March 2, 2006 2:28 PM PST

Senator wants to ban 'fast lane' for Web

Network operators would be barred from blocking or degrading Internet connections and favoring those of companies that pay for peppier access, according to a Senate bill introduced Thursday.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said his measure will foster "equal treatment" for all Internet content and dispel worries that telecommunications providers will play favorites in the future.

Because Wyden's proposal represents the most aggressive legislative attempt to dictate what kind of Internet services are permissible or not, it's likely to provoke a political spat between proponents of so-called "network neutrality" and the traditionally influential telecommunications industry. Executives at Verizon Communications, BellSouth and the newly merged AT&T and SBC Communications have recently talked about the desirability of a two-tiered Internet in which some services--especially video--would be favored over others.

"The big network operators are saying, 'We built the network; we own the network; everybody's basically got to go along with what we're saying.' What I'm saying is, 'No, the consumers built the network; the subscribers built the network. They paid for the network. That is what this is all about,'" Wyden told reporters in a conference call.

The Federal Communications Commission would be given power to police violations and hand out "cease and desist" orders, according to the bill, titled the Internet Non-Discrimination Act. Wyden said that he didn't oppose companies offering different speeds of service at different prices, a practice already undertaken by several major Internet providers, provided that content is treated equally within each level of service.

No broadband provider has proposed to block certain Web sites. But they have said Yahoo, for instance, could pay a fee to have its search site load faster than Google. Other possibilities include restricting file-swapping applications that hog bandwidth, or delivering their own video content faster than a similar service provided by rivals.

BellSouth pledged in a statement on Thursday not to block or degrade "legitimate" Net traffic, but said it would not support Wyden's bill. "Without a managed network, the only way customers will be able to be sure they can enjoy high-bandwidth services is by upgrading to higher-speed connections whether they need them for everyday applications on not," said Herschel Abbott, the company's vice president of governmental affairs. "That choice should be the customer's choice, not the government's choice."

AT&T also said it will not block or degrade content. It said in a statement: "At this stage, we're exploring different product models, but feel strongly that this is an issue that has to be solved in the marketplace."

No "fast lane" on the Net?
Sen. Ron Wyden's Internet Non-Discrimination Act sets extraordinarily specific regulations for what kind of network rules are allowed and what is prohibited. It says:

• A network operator may not "block, degrade, alter, modify, impair, or change any bits, content, application or service" transmitted over its network.

• It can't "discriminate in favor" of its own content or that of its partners--for instance, by allocating additional bandwidth to certain services.

• It may take only "reasonable and nondiscriminatory" measures to guard against spyware, malware, viruses, spam and pornography. What the government considers "unreasonable" measures are not permitted.

• "Emergency communications" must be given priority, though it's unclear how this would work in practice. What counts as emergency communications is not defined. Would a Microsoft security alert qualify, or a government announcement of a blizzard or hurricane?

• Anyone who thinks a network operator has done something illegal can complain to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC then has seven days to make a preliminary ruling. Appeals from the FCC's decision can be made to a federal district court.

With a few exceptions that were quickly remedied by the Federal Communications Commission, no telecommunications provider appears to be blocking Internet traffic and demanding payment to lift the block. The FCC also has adopted a nonbinding policy statement saying that Americans are "entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice."

The U.S. Telecom Association, which counts both large and small telecommunications providers as members, said Thursday that the bill was unnecessary because "the FCC clearly has the authority and has already demonstrated the will to protect consumer choice and address cases of blocking, impairment or degradation."

Telecommunications providers generally argue that they have the right to be compensated for money spent in building the networks and to create a "fast lane" for those willing to pay up. 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, which say Net neutrality requirements are essential to preserve the Net's traditional openness.

Dozens of technology companies and advocacy groups sent a letter Thursday to the House of Representatives' Commerce Committee, urging that "Congress take steps now to preserve this fundamental underpinning of the Internet and to assure the Internet remains a platform open to innovation and progress."

The list of groups includes Adobe Systems,, the American Association of Libraries, EarthLink, eBay, Google,, Microsoft, Skype, TiVo and Yahoo.

Other proposals in Congress address network neutrality--including a draft bill before the House Commerce Committee--but technology companies say those don't go far enough. One proposal, from Texas Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican who chairs the panel overseeing telecommunications law, says providers "may not block, or unreasonably impair or interfere with, the offering of, access to or the use of any lawful content, application or service provided over the Internet."

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Add your comment
Internet equality needed
It is unfortunate that such legislation is probably necessary. I can
easily envision a future in which just about everything on the
Internet is prioritized for those willing to pay the most to get it,
while the masses are shunted off to limited content old AOL style
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Reply Link Flag
its what
AT&T and Bellsouth and all of the major companies want anyway. Its more moeny for them on both ends. And to boot, we the people will still pay for equipment upgrades and such too.
Posted by techguy83 (295 comments )
Link Flag
A punishment in search of a crime
Giving preferential treatment for higher-paying customers is the basis for all of our tech innovations to date. Is it OK to pay more for a faster PC? A better user experience?

Are we complaining that Whole Foods is giving unfair treatment to those who want better food? Is Apple giving "preferential treatment" to those who like their OS? Is Google too good?

