March 30, 2006 4:26 PM PST
Democrats attack new bill over Net neutrality
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The Republican-backed proposal unveiled this week would give the Federal Communications Commission the authority to go after individual violations of end-to-end connectivity principles, but it does not include a weighty set of regulations that all broadband providers must follow.
But that's not nearly sufficiently regulatory, the Democrats charged, pointing to the section of the measure that prohibits the FCC from making any new rules related to Net neutrality. Many technology firms, including Microsoft and Google, have also backed more regulations.
Net neutrality, also known as network neutrality, is the idea that the companies that own the broadband pipes should not be able to configure their networks in a way that plays favorites--allowing them, for example, to transmit their own services at faster speeds, or to charge Net content and application companies a fee for equally fast delivery.
"The bill before us effectively condones online discrimination and ties the hands of the FCC," Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said at a lengthy hearing that included testimony from the telecommunications, cable, broadcast and Internet sectors.
Telecommunications and cable executives say they deserve the right to create a tiered Internet system. A two-tiered system could, for instance, guarantee that all Web sites would be accessible, but prioritize streaming video provided by the pipe's owner or business partner.
Michigan Democrat John Dingell saw the fees in a different light, saying they amounted to "private taxation of the Internet" an idea that he said troubled him.
"The ones that get hurt are the young innovators, the garage innovators, the small-business innovators, the ones that have not achieved the great success of the Googles of the world," added Rep. Jay Inslee, a Washington Democrat.
Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, suggested that the bill would benefit from "a provision that says that if a fast lane is necessary, perhaps for video or for gaming, then all applications of a similar kind...should be entitled to fast-lane access without having to pay a charge."
But one of the new bill's chief sponsors, Texas Republican Joe Barton, said he still didn't think it necessary to impose more specific Net neutrality regulations until the feuding parties can agree on a definition of the concept. (In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Barton dismissed concerns about Net neutrality as overblown.)
Barton polled each of eight speakers appearing on the first panel at Thursday's hearing for a "concise verbal definition" and, after receiving an array of responses, implored them to "let your lawyers work on it and send it to us in writing."
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