WATPA: FW: consumer advocates push for network neutrality

From: Norm Jacknis <norm@jacknis.com>
Date: Sun Jan 08 2006 - 19:54:49 EST

Consumer advocates push for network neutrality Principle would ensure
Internet users had the freedom to access content of their choice, attach
devices of their choice, and run applications of their choice

By Grant Gross, IDG News Service

December 02, 2005

WASHINGTON - Would Internet users want to pay $0.05 every time they visit
Google.com, Yahoo.com or any other Web site? That's one possibility if the
U.S. Congress fails to include strong "network neutrality" rules as it
debates a comprehensive telecom reform bill, a group of open Internet
advocates said Friday.

A more likely possibility: Broadband providers such as Verizon
Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. block access to services such as
competing VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) services or video downloads,
said panelists at an open Internet forum for congressional staffers in
Washington, D.C.

While charging users a fee to visit some Web sites may be an unlikely
scenario, large broadband providers could slow down access to Web sites or
services with which they have no distribution agreements, said members of
consumer groups and two consumer-focused technology companies.

The concept of net neutrality was endorsed by Michael Powell, then chairman
of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in February 2004, and
consumer advocates had been pushing the idea even before then. Although the
FCC didn't formalize Powell's ideas into rules, the former chairman
suggested that Internet users had the freedom to access content of their
choice, attach devices of their choice, and run applications of their

But two recent decisions, one by the FCC and one by the U.S. Supreme Court,
raise questions about the consumer rights Powell advocated, said
participants in the Friday forum. In June, the court ruled that cable
companies offering broadband access do not have to open their high-speed
lines to competitors, and in August, the FCC followed suit by ruling that
DSL (digital subscriber line) providers no longer have to share their
networks with competitors.

The two rulings set the stage for closed broadband networks where the
providers set the rules, said speakers at the Friday forum.

Without net neutrality rules, the concept of an open, go-where-you-want
Internet is at risk, said representatives of Vonage Holdings Corp. and TiVO
Inc. "Net neutrality means the Internet keeps working like the Internet
works today," said Chris Murray, vice president of government affairs for
Vonage, a VOIP provider. "It's about a larger issue than how much profit
network operators can extract."

Broadband providers have opposed the call for net neutrality provisions in a
new telecom reform package, saying they have no intention of blocking
customer access to legal content and services. Providers would lose
customers if they blocked customers from going to the Web sites they chose,
Verizon and Comcast officials have argued in recent months.

The concept of net neutrality is likely to be one of the major debates as
Congress looks to pass telecom reform legislation in 2006.
Telecommunication carriers
and cable operators, on opposite sides in parts of the telecom reform
debate, have both said a net neutrality law would be a "solution in search
of a problem."

"The question becomes, when we start implementing those either as
legislation or enforcement, we start getting into some real trouble," Peter
Davidson, Verizon's vice president of federal government relations, said
during a telecom reform debate in November. "We start walking down the path
of regulating the Internet real quickly, if we do it in the wrong way."

A net neutrality law could also limit broadband providers' ability to
protect their networks from hackers or bandwidth hogs, say providers and
their allies.

At the heart of the debate is an important property rights issue, and
broadband network owners should be able to enter into contracts with some
content providers, said Randy May, a senior fellow at the Progress and
Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank. Broadband providers need to
have ways to recoup the cost of building next-generation networks, he said
during another telecom forum Thursday.

"We're talking about the owners of these networks in a competitive
environment," May said. "In my view, it's important not to dictate to the
owners of the networks that they cannot provide any kind of preference to
those people who they want to enter into relationships with."

So far, the net neutrality debate hasn't focused on making Internet users to
pay per Web site visit, but that possibility did come up during Friday's
forum. Some members of the Electronic Retailing Association don't understand
why a net neutrality is needed when they're used to paying to advertise
products on cable television, said Barbara Tulipane, the group's president
and chief executive officer.

Some people have questioned why Vonage should make money by riding free on a
broadband network, Tulipane noted. AT&T Inc. Chief Executive Officer Edward
Whitacre, quoted by BusinessWeek recently, complained about potential
competition from Vonage and other Internet companies, saying he wasn't going
to let them "use my pipes free."

But the Internet is about more than just shopping, and the closed cable TV
model could lead to per-Web site charges, Vonage's Murray told Tulipane.
"That's not the Internet, and it's not what consumers expect," he said.

Despite broadband providers' assurances that they don't plan to block
content, panelists said they've already seen it happen. Three small
providers have tried to block Vonage VOIP service, Murray said, and in the
early days of cable modem service, some cable television companies wrote
clauses in their customer contracts allowing them to limit access to
competing video services.

The market for innovative new Internet applications could dry up if
broadband providers can block competing services, panelists said. An
Internet where broadband providers limit access to content would be "bad for
our economy and our democracy," said Gigi Sohn, president and cofounder of
Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group focused on technology issues.
Received on Sun Jan 8 19:54:56 2006

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