February 7, 2006 12:24 PM PST

Politicos divided on need for 'Net neutrality' mandate

WASHINGTON--Net surfers should be able to enjoy unfettered access to content, politicians said Tuesday, but they remained divided over whether new laws forcing "Net neutrality" principles on broadband providers are the way to go.

At a hearing devoted to the topic, members of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee voiced their views and heard remarks from industry representatives and academics. Tuesday's meeting marked one of at least nine telecommunications-related hearings scheduled this term, as the committee contemplates a rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which has been criticized as outdated for failure to account for the Internet's explosive growth.

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 similar fast delivery.

On one side of the argument are large broadband players, who say they have the right to be compensated for money spent in building the networks. Intrusive federal legislation, they say, would reduce the incentive to invest in speedier networks in the future.

On the other side are Internet content and application providers, who say Net neutrality requirements are essential to preserve the Net's traditional openness, ensuring that broadband companies will let all data flow freely to Web surfers. They also argue that extra fees levied by broadband companies would likely have to be passed on to consumers.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said at the hearing that he plans to introduce a bill that "will make sure all information (transmitted over broadband networks) is made available on the same terms so that no bit is better than another one." The provisions would bar broadband providers from favoring one company's site over another (for example, he said, J. Crew over L.L. Bean), from giving their own content preferential treatment and from creating "private networks that are superior to the Internet access they offer consumers generally."

Also visibly troubled by the prospect of a so-called two-tiered Internet were two other Democrats, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.

Referring to a recent Washington Post report in which a Verizon executive said Google and others shouldn't expect to enjoy a "free lunch" on its pipes, Dorgan said such reasoning was flawed. "It is not a free lunch...(broadband subscribers have) already paid the monthly toll...Those lines and that access is being paid for by the consumer."

Vint Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist and one of the Net's founding fathers, spoke on one of two panels appearing before the committee. He said he worried that without firmly entrenched Net neutrality principles, broadband companies could assume the unprecedented role of "gatekeepers," effectively shutting out Internet start-ups. "We risk losing the Internet as a catalyst for consumer choice, for economic growth, for technological innovation and for global competitiveness," he said.

In a letter sent Monday to the Commerce Committee, representatives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and InterActive Corp indicated again that they'd be lobbying hard for new legislative language in favor of Net neutrality.

Vonage CEO Jeffrey Citron told senators that his company, a major voice over Internet Protocol provider, has firsthand experience with impediments caused by lack of network neutrality. The firm has accused several smaller telecommunications companies of blocking its services. He urged the committee to consider laws that would supply "legal recourse" for companies that face such discrimination.

By contrast, broadband industry representatives on the panel assured senators that the companies they represent have never committed such discriminatory practices. "Have we sought to control or restrict the Internet?" Walter McCormick, president and CEO of the U.S. Telecom Association, which represents a wide swath of the industry, asked the senators. "No, we have not. We have instead invested, grown and increased the scale and the scope of the Internet."

Nor do they plan to impede network activity, said Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. He cautioned that putting network neutrality principles into law "may sound warm and fuzzy" but would in fact discourage development of new, more advanced networks.

Other senators said they agreed it would be wiser to let the marketplace, rather than Congress, take charge, at least for now.

"The fact is that our regulations and our laws need to be modernized to reflect the realities of technology today to create more incentives for companies to invest so that we have those broadband networks that are higher quality, that are faster, that give consumers more competition," said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who introduced a generally pro-business, deregulatory broadband bill last summer that has not yet been taken up for debate.

Forcing network neutrality principles could discourage such innovation, he argued. If a large telecommunications company trying to deliver its own Internet-based television has to worry about delivering services from outside companies at the same rate and quality, "it may take all of their bandwidth," he said.

Committee members acknowledged that Net neutrality principles would be a vital part of their debates, but some indicated uncertainty as to the best solution for the future. Some said they were reluctant to legislate because no broadband provider has moved yet to block or impair certain sites. Still others were apprehensive about the laissez-faire approach.

"The point now is, right now we don't have a problem," said Sen. George Allen, a Virginia Republican. "Do you pass a law presently...or do you pass a law retroactively to try to put the genie back in the bottle?"

See more CNET content tagged:
broadband company, Net Neutrality, Byron Dorgan, broadband, Sen.

