RealTime IT News

Tech Blasts Telecom 'Gatekeeper' Bill

WASHINGTON -- Telecom reform stuck a tentative head out of the back rooms of Congress Wednesday and got walloped on the issue of network neutrality.

The draft bill, which Internet Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) stressed was only a working proposal, would allow broadband providers such as the Bells or the cable companies to segment their IP offerings to reserve bandwidth for their own services.

Witnesses claimed the proposal would create a regulatory world of Internet "gatekeepers."

Wayne Rehberger, COO of XO Communications, testified that because the bill was based on "false assumptions," access to end users would be controlled by a powerful few.

"This bill would create a world where the few companies that control the network portals that reach end users . . . would be able to control access to the Internet from both the consumer perspective and from the perspective of companies that must connect to the Internet to conduct business," he said.

Rehberger added that the "Net neutrality" provisions of the bill would do nothing to prevent "incumbent network operators from operating as gatekeepers."

He complained that since the draft bill contains no requirements for direct interconnection on "reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms, the network operator will "simply demand uneconomic terms and conditions that effectively prevent competitors from offering services over the operator's network."

To add weight to Rehberger's testimony, Amazon , Google and eBay submitted a joint letter to the committee outlining many of the same concerns.

"[The draft bill] fundamentally changes the Internet because it fails to adequately protect consumers' ability to use their broadband connection to reach the content and services they want," the letter states.

Calling the network neutrality clause of the bill "troublingly ambiguous," the companies added, "Network neutrality should apply to all persons who provide Internet content -- not just a select few -- but the draft currently exempts broadband video services from this core requirement."

Google's Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf weighed in even though he was busy receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House.

"My fear is that, as written, this bill would do great damage to the Internet as we know it," Cerf said in a statement to the committee. "Enshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favor of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity."

"Many people will have little or no choice among broadband operators for the foreseeable future, implying that such operators will have the power to exercise a great deal of control over any applications placed on the network," Cerf said.

Not to be outdone, Yahoo submitted its own statement.

"Congress must preserve the open and competitive landscape that now exists on the Internet," the letter states. "Unfortunately, the staff draft does not achieve these objectives."

Other aspects of the draft include a single, statewide franchising agreement for Internet over Protocol television offerings (IPTV) and a provision preempting any state laws which prohibit municipalities from building their own broadband networks.

As Upton said, "Between now and the next step, we have plenty of work ahead of us."