Push for Net neutrality likely in Congress next year
A law would make clear what the rules are for customers and broadband providers, insider says
IDG News Service - WASHINGTON - Congress will push for Net neutrality legislation next year, even though the U.S. Federal Communications Commission took action against broadband providers that it found blocked or slowed Web content, an adviser to a senior U.S. senator said today.
While the FCC has addressed what it saw as Net neutrality violations on a case-by-case basis in recent years, a law passed by Congress would provide customers, investors, Web-based companies and broadband providers with certainty about the rules of the road, said Frannie Wellings, telecommunications counsel for Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), co-sponsor of a bill introduced in 2007 that would have created a Net neutrality law.
"We definitely think legislation is necessary," said Wellings, speaking at a forum on telecom law at the University of Nebraska College of Law in Washington.
Net neutrality merger conditions placed on AT&T Inc. in its December 2006 acquisition of rival BellSouth were "proof to us that the world doesn't end if you choose not to discriminate" against Internet content, Wellings added. Congress may also look at ways to spur broadband competition by going back to rules that require broadband providers to share their networks with competitors, and it may allow the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate broadband providers for unfair business practices, she added.
AT&T would prefer that the FCC continue to act on a case-by-case basis on Net neutrality issues, said James Cicconi, the company's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs. After a heated debate for a couple of years, there's been a consensus forming around Net neutrality, with many broadband providers now acknowledging that customers want an open Internet and with many Net neutrality advocates acknowledging that network providers need to manage their networks for the good of customers, he said.
"There's a lot of people who now believe that companies like AT&T are not plotting to overthrow the open Internet concept," Cicconi said.
It's against AT&T's economic interest to block or slow Internet content, because customers demand an open Internet, he added. "Our core asset is our network," he said. "We get paid for carrying bits."
But new legislation could raise questions among investors in broadband providers, he added.
"There is definitely a need on the part of investors to not hobble the network operators," added Rebecca Arbogast, a principal at Stifel Nicolaus, a brokerage and investment firm.
While the FCC doesn't have hard rules against broadband providers blocking or slowing Internet content, "as a practical matter," it has made clear that such activities won't be allowed, she said. In the most recent case, the FCC ruled in August that cable modem provider Comcast was wrong in slowing some peer-to-peer and other traffic in the name of network management.
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