18 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Let's include browser and platform neutrality, too
Not that it has to be legislated, but equal net access should
extend to browsers and platforms as well. No more IE-only sites,
no more Windows-only functionalities. I know it's slightly
tangential to the topic at hand, but I just wanted to add to the
discussion.
Posted by Lucky Lou (88 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It makes you wonder...
...it all just seems so backward. I thought the idea was to cater to the customers - consumers of information, in this case - not the other way around. Why would you deliberately exclude ANY part of your potential audience by making a site tied to one browser or desktop platform? Especially when, with tools like JAVA, Javascript, and even (to some extent) Flash, there's really no need for it?
Posted by nextcube (27 comments )
Link Flag
Now this really is communism
Tell broadband companies how to run their business via legislation.

Tell software companies how to write web browsers via legislation.

Tell site developers how to write web sites via legislation.

Essentially, run the IT industry from congress...

Communism rears its ugly head again. Your idea sucks. Browser and platforms do not have a soul to protect or free. They are products that can be designed any way the designer wants to build them, and can be sold to any audience that wants to use them. You do NOT legislate a company and its products out of business simply because you do not like them. Talk about abusive and tyrannical...
Posted by William Squire (151 comments )
Link Flag
why does the broadband industry care?
"By contrast, broadband industry representatives on the panel assured senators that the companies they represent have never committed such discriminatory practices.
...
...
Nor do they plan to impede network activity, said Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association."

If, as the industry execs say, they have not and will not do anything discriminatory, why do they care whether Congress passes a network neutrality law or not?
Posted by dgrant6230 (20 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Which way is it?
Your comment:
"If, as the industry execs say, they have not and will not do anything discriminatory, why do they care whether Congress passes a network neutrality law or not?"

Quote from the story:
"a Verizon executive said Google and others shouldn't expect to enjoy a "free lunch" on its pipes."

My question:
Which way is it?
Posted by royc (78 comments )
Link Flag
I have paid for full access to the internet!
The Telco and Cable cartel is trying to pull the old bait and switch on us. We spend our hard earned money for full internet access at a certain speed. They want to sell us limited internet access at what every speed they want.

I hope this scam can get exposed for what it is. They want to return back to the days of when they were in control. Lets put these dinosaurs back in their place.
Posted by sabot96 (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Two Tiered Internet
Two Tiered Internet, AKA, ISP's recieving twice as much for the same content.
Posted by Catgirl450 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
interesting concept
Interesting concept, with over 650 million plus worldwide users, this form of unjust tax and double billing, has the potential to raise billions of dollars daily from users, and supplant the normal income derived from ordinary telephone users!

Oh well, looks like the time we are being sold down the sewer ,is coming with a vengance!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I disagree with complete "big equality"
One thing that I'm not a fan of in the proposal of every bit of information being equal is that it gives the heaviest users and abusers of networks power to diminish the service for everybody else. I think that it's reasonable to give preference to the average user over a user who is downloading and uploading gigs upon gigs from gnutella.

I know some people will say that they have the "right" to the internet they pay for, I guess they're not smart enough to read their isp's AUP and TOS, which keep the best interests of the majority (and thus the company) in mind.
Posted by mwa423 (78 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Miss the point.
"I know some people will say that they have the "right" to the internet they pay for, I guess they're not smart enough to read their isp's AUP and TOS, which keep the best interests of the majority (and thus the company) in mind."

When ranting about monopolies' rights to rip us off, it helps to actually read the article. No one is saying we shouldn't pay for our internet access, or that ISPs shouldn't make a profit (although there might be arguments for free universal broadband).

This is about web sites (not consumers) having to pay extra for their internet traffic. This will discourage innovation and competition, as people will tend to go mainly to established sites than can afford to pay extra, rather than new start-ups. And it will discourage faster connection speeds, as the telco companies focus on this rather than provide better connections and customer service.
It's a lose-lose situation for anyone but large ISPS and their CEOs.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Link Flag
ISP monopolies
If you are interested in the future of the internet in america, I recommend you read this article (or google for one like it):
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2005/10/18/broadband/" target="_newWindow">http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2005/10/18/broadband/</a>

We in the US already are scammed by these monopolies. This is just an excuse to increase their profits without actually improving their service. They do not care about the consumer, if they did they would improve our basic connection speed (i.e. 100 mbps like in Korea instead of 1.5 mbps that can barely stream video properly).

