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Clarifying Obama's Position on Net Neutrality

In telecom circles, there's been a little dust-up about Obama's position on net neutrality, sparked by Carlyle Group telecom expert and former FCC Commissioner Bill Kennard's statements.

"Where that has typically led us is to supporting tier pricing systems as long as they're not discriminatory," said Kennard, an outside communications policy adviser to Obama.
Susan Ness, the likely FCC Chair under a Clinton administration, echoed Kennard's comments, going slightly further to the right and suggesting that Clinton is quite wary of regulation even though she supports network neutrality.  

Now, 'tiered access' is a loaded term.  It could mean charging consumers different amounts for different types of service, like DSL, Cable modems, T1 lines, dial-up, and broadband cards.  That's fine.  Or it could mean charging youtube and Google and bloggers more money depending on what type of content they put on the web and what their content says.  That's not fine.  In other words, Kennard either means that ISPs can charge different amounts to consumers who use different amounts of bandwidth, or he means that ISPs can charge content providers different amounts based on the type of content they serve.  We already know that without proactive action from the next administration, cable and telecom companies will inspect, block and censor content, as Cox and Comcast are already doing.  

The political pressure for an open internet is increasing; the Senate just held a hearing on equipment makers that help the Chinese government censor content.  The Senate Judiciary Human Rights Subcommittee raked Cisco Systems over the coals for "having a role in the Chinese government's construction of a system for monitoring, censoring and prosecuting online dissidents who speak in favor of democratic values."  The basic system architecture of packet sniffing and monitoring in China is no different than the one American companies will use to tier access to different types of content.  And even McCain is having to concede that an open internet is important.

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