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Net Neutrality On The Hill

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					Title:
Net Neutrality On The Hill

Word Count:
1159

Summary:
The internet has always been a source of confusion and angst on Capitol
Hill. It has also been one of the more glamorous issues among the
lawmakers, because the impact it has had on the way Americans
communicate, seek entertainment and do business.

As the speed of the internet has grown, as its "bandwidth" has allowed it
to carry large amounts of content at high speed, the internet highway has
become an enormously lucrative commercial highway. It has also become
much like ...


Keywords:
website hosting, net neutrality, issues, explanation, ISPs, content
providers, conflict


Article Body:
The internet has always been a source of confusion and angst on Capitol
Hill. It has also been one of the more glamorous issues among the
lawmakers, because the impact it has had on the way Americans
communicate, seek entertainment and do business.

As the speed of the internet has grown, as its "bandwidth" has allowed it
to carry large amounts of content at high speed, the internet highway has
become an enormously lucrative commercial highway. It has also become
much like a utility, in that its services are delivered primarily by
cable operators and telephone companies, each industry operating in most
markets as a de facto monopoly.

Now, those cable and telephone companies that are the internet service
providers, or ISPs, are looking for additional revenue services beyond
the subscription fees that they charge consumers each month. They are
considering charging major content providers on the web a fee for massive
use of their networks. Large websites such as Amazon, Google and Yahoo
would be charged a fee for the amount of traffic they put into the web
pipelines.

Keep in mind, these providers already pay for their bandwidth. They pay
for their connections to the Internet through various datacenters and
connections to various backbone networks. Some don't do much to dispel
the confusion their claims may cause, allowing people to think Google
somehow isn't paying for their bandwidth usage already. All major content
providers do pay, the issue at the heart of this debate is whether they
will have to pay more due to their size, or suffer less-than equal
treatment when an ISP's customers attempt to reach their sites.

Net Neutrality Comes to Center Stage
What has brought this issue to a head is the pending ability of broadband
cable networks to deliver movies and other first run video programming
over the internet. But the success of Google and Yahoo with their
advertising revenue model and Amazon with its enormous retail presence
has convinced the cable system operators that they are entitled to some
of the revenue these companies are deriving from services delivered and
transactions concluded over their networks - at no cost.

Thus "net neutrality" has become a buzzword on Capitol Hill and the focus
of more than one proposed piece of legislation in the past eighteen
months. One of the problems facing the lawmakers is that no one is
exactly sure what net neutrality means. For the big content providers, it
means no additional fees for their presence and availability on the
internet. For the ISPs, it is a veiled term for regulated rates - or more
accurately, the inability to create a rate structure for major websites.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has fought
cable regulation for years, and sees net neutrality as another
governmental threat. Says a spokesman, "For instance, does network
neutrality mean that network operators can't block spam? Should network
operators be allowed to stop viruses from spreading? Should large users
of peer-to-peer software be allowed unlimited bandwidth so service for
other users is slower?"

The major internet search engines and retail sites are active in their
support for net neutrality, and they are joined by some likely allies
including internet freedom of speech advocates, liberal organizations
such as MoveOn and some libertarian organizations.

The legislative concern is that the monopolistic service providers would
be in a position to favor some websites over others - and that providing
unlimited high speed delivery capability to major sites will push other
websites into slower lanes on the internet highway. There is also the
possibility of ISPs denying some websites access to their networks
altogether. These scenarios are viewed as an inherently unfair model
subject to antitrust consideration, at least by some Democrats.

Google recently threatened to use antitrust lawsuits should net
neutrality initiatives fail and they detect any signs of discrimination
against their traffic.

Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Profit?

The philosophical issues are interesting. But more important in this
issue are the potential business opportunities for both content providers
and network operators. The telephone companies that have large numbers of
high speed internet subscribers intend to get into the television
business via the internet.

Yahoo and Google see opportunities in online video, and alliances between
such websites and movie companies are a real possibility. The cable
companies that provide internet service are also interested in
proprietary pay-per-view services delivered via the internet. The service
providers would like to see a "tiered" structure wherein they can charge
large websites (with large revenue streams) a fee. In addition, they
would like to get into the
content business themselves.

The ISPs argue that additional revenues are necessary in order for them
to continue to invest billions in high speed networks to better serve
their customers. They are finding some allies among hardware
manufacturers, who see the implementation of a fee structure online as
requiring additional in-home equipment. Some conservative Republicans are
opposed to net neutrality as well, agreeing that the ISPs would be denied
the ability to expand their networks without the additional revenue.

A Regulatory Conundrum

The FCC has left the issue alone. At one point, they dismissed the issue
when raised by Amazon and other major web content providers, saying that
regulation was unnecessary for activities that had yet to occur. Then
Madison River, a telecommunications company in North Carolina, blocked
internet telephone service over their telephone network which they used
to deliver both internet access and telephone service. The FCC is no
longer in a position to ignore the matter, as they will be the
enforcement body for whatever rules emerge from the current debate

A bill addressing net neutrality that was proposed by Democrats failed in
the House in April. However attitudes are shifting. In May, a seemingly
bipartisan bill came out of the House Judiciary Committee that would add
specific language to existing antitrust law guaranteeing net neutrality.
The Judiciary bill would make it illegal under antitrust law for network
operators to impose fees or to fail to provide their services on
"reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms."

Further, the bill would bar ISPs from blocking or impairing internet
sites. The house has two other pending bills as well, both emanating from
Democrats. One of the proposals is from Congressman Ed Markey, a longtime
expert on cable and telecommunications issues. He proposes to amend a
telecommunications bill slated for consideration by both houses later
this year.

On the Senate side, there is a major rewrite of the Telecommunications
Act of 1996 underway and debate over this issue has made its way into the
process. At the moment, the proposed bill includes language that charges
the FCC with watching for potential violations of net neutrality and
reporting its findings to Congress. This "when in doubt, commission a
study" approach suits the NCTA perfectly. It's a good-government approach
to continued non-regulation, and as the NCTA president told a Senate
committee "This is the kind of issue that is most appropriately studied a
lot more."

				
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posted:2/2/2010
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Description: The internet has always been a source of confusion and angst on Capitol Hill. It has also been one of the more glamorous issues among the lawmakers, because the impact it has had on the way Americans communicate, seek entertainment and do business. As the speed of the internet has grown, as its "bandwidth" has allowed it to carry large amounts of content at high speed, the internet highway has become an enormously lucrative commercial highway. It has also become much like ...