No New Laws For Net Neutrality?

WASHINGTON — The cable and telephone industries again insisted Tuesday they
have no plans or intentions to block either Internet content or applications
over their high-speed broadband networks.

That contention sparked a sharp war of words between Internet companies and
the carriers that provide the bandwidth for their services.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, the heads of the National
Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the United States
Telecom Association (USTA) emphatically insisted no new laws are necessary
to ensure broadband customers access to all legal content on the Internet.

They did, however, admit they want additional fees from high bandwidth
content and application providers to access consumers through their pipes.

The proposal has prompted hand wringing among Internet companies and
consumer advocates alike that the cable and telephone industries, which
control 98 percent of the U.S. broadband market, will make private deals
that favor one content provider over another.

Lawmakers, in turn, are considering revising the 1996 Telecommunications Act
to ensure a principle known as net neutrality where the providers of
Internet service are obligated to make their networks available to all legal
content and applications in a non-discriminatory manner.

With little or no evidence that either cable modem or DSL providers have
attempted to favor, say, Google’s search engine over Yahoo’s, the industries
claim the Net neutrality debate is a solution in search of a problem.

“As the industry that largely created the residential broadband market, we
fully embrace and will seek to protect a vibrant Internet,” Kyle McSlarrow,
president and CEO of the NCTA, said.

“So, let me be clear: NCTA’s members
have not, and will not, block the ability of their high-speed Internet
customers to access any lawful content, application or services available
over the public Internet.”

Walter McCormick, president and CEO of the USTA, added “Today, I make the
same commitment to you that our member companies make to their Internet
customers: We will not block, impair or degrade content, applications or
services. That is the plainest and most direct way I know to address
concerns that have been raised about Net neutrality.”

Skeptics immediately stepped forward.

Google Vice President and “Chief Internet Evangelist” Vint Cerf, one of the pioneer
architects of the Internet, said, “Google believes that the consumer should
be able to use the Internet connections that they pay for the way they want.
This principle — that users pick winners and losers in the Internet
marketplace, not carriers — is an architectural and policy choice critical
to innovation online.”

Cerf further noted that most consumers are lucky if they have the choice of
two broadband providers, concentrating market power with the cable and
telephone companies.

“In the absence of any meaningful competition in the consumer broadband
market, and without…consumer safeguards, one would expect carriers to have
the economic incentive — and the opportunity — to control users’ online
activities,” Cerf said.

Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig told lawmakers that what the cable
and telephone companies are seeking “would radically reduce competition and
content on the Internet.”

Jeffrey Citron, chairman and CEO of the independent Internet phone company
Vonage, noted that the cable and telephone industries are already being paid
twicde for their services.

“As a businessman, I don’t get — nor do I expect — a ‘free ride’ on anyone’s
network,” he said. “Vonage pays network operators tens of millions of
dollars a year for Internet access to deliver our service to subscribers. On
top of that, consumers pay billions of dollars every year to these companies
for high-speed Internet access. No one gets a free ride.”

The cable industry’s McSlarrow said Google and other Internet companies
“will tell you that they are just looking out for the next generation of
entrepreneurs … To the contrary, now that these companies have achieved a
leadership position in the marketplace, they want to foreclose any new
business model that would enable new entrants to challenge them.”

Without network experimentation, he claimed, “You force all networks to
compete only on size and price, which benefits only larger players, limiting
the many types of competition and innovation emerging today.”

The USTA’s McCormick was more circumspect.

“All sides of the Net neutrality debate agree that consumers should be in
control of their Internet experience,” he said. “Where we differ is whether
consumers alone should foot the bill for the advanced networks that drive
the Internet’s growth and evolution.”

As companies increasingly move toward putting live video, games and advanced
service on the Internet, he said, they will be seeking more bandwidth.

“Simply put, our side believes that businesses that seek to profit on the
use of next-generation networks should not be free of all costs associated
with the increased capacity that is required for the delivery of the
advanced services and applications they seek to market,” McCormick said.

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