RealTime IT News

EBay Marshals Members For Net Neutrality

Online auctioneer eBay raised its bid on network neutrality this week by sending 1 million-plus call-to-action e-mails to its members.

In the e-mail, authored by President and CEO Meg Whitman, eBay urged its members to bombard Washington with e-mails and calls protesting efforts by broadband providers to create a two-tiered Internet.

Ebay spokesman Catherine England declined to disclose how many e-mails were actually sent, "but I can confirm that it was over 1 million."

Under the two-lane plan, the two dominant broadband providers in the U.S. -- telephone and cable companies -- would charge an extra fee to content, service and application providers based on bandwidth consumption.

"Right now, the telephone and cable companies in control of Internet access are trying to use their enormous political muscle to dramatically change the Internet," Whitman wrote.

"It might be hard to believe, but lawmakers in Washington are seriously debating whether consumers should be free to use the Internet as they want in the future."

Whitman characterized the broadband providers' scheme as a "Pay-to-Play high-speed toll road restricted to only the largest companies that can afford to pay high fees for preferential access to the Net.

"The bottom tier -- the slow lane -- would be what is left for everyone else. If the fast lane is the information 'super-highway,' the slow lane will operate more like a dirt road."

AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said Whitman's e-mail contained "misleading half-truths and utter falsehoods."

The telecom giant contends the proposed pricing model is essential to bringing IPTV to the market as a competitor to cable television. Statutory network neutrality provisions, AT&T claims, would hamper those efforts.

"The online giants are lobbying for legislation that would deny consumers these new video services and force consumers to pay the entire costs of a bigger and better broadband Internet," Balmoris said in an e-mail to internetnews.com.

"We are confident that lawmakers will vote for video choice over higher broadband rates for consumers."

The testy exchange comes as Congress enters a critical stage in lawmakers' proposed telecom reform legislation.

The House Commerce Committee passed legislation in April that would leave questions of network neutrality to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

A similar bill in the Senate would leave network neutrality to further FCC study.

Both bills call for national video franchising for IPTV. Key votes on the issue are scheduled in the next few weeks.

Network neutrality proponents are seeking specific legislative language that would prohibit broadband providers from price discrimination in handling network traffic.

"A two-lane system will restrict innovation because start-ups and small companies -- the companies that can't afford the high fees -- will be unable to succeed, and we'll lose out on the jobs, creativity and inspiration that come with them," Whitman wrote.

"The power belongs with Internet users, not the big phone and cable companies. Let's use that power to send as many messages as possible to our elected officials in Washington."