June 26, 2006 4:35 PM PDT

State governments push for Net neutrality laws

As a U.S. Senate panel prepares for a vote on Net neutrality legislation this week, state attorneys general in New York and California are joining Internet companies in saying that network operators must not be permitted to prioritize certain broadband content and services.

In a letter sent Friday to the leaders of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, urged the adoption of a proposal called the Internet Freedom Preservation Act. This is the first time that state officials have entered the Net neutrality debate.

"Congress must not permit the ongoing consolidation of the telecommunications industry to work radical and perhaps irrevocable change in the free and neutral nature of the Internet," wrote Spitzer, who is running for governor in the fall election. He was referring to the recent mergers between AT&T and SBC Communications and Verizon and MCI.

Backed now by nine Democrats and one Republican, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act would generally bar all network operators from making special deals with content providers to ensure speedier delivery or improved quality of service and would require them to offer all Internet material on an "equivalent" basis.

It is expected to be offered as an amendment to the Communications, Consumers' Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 (click for PDF), a lengthy bill that the committee plans to resume debating on Tuesday morning.

Spitzer also encouraged the committee to add a provision that would allow state attorneys general and private parties to sue companies that fail to adhere to Net neutrality regulations. Spitzer has led a number of well-publicized lawsuits against companies that have regularly drawn criticism, including a recent foray against a Web company accused of compromising its users' privacy in the midst of offering promises of free iPods, video games and condoms.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, also a Democrat, also wholeheartedly supports Net neutrality principles, though he wasn't prepared to endorse any particular Senate bill, a spokesman said Monday. Lockyer is seeking the state treasurer post in this year's elections.

"The public is right in viewing this as their Internet and should not be pushed into the slow lane," spokesman Aaron Carruthers told CNET News.com. "They have the right to expect the same access and priority as anyone else to public network services."

The passage of such rules, favored largely by congressional Democrats, remains far from certain. Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, would like to see the bill's current Net neutrality language remain unchanged, a committee aide said Monday.

The existing provisions in the Senate communications bill would put into law an "Internet consumer bill of rights" and give the Federal Communications Commission authority to fine violators--but not make new rules in the area. The nine principles subject to enforcement would include: allowing consumers to access and post any lawful content they please; to access and run any Web page, search engine or application that they choose (including voice and video programs); and to connect any legal devices to the network that they please.

Unlike the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, the larger bill wouldn't prohibit network operators from making deals with content providers, and its mostly Republican supporters would like to keep it that way.

"If that Net neutrality provision goes in this bill, all the (Republican) side's going to vote against it," Stevens told reporters after launching a debate on the broader communications bill last week.

Network operators, for their part, say they are exploring the new business model decried by Internet companies--such as eBay, Google and Microsoft--in order to offset hefty investments in new broadband networks and to enhance the delivery of new, bandwidth-heavy services such as video.

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7 comments

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State governments push for Net neutrality laws
article root
Posted by Drewzilla (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Goes to show
who the supporters of internet neutrality, freedom of expression
and social equality are... And it's not the Republicans. What a
surprise.
Posted by Tui Pohutukawa (366 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Right - Google Neutral Company
When google charges the same price for ads and does not auction
them off we can take google at its word that it wants a fair playing
ground and not one based on capital.
Posted by xray206 (9 comments )
Link Flag
have you even thought this through?
Has anyone proven that anything is actually broken yet? No.
Rather, this is pre-emptive regulation. I cannot think of
anything more foolish. Let the net develop naturally like it has
done already - without excessive regulation - and wait until it
actually needs saving before trying to involve the meddling
ham-hand of government regulation.

I as a DSL consumer already have to pay tiered service rates (vs
dial-up, cable, satellite, and other DSL plans) if I want high-
bandwith content to come in faster. Google and Microsoft want
to avoid paying for something I already pay for. I assume I/we
will be stuck with the bill. Someone will.

I as a net "storefront owner" already have to pay my ISP for my
internet usage. I have storage and bandwith limits, and if I want
more of either one I have to pay for it. If I wanted to have a site
that streamed video, my ISP would gleefully charge me for the
extra bandwidth. Fortunately, I have a wide choice of ISPs
competing for my [hypothetical] video streaming business.

The tiered service model already exists on the supply-side and
the customer-side. Is the net "not free" as a result? Allowing
transport providers to do what is economically best when selling
service to ISPs will most likely result in the same thriving
ecosystem of business choice that exists now with the other
segments. I don't think we should try to fix something that has
yet to break.

I have no faith that the government will not completely screw up
any kind of implementation of enforcing electronic equality,
including the excessive legislation that will surely be involved. If
you want the net to be free, simply keep the government out of
it. I have no clue whatsoever why Democrats have taken this up
as a cause other than the fact that it sounds good to champion a
false notion of "freedom" when opposing Republicans.
Posted by scottk0640 (23 comments )
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