 – Verizon sues the FCC over the openness rules for the 700 MHz auction, saying they aren’t needed and could devalue the spectrum. After courts deny the company’s request for an expedited review, Verizon drops the case in late October.

Sept. 27, 2007 — Verizon rejects a request from abortion rights group Naral to allow people to sign up for text messages from Naral on their cell phones, claiming it has the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages. After public outcry, Verizon switches its position and allows Naral to send the text messages.

Oct. 19, 2007 — The Associated Press publishes a report claiming “Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.” The AP says it confirmed the interference through nationwide tests, and that it appeared to target peer-to-peer file-sharing applications like BitTorrent. Comcast says it “does not block access to any applications,” but doesn’t initially offer any more explanation.

Nov. 1, 2007 — Public Knowledge and Free Press file a formal complaint with the FCC, charging Comcast with violating the 2005 Internet policy statement.

Nov. 27, 2007 — Verizon says any device from any provider can connect to its networks in 2008, provided it can “properly connect to the network.” The company announces plans for testing and application development and certification as well.

Jan. 8, 2008 — FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says the agency will investigate the Comcast-BitTorrent blocking incident.

Feb. 25, 2008 — At an FCC hearing at Harvard, Comcast is warned against its blocking tactics by FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who says the commission is “ready, willing and able” to punish the cable company. Comcast is later revealed to have hired people off the street to pack the audience at the event, in part to keep opponents out of the public hearing.

March 27, 2008 — Comcast and BitTorrent say they will work together to resolve peer-to-peer management issues; Comcast also pledges to move to a “protocol agnostic” method of management on its networks by the end of 2008.

April 17, 2008 — The FCC holds another hearing at Stanford, where Comcast, AT&T and Verizon are invtied but decline to attend. Some panelists claim that Comcast still isn’t telling the truth about its actions, and has been selectively blocking traffic at all times, not just at times of congestion as Comcast claims.

July 11, 2008 — FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says that Comcast did violate the commission’s Internet policies, and said an order regarding the matter would be voted on at the commission’s Aug. 1 meeting. Martin added that he didn’t think Comcast should be fined for its actions.

Aug. 1, 2008 — The FCC, by a 3-2 vote, finds Comcast guilty of violating the Internet principles and orders the carrier to change its network management policies, and report back to the commission with new plans within 30 days.

Sept. 4, 2008 — Comcast files an appeal to the FCC’s actions.

(Did you like the timeline? Then maybe you’ll also like the full net neutrality report and its interviews with leading influencers like Jim Cicconi, Ben Scott, Rick Whitt, Rep. Ed Markey, Tom Tauke, Gigi Sohn, Joe Waz and more. Order your copy today!)

4 Responses to “Net Neutrality: A Historical Timeline”

  1. Bunnie Pinkerton Says:

    Please send a copy of the full net neutrality report as offered above.

    Many thanks!

  2. Joseph Knorr Says:

    A long time advocate for net-neutrality I am hopeful that the internet will fulfill the un-kept promises of radio/tv and finally we will have a democratic medium that will engage in constructive (and yes sometimes destructive) debates of ideas. Like any institution that endangers powerful interests we will all have to remain diligent in keeping it open and may I remind anyone who feels we have won of the state of media empires and how well they are serving the public interest. Our founding fathers knew this and it is as true today; we need to be diligent in keeping an open and free democracy from those who would undermine her for reasons of power, extreme ideology, or personal gain. America is strongest when we allow the best ideas freedom to flow to the top, be it government or economics.

  3. Brett Glass Says:

    The above “timeline” is highly biased in that it misreports events, includes irrelevant ones, and conveniently omits others. If this bias pervades your report as well, it is not worth buying.

  4. Paul Says:

    Brett. please feel free to point out any “misreporting.” Your own biases are pretty clear, but this report was prepared objectively. What is irrelevant to your views may be important to others, or merely entertaining, which is part of the debate and so deserves a spot.

    What was conveniently omitted? Please inform us. And at the low low price of free, hard to say that the report is not worth buying. So your bias is clearly against us from the start. no? Hardly objective. But then we have come to expect such drivel from you.

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