March 27, 2006 5:17 PM PST

Net neutrality fans lose on Capitol Hill

In a modest victory for broadband providers, a highly anticipated bill in the U.S. Congress does not include specific rules saying that some Internet sites must not be favored over others.

Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who heads the committee responsible for telecommunications legislation, released the text Monday and said that a hearing had been scheduled for Thursday at 10 am ET.

"This bill will produce an explosion of opportunity for American workers, and American consumers will get an array of video services that were unimagined just a few years ago," said Barton, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

A November draft of Barton's bill (click here for PDF) explicitly said broadband providers "may not block, or unreasonably impair or interfere with" Internet access. The final version (PDF), on the other hand, simply gives the Federal Communications Commission the authority to set rules and publish violations.

Under Network neutrality, the companies that own the broadband pipes do not configure their networks in a way that plays favorites. They may not be allowed to transmit their own services at faster speeds, for example, or to charge Net content and application companies a fee for similar fast delivery.

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Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon.com, Skype and some advocacy groups have been pressing Congress for strict laws requiring Net neutrality, and had been hoping that Barton's bill--called the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act--would mandate it.

"eBay believes that Congress should stand up on behalf of Internet users and small businesses so that they can continue to have unfettered access to all content, applications and services that they wish to use now or in the future," Hani Durzy, the communications director at the auction giant, wrote in an e-mail message Monday. "The Net neutrality provisions in the legislation released today...fall woefully short of that goal."

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, took aim at Barton's proposal on Monday. "This legislation begins the construction of a multilayered, toll-strewn information superhighway that is out of sync with what has made the Internet work: access for all," said Wyden, who introduced his own bill earlier this month mandating Net neutrality. Digital rights watchdog Public Knowledge added that Barton's bill does not "contain strong enough penalties to discourage misbehavior."

Last week, executives from Verizon Communications and AT&T elaborated on their plans to offer multitiered services and said they have no intention to degrade or block other companies' traffic that rides over the public Internet. Rather, AT&T said, it would like to invest more in video--and simple economics demands a dedicated pipe for that service.

Because Barton's bill does award the FCC some authority, it's not a complete win for broadband providers. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the primary cable lobby group, said in response that "we continue to believe that the better course is for the government to resist injecting itself into a thriving, dynamic market."

Last fall, the FCC published a vague "policy statement" (Click here for PDF) on Net neutrality that said consumers should be able to access the Internet content of their choice. This month, though, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin added that broadband providers must be permitted to invest in their networks and "recoup their costs"--a statement that was widely viewed as taking issue with strict Net neutrality mandates.

CNET News.com's Anne Broache contributed to this report

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Net Neutrality, broadband provider, Ron Wyden, legislation, telecommunications

8 comments

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Separate, But Not Equal
*Fat Cat* Telco executives at Verizon and AT&T like to call it *multitiered services.* It looks like *multitiered* is a Telco marketing euphemism for separate preferential handling of e-packets, not equal handling of them.

Sen. Ron Wyden got it right when he said, "This legislation begins the construction of a multilayered, toll-strewn information superhighway that is out of sync with what has made the Internet work: access for all."

Will we bring down the Digital Divide only to find a multitiered set of toll-links on the other side?

Maintaining end-to-end web freedom for all webizens across the Internet is dependent upon equal treatment of each e-packet as they traverse from the user-end node to the destination-end node and back. JP B-)
Posted by Catgic (106 comments )
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Not in consumers best interest!
Wow, I wonder how much under the table money telco's and broadband providers had to pay to get control over what and how content will be used over the "Public Internet"? In the long run, consumers are the one's who are gonna get the shaft on this one!
Posted by (1 comment )
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wrong
If Google and Microsoft built their own networks,that would be great for consumers. More competition and more investment in new technology and more job creation. Net neutrality would kill new investment because all of these internet companies would have no incentive to spend a dime on new access technology. They would get a free ride on someone else's network.
Posted by (5 comments )
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Net Neutrality could Kill the Internet
To start with, Im a fan of Bruce Kushnick's new book, "$200 Billion Broadband Scandal," but that doesnt make me blindly jump on the Net Neutrality bandwagon. I think we should fight instead for a separation of retail applications and content from wholesale network transport services, where retail is unregulated and transport is highly regulated or publicly owned  just like in the electric industry where power generation and retail sales compete over wholesale transport thats regulated.

We must understand that network operators investing billions in network infrastructure must maximize market share and average revenue per user to break even. Thats why they don't just want to sell a "dumb pipe" and also want to sell more lucrative content and services. But control of the pipe gives them a competitive advantage if they can restrict access to competing services or make their own perform better.

Cable MSOs already offer a multi-tier network with cable modems that have limited bandwidth that prevents live streaming of HDTV programming that would compete with the HDTV broadcasts. Streaming HDTV compressed with MPEG2 would require a 20 Mbps.

Related to Net Neutrality is this contrast of broadcast and on-demand television. Consider a city with 1 million homes, each receiving 500 channels of broadcast TV. Assuming these are all high-def channels, the total bandwidth needed in the cable plant is just 10 Gbps (500 * 20 Mbps). But if all 1 million homes were watching different IPTV programs (or the same program at different points in time), the bandwidth demand would be 2 Petabits per second (1 million * 20 Mbps). And that assumes only one TV per home is tuned in and its not doing picture-in-picture or recording multiple programs on a DVR.
Posted by (4 comments )
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let google build its own network
If Google and Microsoft built their own networks,that would be great for consumers. More competition and more investment in new technology and more job creation. Net neutrality would kill new investment.
Posted by (5 comments )
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no it wouldn't
"Net neutrality would kill new investment."

This is the complete opposite of the truth, the net HAS been neutral for it's existance and there has been NOTHING BUT new investment being made.

If carriers have their way there will be no incentive to invest anything because their biggest cash cow will be LIMITING access to the net (in order to extort even more money to ensure "equal access") not building bigger and better infrastructure to handle additional traffic.

Wake up people, Restriction of competing internet services is BAD for the internet... not Good as Mr. Weygandt would falsely have you believe.
Posted by somebody_else (2 comments )
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Offshore manufacturing, now put costs on the knowledge worker?
Seriously - I have this feeling the US likes to "eat it's own young". Awesome that we see changes in the world economy. That will happen, that's generally good. In light of offshoring the US government response was "the US is in the service, tourism, and innovative technology industry - so it's ok if we see manufacturing move offshore". What's the response of internal forces though? Now that there's an ever increasing demand for the services of the innovative technology sector, let's start charging more premium services for it. It's like the US corporation sits back and feeds greedily on the weaknesses of the state. What? Us hamper the IT sector? No way - by reserving more and more of the GNP to our industry, then we can, ummm, increase our net revenue! You are holding shares in our corporation aren't you? That would be the best choice!" Yup. We build the innovative technology sector on universal open access data transmission, and I argue before the industry is capable of sustaining itself on a tierd model for that service, the providers want to cripple the industrys growth right now for their own needs. (yeah, end of rant!)
Posted by canadaboy (14 comments )
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