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

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

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.”

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