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New Coalition Touts National Broadband Policy

A broad coalition of some of the Internet's leading brand names, public advocacy groups and grassroots organizations called on Congress today to immediately adopt a national broadband policy. The goal, the group said, is universal, affordable broadband for all Americans.

Noting that the United States has slipped behind many industrialized nations in broadband penetration and speeds, the Open Internet Coalition said in a letter to lawmakers the lack of a comprehensive broadband policy has led to an uncompetitive market where cable and telephone companies control 96 percent of the broadband market.

"Now is the time to give this goal the urgency it needs," the group wrote. "A national broadband policy will provide the unifying principle to enact a variety of needed reforms and changes to our telecommunications laws."

The letter was signed by more than 50 companies and organizations, including Amazon , PayPal, eBay , Google , Match.com, Skype and YouTube.

Among the reforms sought by the group is a new focus and initiative to bring high-speed services to all parts of the country. Currently, 10 percent of the U.S. has no access to broadband and in the rest of the country only about half have a broadband connection.

"Rural or urban, rich or poor, every American must be able to access the [Internet] at fair prices and speeds that rival the rest of the world," the letter states. "As broadband networks become more and more integral to our economic and social life, we are reaching a tipping point where legislation is no longer simply welcome –- it is imperative."

Along with the widespread deployment of broadband, is the need for laws to ensure an open Internet, the group contends. Many of the public interest groups in the new coalition like Public Knowledge and the Media Access Project have long advocated network neutrality laws.

AT&T  and Verizon  have fired a controversy over fast and slow Internet lanes with their proposed plan to charge Internet content providers extra fees based on bandwidth usage. Most network neutrality proposals call for equal access to the Internet. Consumer groups are also agitating for cellular companies to open their networks to any legal device.

"The Internet should offer a free market to all competitors and maximum choice to all consumers," the group said in its letter. "Consumers should have unfettered access to open Internet networks to all lawful Web sites, devices, applications and services."

Another core element of a national broadband policy, the group said, is developing a third pipe into homes to compete against cable modems and DSL. The Open Internet Coalition thinks the upcoming Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spectrum auction holds that promise.

The spectrum is being vacated by television broadcasters as part of the DTV transition and is considered prime airwaves for wireless broadband. The FCC is still determining the rules of the auction, which will be held sometime before the end of the year.

"This auction of very, very valuable spectrum may be our last, best opportunity, perhaps in our lifetime to build a third pipe as a competitor," Gigi Sohn, the president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, told reporters during a Thursday teleconference organized by the Open Internet Coalition.

In a separate filing Wednesday with the FCC, Public Knowledge joined other groups to urge the agency to "both to ensure that new spectrum is offered on an open and non-discriminatory basis and to bring in new entrants interested in challenging the current cozy wireless oligopoly and broadband duopoly."

The Ad Hoc Public Interest Spectrum Coalition, which includes many members of the Open Internet Coalition, called on the FCC to ban incumbents like AT&T and Verizon from participating in the auction, impose anonymous bidding and mandate "use or lose it" requirements for bid winners.

The groups also want network neutrality requirements for the spectrum winners and at least one wholesale wireless network where providers can buy spectrum.

"All the licensees which win spectrum in the auction must be obligated to carry all Internet and voice traffic without privilege, degradation, or preference and they must permit consumers to use any non-interfering equipment," the Ad Hoc Public Interest Spectrum Coalition said in a statement.