Senate panel chairman questions net neutrality
Stevens: 'Not going to do' common-carrier regulations
IDG News Service - The chairman of a U.S. Senate committee debating broadband legislation said Tuesday he would not allow broadband providers to be regulated like large telephone carriers were in the past, despite calls for a law prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or slowing some Internet traffic.
Net neutrality backers want a return to "common carrier" requirements, in which telecommunications carriers were required to give all customers the same service and standard rates, Ted Stevens said during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on a communications reform bill. "We're not going to do that," said the Alaska Republican.
Stevens' comments came after some committee Democrats and witness Ben Scott, policy director of advocacy group Free Press, called for stronger net neutrality rules in a Stevens bill. His proposal would overhaul telecommunications regulations and streamline local franchising requirements for telecommunications providers looking to offer television services via IP in competition with cable television providers. The law would require broadband providers to carry competing Web content at the same speeds as their own.
The Senate panel is debating its communications reform bill after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version on Friday. The House rejected an amendment that would strengthen the net neutrality rules in the House bill.
Net neutrality opponents have opposed a new U.S. law, saying it would create unnecessary regulation of the Internet. But Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said the incredible growth of the Internet during the late '90s came when broadband providers offering Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service were under common-carrier regulations to rent their lines to competing Internet service providers.
That growth "has come as the result of open architecture," Dorgan said.
In August, the Federal Communications Commission overturned rules requiring DSL providers to offer their lines at discounted rates to competitors, and net neutrality backers say there is now no regulation prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or impairing Internet content that competes with their own or their partners' content.
In recent months executives at broadband carriers AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp. have discussed new business plans in which they would charge online businesses a premium fee for giving their traffic preferential speeds over companies that choose not to pay the extra fees.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) defended this practice, comparing broadband providers to bricks-and-mortar retailers that choose to give some products better shelf space than other products. Retailer discrimination forces product vendors to work harder, DeMint said.
"We really want some discrimination to create better products and services," he said.
With more broadband competition coming in a "relatively few number of years," there's no need for a net neutrality law, DeMint added. "What this is, is a government telling retailers how to run their businesses," DeMint said of net neutrality provisions. "It's really commercial suicide for any network retailer to limit something their customers want."
But 98% of the U.S. broadband market is now controlled by DSL or cable-modem providers, said Scott, whose group advocates for media reform. "That's not a competitive marketplace," Scott said.
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