Maybe some day if had gigabit internet and good customer service, I wouldn't mind so much, but the real issue for now, when it comes to improving internet quality, is the connection speed. Not charging web sites for better access. We absolutely need this net neutrality law, both for the future of broadband in America and to reign in the corrupt, greedy monopolies.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let the Market determine
If google can charge companies for priority on search, I see no difference in a wireless charging for priority on bandwidth. Ultimately, Verizon has spent Billions of dollars on their new technology that they might never get back and they should have the freedom to use it as they so please. They have the right to give their own content priority. I will say though, I don't think charging companies for priority bandwidth is a good idea, but they do have the right. It's their towers. Let the market determine if its a good decision. If users find themselves not satisfied with service they'll leave verizon for another broadband provider. If government intervenes with net nuetrality expect verizon to charge more for service to cover their costs.
Posted by beeyds (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You have no clue...
"If google can charge companies for priority on search, I see no difference in a wireless charging for priority on bandwidth."
The problem with that statement is that there are other search engines one can go to to get search results that are not tainted by those business deals. The current state of broadband is such that you have two major players, DSL and Cable. Both entities want to do this. There will be no other choice unless Google is actually planning on creating another Internet.

"Ultimately, Verizon has spent Billions of dollars on their new technology that they might never get back and they should have the freedom to use it as they so please."
The customers pay to use it! We as customers pay our providers for a certain alotment of bandwidth. My DSL circuit is 3MB down/ 1MB up. My neighbor's DSL circuit is 1.5MB down/ 256K up. I pay more than my neighbor because I want faster speeds. We are already paying for that invensment. Fiscal studies show that the Bells and the Cable sector (which has been upgrading its networks since 1998 to handle this increase in broadband) have already made their initial invenstment back on the 1998-2002 expenditures for network build-outs. At the current rate, it takes approximately 4 years to make the investment back on a build out. Since the last few years have only seen incremental increases in speeds (largely due to software compression, not new hardware on the part of the telcos), not much has been spent in the last four years. They are getting greedy. Pure and simple.

"Let the market determine if its a good decision."
The problem with that is if we let this happen, will we be able to undo it? I don't think so. And even if we can, it will take years to repair the damage. The Internet must be protected from being splintered into a million pieces depending on what provider you go through.

Look, this is a bad idea no matter how you look at it. It is the fault of the CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and CTOs of these big telecommunist companies that are so out of touch with reality. They have no understanding of the Internet and what it means. They don't understand its nature. We need to keep these ancient relics under control until we move them into rest homes.
Posted by thenet411 (415 comments )
Link Flag
Double dipping....
They want to charge premium rates for consumer access, and premium rates from major content and service providers for the same bandwidth used. All the while they tought their "We'll make better networks!" montra....

I question if they will actually make higher quality networks with the extra money, or just use it to line the executive pockets.

For years consumers have been overcharged for crappy telco service and substandard support. Why else would people be flocking to new VoIP services? I did. I know pay about a third for phone service I was getting with all the bells and whistles.
Posted by fireball74 (80 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Solutions...
&gt; What to do? Curbing MS's abusive practices
&gt; through the courts failed.

The solution is simple: the Federal Governement itself can at any time task itself to become browser/OS neutral. In doing so, they will create the marketplace demand for it to happen.

The Federal Aquisition Regulation (FAR)'s objective is "Full and Open" competition, and all Sole Source situations (such as a specific OS, or "Office" software) must be formally vetted with a Justification and Approval (J&#38;A).

The hand-waving starts high up. There are entire Federal Departments that have in-house policies that explicitly state that no computers other than Windows OS shall be purchased. Where's their J&#38;A that gives them the FAR required legal review and thus legal permission to make such an over-arching SOLE SOURCE selection?

Change that top-level guidance to "all future procurements shall specify and use non-proprietary documents formats...", especially once all of the DoD amends all of their contracts to use open source report formats and so forth.

YMMV, but I think that the relevant IS portion of the DoD's $400B+/year budget would make enough of a scratch on the marketplace to create sufficient viable product demand without legislation or lawsuits.


-hh
Posted by -hh (62 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One question the carriers should be forced to answer
Will you monitor, delay, and/or block voice-over-IP (VoIP), peer-to-peer file transfers, or any type of service used by customers?

The hardware that Cisco and others are pitching the carriers implies that, indeed, they are exploring new, intrusive, and anti-innovation methods of controlling what content providers can do:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://directorblue.blogspot.com/2006/02/end-of-internet-another-fantastic-deal.html" target="_newWindow">http://directorblue.blogspot.com/2006/02/end-of-internet-another-fantastic-deal.html</a>
Posted by directorblue (148 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.