Consumer groups push for net neutrality rules

Three consumer groups repeated their calls for a U.S. law toprevent broadband providers from blocking or slowing customeraccess to some Internet content by saying the public wantsgovernment protection.

In a survey released Wednesday, more than two-thirds of respondentssaid the large telecommunications and cable companies offeringbroadband services should adhere to so-called network neutralityprinciples, which would guarantee that broadband users can go toany legal Web sites they want and run any Internet applicationsthey want.

Without strong consumer protections, the openly accessible Internetis in danger with few broadband provider options available to mostpeople, the consumer groups said.

“If we’re not careful, we’ll miss signs that there are threats toopenness that makes the Internet so great,” said Michael J. Copps,a Democrat on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC),speaking at the consumer groups’ press conference. “The moreconcentrated that our [broadband] providers become, the more theyhave the ability, and possibly even the incentive, to act asInternet gatekeepers.

“Our open and vibrant and freewheeling Internet is to me the lastplace on earth where we should tolerate gatekeeper control,” Coppsadded.

A Verizon Communications Inc. spokesman said Congress should avoidregulating the Internet.

“Verizon provides consumers open and unfettered access to theInternet and supports the Internet neutrality principles,” saidDavid Fish, the Verizon spokesman. “The Internet is flourishingbecause consumers are in the driver’s seat and government meddlinghas been kept to a minimum.”

Officials with large broadband providers Comcast Corp. and AT&TInc. didn’t have an immediate comment on the press conferencehosted by the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union andFree Press.

The FCC’s net neutrality principals, endorsed in early 2004, wouldgive broadband customers access to the legal content andapplications of their choice, allow them to attach the legaldevices of their choice and allow them access to information abouttheir service plans.

Congress will consider adding the net neutrality principles to lawas it debates a telecom reform bill this year, but large broadbandproviders have generally opposed the rules. Large broadbandproviders such as Verizon and Comcast have called net neutralityrules unneeded regulation, saying they have no plans to blockaccess to some Web sites.

But VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) provider Vonage HoldingsCorp. has complained about some broadband providers attempting toblock its service.

Some broadband providers have proposed a separate, faster servicefor their own broadband video services, or faster access to Websites that pay the providers an extra fee. Officials with the threeconsumer groups Wednesday complained that large broadband providersare “double dipping” by trying to get both Web sites and Internetusers to pay them for service.

“What we have here is no less than the future of the Internet as weknow it,” said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, a consumergroup focused on the media.

According to the groups’ survey of 1,000 people, performed in thefourth quarter of 2005:

— 72 percent of respondents agreed that broadband providers shouldadminister their networks in a neutral manner.

— 47 percent said they believe broadband providers willvoluntarily support network neutrality principles.

— 55 percent supported a national net neutrality policy, with 54percent supporting congressional action.

“If you change the way the Internet operates, then those customersare going to show up to Congress with pitchforks,” Scott said.”They’re going to be asking, ‘Why is it that our Internet, whichused to be a free and open platform, now has a fast lane and a dirtroad?'”

Also in the survey, more than 65 percent of respondents said theInternet was important or very important for e-mail and marketresearch, and more than 50 percent said it was important or veryimportant for getting news. More than 40 percent said the Internetwas an important part of banking and shopping.

The Internet is used for “the stuff of daily lives in our society,”said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federationof America. “People do really get how important the Internet is andhow important it is to keep it open.”

The survey results are available at

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