More than 60 technology companies, consumer advocates and trade groups are urging a U.S. House of Representatives committee to seriously consider legislation designed to prohibit broadband providers from discriminating against competing services transmitted over their networks.
Amid some press reports that the House Energy and Commerce committee was ready to scrap so-called Net neutrality provisions from a broad-ranging communications bill, the groups sent a letter to the committee Wednesday. A committee spokesman said Thursday no decisions have been made about what provisions will be included in the communications bill.
The bill also includes a streamlined video franchise plan that would allow large telecommunications companies entering the video market to get quick approvals to offer service to compete with cable television.
“We … believe that unless Congress acts, the Internet is at risk of losing the openness that has made it an engine for phenomenal social and economic growth,” the letter from the group says. “We are writing to urge that Congress take steps now to preserve this fundamental underpinning of the Internet and to assure the Internet remains a platform open to innovation and progress.”
Among the companies signing the letter were Amazon.com Inc., EarthLink Inc., eBay Inc., Match.com, Microsoft Corp., Pulver.com, TiVO Inc. and Yahoo Inc. Advocacy groups signing onto the letter included the Consumer Federation of America, Free Press and Public Knowledge.
On Thursday, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said he would introduce a Net neutrality law.
Large broadband providers, including Verizon Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc., say a Net neutrality law isn’t needed, because there’s little evidence of a problem. Such a law would prohibit broadband providers from providing preferential treatment to their own or their partners’ services and blocking or slowing access to competing services, such as an unaffiliated VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service.
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) provider BellSouth Corp. has proposed a business model where it charges websites and services an additional fee for better speed and performance, and most Net neutrality backers say such a service would hurt small businesses and innovative startups. Officials from BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T have all, in recent months, complained that Web-based businesses such as Google Inc. are getting a free ride over their pipes.
Large broadband providers have also suggested that a Net neutrality provision would be one of the first major regulations of the Internet.
The letter from the 64 groups said consumers, not network providers, should decide what websites and services they use. “While it is appropriate for Congress to develop new legislation to promote competition among broadband networks, it must also ensure that consumers and providers continue to have the right to use those networks to send and receive content, and to use applications and services, without interference by network operators,” the letter said.
For related coverage, read Group Calls for Net Neutrality Trade-Off and Vinton Cerf: Internet Neutrality Law Needed.
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-Grant Gross, IDG News Service