by CIO Staff

Group Calls for Net Neutrality Trade-Off

Feb 16, 20063 mins

Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge says telecommunications giants should get a streamlined video franchising law as a way to compete with cable-television providers — as long as they also agree to a law that would prohibit them from discriminating against competing Web content and services.

Telecom giants including Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. shouldn’t have to go through a process of applying for thousands of local video franchise agreements, said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge. A national franchise law would “bring more competition to market faster, resulting in greater consumer choice and lower prices,” she said Wednesday during a U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing.

But the large telecom carriers must also accept a law prohibiting them from discriminating against content from competitors, Sohn said. Public Knowledge and other consumer advocates are pushing for a so-called net neutrality law, but telecom providers say such a law is unnecessary.

At the same time, BellSouth Corp. officials say they are considering a business plan that would call for selling an add-on service to Web-based businesses that would provide faster, better quality connections to customers — a practice that advocacy groups believe is discriminatory.

AT&T this week filed comments with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), urging the authority to streamline the franchise process as it begins examining franchise agreements. Ameritech New Media Inc., trying to get video franchises in the 1990s, took five years to get 115 agreements, AT&T noted.

At the same rate, it would take AT&T 65 years for its projected video rollout, Robert Quinn, AT&T’s senior vice president for federal relations, said in a statement. “It is time to remove those barriers to investment and competition,” he said.

Sohn agreed, but said in exchange, consumers should get protections against Web content discrimination from the large telecom and cable broadband providers. “Should Congress grant video providers the extraordinary regulatory relief represented by national broadband video franchises — turning nearly 40 years of local control of video services on its head — Congress must also ensure net neutrality,” she said. “Such a policy would ensure that those same companies make their broadband networks available to all applications, content and service providers on a nondiscriminatory basis.”

AT&T and Verizon spokesmen didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Sohn’s idea.

For related CIO coverage, read Vinton Cerf: Internet Neutrality Law Needed.

Don’t forget to keep checking in at our CIO News Alerts page for updated news coverage.

-Grant Gross, IDG News Service