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Senators Push FCC on Network Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should expand the focus of its network neutrality inquiry to include the impact of carrier practices on content providers, U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said Monday.

Dorgan and Snowe, who have introduced network neutrality legislation in the Senate, also expressed disappointment that the FCC chose to start an inquiry instead of propose concrete network neutrality rules.

Following its 2005 decision approving four network neutrality principles for end users, the FCC in March launched a Notice of Inquiry to determine if the marketplace behavior of broadband carriers threatens the historic open nature of the Internet.

"We…believe you should be asking how all Internet users are affected rather than just consumers," Snowe and Dorgan wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. "With a neutral network, any Internet user can be a producer or consumer. That is the beauty of a free and open Internet."

Both AT&T and Verizon have floated tentative plans to charge content providers extra fees based on bandwidth consumption. Neither telecom giant has implemented the idea.

Proponents of network neutrality claim speed tiers on the Internet would amount to discriminatory network traffic management, creating fast and slow lanes for content providers based on ability to pay.

"If [the carriers] get their wishes, the Internet would become a new world where those content providers who can afford to pay special fees would have better access to consumers," Dorgan and Snowe wrote.

Dorgan and Snowe's bill -- the Internet Freedom Preservation Act -- would prohibit broadband carriers from discriminatory practices, such as pricing in handling traffic from Internet content, application and service providers. The legislation would also require carriers to offer consumers individual broadband service that is not bundled with television or telephone service.

The bill is similar to an unsuccessful amendment introduced in the 109th Congress by Dorgan and Snowe. The then majority Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee defeated the legislation on a narrow vote with Snowe the only Republican voting for the amendment.

Other Democrats signing onto the new bill include John Kerry of Massachusetts, California's Barbara Boxer, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Vermont's Patrick Leahy, New York's Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama of Illinois.

"Broadband providers are now technologically capable and financially incentivized to exercise considerable control over how, when and even if information can be viewed and shared," Dorgan and Snow wrote Monday. "They've always had the financial incentives; the technical ability is relatively new, as is the FCC's permission to exert such control over content."

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Congress should move "very cautiously" on network neutrality laws. The FTC said it was unable to find any significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm from conduct by broadband providers.

"Policy makers should be wary of calls for network neutrality regulation simply because we do not know what the net effects of potential conduct by broadband providers will be on consumers," the FTC report states.

"Similarly, we do not know what net effects regulation to proscribe such conduct would have on consumers."

The report concludes that a "young and evolving" broadband market will hedge network discrimination fears, because it is "moving in the direction of more -- not less – competition." Cable and telephone companies currently control 98 percent of the U.S. broadband connections.

This article appears courtesy of www.internetnews.com.