March 17, 2006 12:08 PM PST

Push for Net neutrality mandate grows

The American Association of Retired Persons, better known as the AARP, may be more famous for its lobbying muscle on pension plans and Medicare, but now it's taking up a new platform: keeping the Internet free and open for the age 50-plus set.

The 35 million member group is among a growing list of companies and organizations that signed a new letter Thursday urging senators to require Net neutrality principles by law. Also called network neutrality, it's 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.

"We're not traditionally someone who would be involved in technology legislation and things of that nature, but this has a direct impact on our members and their lifestyles," said AARP spokesman Mark Kitchens.

After all, the baby-boomer contingent is going online in droves, he said. In a survey of members in the age 50-to-59 range, 72 percent reported accessing the Net on a regular basis, and the number of Net-surfing retirees in general is growing "exponentially," he said.

Executives at Verizon Communications, BellSouth and the now-merged AT&T and SBC Communications have recently talked about the desirability of such a two-tiered Internet in which they could choose to favor some services--especially video--over others. Those companies are spending billions to improve their networks and appear to be trying to find new sources of revenue.

No company seems to have created such an Internet "fast lane" yet, prompting the big telecommunications companies and Cisco Systems to argue that concerns are theoretical and new laws are unnecessary. Free-market analysts have argued that it's an issue best regulated by the marketplace itself, albeit with ample penalties for "anticompetitive" behavior on a case-by-case basis.

Chatter in recent weeks has stretched all the way from Capitol Hill, where Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon recently introduced a bill that would ban a Net "fast lane," to San Jose, Calif., where attendees at an annual Internet phone conference engaged in debate.

Thursday's letter was prompted in no small part by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens' tentative comments earlier this week, said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for the advocacy group Public Knowledge, which has been coordinating some of the pro-Net neutrality efforts. Stevens said he supported the idea but wasn't sure it would make it into his committee's much-anticipated overhaul of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which is expected sometime after the Easter congressional recess.

Sixty-four companies and organizations sent an identical letter earlier this month to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which wrote Net neutrality provisions into an earlier telecommunications reform draft but not to the extent desired by several Internet content providers. A new draft of that legislation is still in progress.

Besides the AARP, the new letter counts five other new signatories: Adobe Systems, BT America, the Digital Media Association, Sony Electronics and the Business Software Alliance. The original group included Amazon.com, the American Association of Libraries, EarthLink, eBay, Google, Match.com, Microsoft, Skype, TiVo and Yahoo.

The AARP's position is no different from that of other consumer-oriented lobbying forces on the list: that "unfettered" Internet access is essential to any consumers' bill of rights. Said Kitchens: "We are concerned that if open access is not protected, consumers will have less access to the Internet and smaller content providers might get squeezed out of the marketplace."

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
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20 comments

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Unfettered means no legislation
If we really want "unfettered" access to the 'net, then we should not be adding new layers of legislation.

Asking the government to define "neutrality" is approximately that same as asking it to define "decency". Ask yourself whether you want the FCC to be defining acceptable and unacceptable content.

It is also a free speech issue -- these are private bits going over private networks. In my view, the First Amendment says that government shall not restrict it. What is network traffic if not speech?

Do not be fooled by arguments of "unfettered" access. New regulation is the opposite of this.
Posted by ORinSF (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Spoken like a telco shill
Neutrality is light years away from decency. True nuetrality means that all packets are treated equally once they get onto the backbones.

What the telcos want, is to make their packets more important, because they say it isn't fair they did all of this build up and others are using it. However the Telecommunications act of 1996 gave them the money to build this, tax payer money.

The free speech idea is the most inane thing you could have brought up. If the big boys are limiting the speed of the smaller players, that only leads to constraining free speech. If you don't agree or pay to play, all of your packets are second class, and if they don't make it, oh well.
Posted by schubb (202 comments )
Link Flag
Horse pucky
"...Those companies are spending billions to improve their networks."

This is a lie. The networks have already been paid for. ( www.teletruth.org )
Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
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Conspiracy theories abound
I rarely trust any source whose sole purpose is to sell a book that "exposes" any "hidden truth." Each time I look into them, all the claims made are grossly exaggerated. So many of these feed on the fears of people to their own financial advantage.
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Link Flag
Basically...
these companies want to spend money on improving what they make money from and give the shaft to everything and everyone else. Basically, if it doesn't make them a buck, you can then forget about it working reliably. With so many things being dependant on the net, it must remain neutral for all or no one but the greedy benefit.

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
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What is this saying, exactly?
It sounds like the AARP is opposing tiered internet access pricing. By this, I mean it sounds like they want to outlaw the slower $18/mo DSL service and require that if you have DSL at all it must be the same speed for everyone - which costs at least twice as much.

If so, this is ridiculous. It's like requiring "neutral" automobiles - that they all go as fast as an Indy car. Or "neutral" homes - that they all have to be mansions.

The general law of product lines is: If you want more, you have to pay more. Do they really expect top of the line service at bargain basement prices?
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not at all
This isn't about faster line speeds. Its about the data that is transferred over the lines. What the tiered internet means is that MSN could pay the telcos money to have their search results sent faster than Google's. Essentially what they would do is prioritize MSN's packets so that they are routed faster than Google's. Granted both of these companies are against a tiered internet, these guys were used as an example.

Telco's could use this to deliver their own products to consumers faster than their competitors. If the competitor's paid more, than their product would be delivered faster. AKA e-Extortion.

Personally I think it's time we broke the telcos up again. They are getting way too powerful. Too bad we can't.
Posted by mcbutterbuns (25 comments )
Link Flag
I expect if I pay for something, I get it.
The network has already been paid for with tax money from 1996 and the first Telecom Act. The telcos need to provide that high-speed network.
Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
Link Flag
Seems to be much smoke and little fire.....
It would seem logical that an ISP would charge differing amounts
for differing bandwitdths. I have BellSouth DSL and BellSOuth
has four loevels of DSL service, depending on the bandwidth
supplied. BellSouth actually could use a fifth superwide level, but
that's another issue.

I have no problem with paying for the bandwidth I use. Nor
should anyone else. Telso's and cable companies make their
money by selling service, and customers should have no
complaint in paying for that service. Just size the service to the
need.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
missing the issue
The issue is not just different levels of speed. Obviously both google and the customers of google are paying thier ISPs for the amount of bandwidth they use.

The issue here is whether the ISPs can implement systems that give certain data priority over other data.

For instance, if the cable company provided live streams of sports games, and gave that data a higher priority than ESPNs subscription streaming.

People using ESPNs service might get crappy hiccups and lag during a big game when everyone is watching.

That same person now switches to the cable companies streaming and has no problem.

By giving their own stuff priority, they just squashed their competition.

It has the potential to be a very big problem.

Net Neutrality legislation would keep this from happening.
Posted by vecctor (5 comments )
Link Flag
Tiered Internet.
It the same old adage...money walks and money talks.
Posted by 6gehrs (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ISPs you want to keep your customers
Allright if you won't listen to reason here's what will happen if you don't listen to me.

Keep the internet open or else you might lose a lot of business because see lots of customers get online for free stuff, to buy something, forums, blogs, message boards, freedom of speech without policemen tear gassing people, and freedom of religion without violating the sepration of church and state.

Now if people find out all the things why they love going online suddenly cease by ISPs a lot (maybe millions) will cancel internet service causing lots of services to lose money. So if you ISP moneymakers really think controlling the net gets you free money, you are wrong.
Posted by btalex1990 (24 comments )
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