Congress under the Bush administration cast largely a blind eye on legislating net neutrality. Net neutrality, the movement to block telecommunication companies from creating "fast lanes" where paying websites would be sped up, while others might slowed down, seemed unlikely to be signed into law by the President who sided with the telecommunication companies on numerous issues.
However, with President-Elect Barack Obama soon to be inaugurated, change is afoot. President-Elect Obama's team, while receiving flak on some tech issues like attempting to delay the transition to digital TV, has largely been praised for its ambitious tech agenda which looks to expand provisions to protect users from telecoms, among other things.
Aaron Cooper, counsel to Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate Judiciary Committee, says that among the top items that his boss will seek to legislation during Barack Obama's term are performance rights and Net neutrality legislation. This legislation will likely include provisions blocking internet "speed lanes" and also block telecoms from implement data caps on "unlimited" connections, and perhaps to provide users with more overage protection.
Ultimately, the issue of net neutrality is intimately connected with copyright law as is the Democratic Congress and Presidency's attempts to legislate it. The music, film, and video game industries have shown opposition to net neutrality laws, as they fear it will make it illegal to throttle traffic of infringed materials. Daryl Friedman, vice president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences says the music industry will likely support net neutrality "as long as it doesn't mean piracy is equal to legal commerce."
While the Democratic administration may skirt the issue of piracy, or even allow throttling in cases of infringement, Mr. Cooper says that Patrick Leahy will seek mild copyright reform. At stake are scenarios such as online storage of personal off-the-air recordings, internet radio, and other examples, which see current copyright laws failing to provide a realistic solution. In the case of recordings, companies like Cablevision have been pleading their case to the Justice Department and the courts, arguing that their recording and storage services are no different than an internet-connected TiVo.
Mr. Cooper supports allowing such use saying that copyright laws are "geared toward an analog world." Gigi Sohn, the president of public interest group Public Knowledge, too, argues that the service should be perfectly legal, stating, "Are we really going to say every single temporary copy demands a licensing fee? I think that's insane."
Alec French, vice president for government relations for NBC Universal says such a scenario, though would be disastrous for the TV and movie industry. He said the industry would oppose any Democratic legislation which involved such reforms. He states that allowing such services would be akin to "setting a roadmap out for anyone who wants to create a copyright infringing service."
In the case of web radio, the Democratic congress may seek to reform copyright laws so as to encourage lower rates for small internet radio stations, who can't afford big licensing fees like offline radio stations. Michael Petricone, senior vice president for government affairs of the Consumer Electronics Association, says that the music industry, in its greed, is missing out on this possible abundant source of income. If it were to compromise and agree to lower rates, a boom of web casters would arise and be allowed to grow, leading to a lot of revenue. He states, "They will be the future of the industry if they're allowed to thrive. Let's not cook the golden goose."
While the Democratic-controlled Presidency and Congress will almost undoubtedly pursue net neutrality, performance rights, and copyright reform legislation, they're still trying to come to a consensus on exactly what the best solution is. However, the party agrees it’s time for change.