Hundreds weigh in on Net neutrality

Usual foes square off as FCC takes final comments

Hundreds of groups and individual Internet users sounded off to the Federal Communications Commission on Net neutrality in comments filed Monday, the deadline for responding to the agency's inquiry into the proposed regulation.

Individual Internet users, trade groups and advocacy organizations filed about 670 comments about Net neutrality rules with the FCC Monday. Individuals and organizations have submitted nearly 29,000 comments on Net neutrality since the FCC opened its inquiry in late March.

Net neutrality advocates want the FCC or the U.S. Congress to prohibit large broadband providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from blocking or slowing Web content from competitors.

Many of the comments Monday came from individual Internet users who asked the FCC to protect them against new fees that they fear broadband providers could charge Web content providers.

"Keep the corporations off our rights," wrote Internet user Jack McFarley of Washington state, in an e-mail. "Net neutrality is essential to free speech, equal opportunity and economic innovation in America."

Bonnie Bennett of California seemed to take a more individual approach in her e-mail to the FCC. "Free, unlimited access to the Internet is the modern-day version of how to educate the citizenry of a well-functioning democracy," she wrote. "Big companies and global corporations care a lot about profits and stockholders but not much about educating citizens."

A technology director of a school in Mississippi said net neutrality rules would protect his students' ability to access the information they need. "The importance of the Internet is increasing each month," wrote David Scovic. "Many small innovative Web sites that are vital to our teaching would be affected by a no vote [on Net neutrality rules]."

Net neutrality advocates have argued that such rules are needed after decisions by the FCC and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 allowed broadband providers to stop sharing their networks with competing Internet service providers. The debate over Net neutrality heated up after Ed Whitacre, former CEO at AT&T, complained in BusinessWeek in late 2005 about potential competition from Internet companies, saying he wasn't going to let them "use my pipes free."

The FCC in March launched an inquiry to examine Net neutrality proposals, looking at whether broadband providers charge different prices for different speeds and how consumers are affected by the ways broadband providers manage their networks.

Hands Off the Internet, an advocacy group representing AT&T Inc., Alcatel-Lucent SA, the American Conservative Union and other organizations, said in its filing that Net neutrality advocates haven't shown the need for new regulations. Broadband providers aren't blocking competing content, the group said.

"There is no current or anticipated content discrimination or service degradation justifying new regulations by the commission," wrote Christopher Wolf, co-chairman of Hands Off the Internet. "Moreover, regulation could well thwart Internet growth and make consumer access unfairly expensive."

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, a trade group representing Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and other tech vendors, said a Net neutrality rule is needed because there's little competition among broadband providers. Broadband providers "insult the commission's expertise by summarily proclaiming the broadband access market competitive without any specific evidence of competition," the group said. 

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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