Tech groups urge Congress to keep net neutrality

More than 60 technology companies, consumer advocates and tradegroups are urging a U.S. House of Representatives committee toseriously consider legislation designed to prohibit broadbandproviders from discriminating against competing servicestransmitted over their networks.

Amid some press reports that the House Energy and Commercecommittee was ready to scrap so-called net neutrality provisionsfrom a broad-ranging communications bill, the groups sent a letterto the committee Wednesday. A committee spokesman said Thursday nodecisions have been made about what provisions will be included inthe communications bill.

The bill also includes a streamlined video franchise plan thatwould allow large telecommunications companies entering the videomarket to get quick approves to offer service to compete with cabletelevision.

“We … believe that unless Congress acts, the Internet is at riskof losing the openness that has made it an engine for phenomenalsocial and economic growth,” the letter form the groups says. “Weare writing to urge that Congress take steps now to preserve thisfundamental underpinning of the Internet and to assure the Internetremains a platform open to innovation and progress.”

Among the companies signing the letter were Inc.,EarthLink Inc., eBay Inc.,, Microsoft Corp.,,TiVO Inc. and Yahoo Inc. Advocacy groups signing onto the letterincluded the Consumer Federation of America, Free Press and PublicKnowledge.

On Thursday, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said he wouldintroduce a net neutrality law.

Large broadband providers, including Verizon Communications Inc.,Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc., say a net neutrality law isn’tneeded, because there’s little evidence of a problem. Such a lawwould prohibit broadband providers from providing preferentialtreatment to their own or their partners services and blocking orslowing access to competing services, such as an unaffiliated VOIP(voice over Internet Protocol) service.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) provider BellSouth Corp. has proposeda business model where it charges Web sites and services anadditional fee for better speed and performance, and most netneutrality backers say such a service would hurt small businessesand innovative startups. Officials from BellSouth, Verizon andAT&T have all, in recent months, complained that Web-basedbusinesses such as Google Inc. are getting a free ride over theirpipes.

Large broadband providers have also suggested that a net neutralityprovision would be one of the first major regulations of theInternet.

The letter from the 64 groups said consumers, not networkproviders, should decide what Web sites and services they use.”While it is appropriate for Congress to develop new legislation topromote competition among broadband networks, it must also ensurethat consumers and providers continue to have the right to usethose networks to send and receive content, and to use applicationsand services, without interference by network operators,” theletter said.

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