Come on, this is old school socialism in a tech guise. Let the network providers offer whatever services they choose, and let the customers (read: the public) decide. Let the options flourish, and let the good ones win.

The infrastructure can only improve when customers are willing and able to pay for it, just like everything forward-thinking innovation of the past. Net neutrality laws actually make it illegal to buy better service. How absurd, especially in an environment that has thrived due to an absence of rules.

Please don't create new rules to punish a crime that doesn't exist. More here:

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Posted by ORinSF (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What I think this
Law aims to prevent is the idea that google can pay more to
make there netowrk go faster to the end user, thus forcing
yahoo and all the others to pay up to be competative. All the
while the end user has no clue why googles searchs are that
much faster. They must have the better search engine? Not true
they just pay more to provide faster searches. While I agree this
economy is based on pay more get more Im not sure I agree
with this scheme as I see it. Is this law the best way to deal with
it? I dont know, but if anything it will open some eyes, some
eyes that need to be opened to what could come.
Posted by Tiemmothi (16 comments )
Link Flag
They are NOT providing more service...
They are set-up to punitively "throttle-back" competing services, smaller businesses, and legitimate customer-usage that they simply wish to discourage.

Also, you know, people are about through putting-up with this BOGUS "let the marketplace decide" argument, which is actually nothing more than a euphemism for "let business do whatever it wants", matter what other interests are trampled in the process.
Posted by Gayle Edwards (262 comments )
Link Flag
Selfishness should not rule
The Internet is a common carrier, like utilities or phone companies.
The law treats common carriers as necessities and discourages
efforts to shut out segments of the population who lack power,
particularly the poor. We need legislation to make sure that the
Internet does not become something available only to the middle
and upper classes precisely because of selfish, uncaring persons
like you.

And, no, I will not be reading the Republican piffle you are pushing.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
Talk about someone who just doesn't get it...
Dude, the argument is that if, Google say, strikes a deal with a telco, their pages will be carried with less latency than, Yahoo's say.

That's like my first-class mail getting somewhere faster than yours because I'm willing to pay more.

Dude, its all just electrical signals and the telcos would have to SPEND money to implement this (with DHCP I'd hate to have to be the one administering the tables,) to get this 'anti-democratization' of the web implemented.

Its like you having to pay more to get electricity delivered over the wire to your door because the power generating company doesn't like your choice in shoe color.
Posted by CharlesRovira (97 comments )
Link Flag
The networks are already paid for. It's a scam
Don't let them fool you. It's a broadband scandal.

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Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Comcast and my Packet8 VoIP phone
It used to work great, my Packet8 Virtual Office extension that is. But now there is a noticeable and very annoying delay that started a couple of months ago. I travel with another extension and it works great at most locations...unless it is fed by a Comcast cable modem. After they announced a VoIP service of thier own I now know why.
Posted by booboo1243 (328 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's About Time
This issue is critical. You think the providers won't start making the voice packets of Vonage or Skype go just a little bit slower? So they can support their own services. We are so behind in broadband and we need this legislation to stop the carriers from turning the net into cable TV, which is their plan. Look at their own comments on this subject. They say Google and others get a free ride on their investment. It's a lie and we need to establish network neutrality sooner than later.
Michael Hoffman
See3 - Media for Nonprofits
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Posted by michaelhoffman (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ultimately, the consumer will pay
The history of government involvement in regulating various types of communications industries is not pretty to say the least. Whether it was the infamous "fairness doctrine" or cable monopolies, government intervention as invariably led to poorer quality, fewer choices or higher cost. This seems to be an effort to accomplish all three at once.
Posted by jmmejzz (107 comments )
Reply Link Flag
'Free market' is nonsense
Turns on who government is at a given time. Republican
administrations overturned previous rules and allowed media
companies to become conglomerates. But, that did not have to
happen. It was a choice made by the same conservatives who
babble about 'competition' out of the other side of their mouths.

After the AT&#38;T and Enron scandals, it appears that still nothing
has been learned. There are still far too many people incapable
of questioning the notion 'businesses know best.' There hasn't
really been a free market since the beginning of mercantile
capitalism, or perhaps sooner.

The role of government should be to protect the weak from the
powerful. In this scenario, the consumer is not the powerful
party, though some people are too foolish to realize that.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
Not much difference, is there?
Sen. Ron Wyden is just doing his part for the new world order. You see, the Democrats want to regulate us while the Republicans want to rule us. That's all there is to it!
Posted by casper2004 (267 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Telecom Scam
The telecom companies have been ripping us all off for a very long time. The US now has very poor internet quality compared to other countries. In east asia, for example, they have 100mbps connections. The US is kind of the laughing stock for broadband service, which is sad considering it invented the internet.

If you care about the future of the internet in America, please take a quick look at this site: .

This site (and the book "The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal") tells how the telecom companies took $200 billion from US taxpayers in order to rewire America with high-speed fiber optic connections (45 mbps both ways), and then ripped us all off by keeping the money and not delivering.

Because of all this I think their claim that they need this type of thing to improve service is a bunch of bunk. If they really cared they would increase connection speeds to be more in line with other countries. Again, please look at or . These companies have the ethics of Enron and need to be put in line.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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