By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
Market forces aren't enough to preserve the Internet's historical
principle of treating all traffic equally, regardless of the content
provider's wealth or clout, a high-tech advocacy group said Tuesday in
announcing its support for legislation.
In a report, the Center for Democracy and Technology said consumer
demand might very well create sufficient incentives for Internet
service providers to treat all online sites and services equally.
"But that outcome is far from guaranteed," the Washington-based group
wrote. "CDT believes the risk is too great to simply `wait and see.'
Once new, non-neutral networks and business arrangements have been put
in place, overturning those arrangements is likely to be extremely
At issue is the concept of "net neutrality," the idea that telephone,
cable and other Internet providers shouldn't favor certain Web sites
or services simply because they are willing to pay higher fees or make
special arrangements to transmit data.
Phone and cable companies contend pure net neutrality would drive up
costs to consumers because online businesses wouldn't pay a fair share
of the billions of dollars being spent to provide high-speed service
around the country.
Although they say they wouldn't block access to anyone, some Internet
providers have proposed "tiered services," in which a company offering
an Internet phone or video service could pay for higher priority to
the network. That's important because voice and video offerings
consume much bandwidth and rely on real-time delivery of data, so
delays would be much more noticeable than if it were e-mail or a
static Web page.
But critics say that with tiered services, those unable or unwilling
to pay would essentially be left out.
The House earlier this month passed a broad telecommunications bill
that would give the Federal Communications Commission authority to
enforce net neutrality principles and set fines of up to $500,000 for
violations. Critics say that provision wasn't enough to maintain the
Internet's freewheeling openness.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is scheduled
to take up the issue Thursday.
The CDT said Tuesday that any legislation should be narrow and exempt,
for now, any non-Internet services that may use the same pipes -- for
example, television services over regular phone lines.
CDT staff counsel John Morris said Internet providers still should be
able to prioritize certain types of services, such as Internet phone
calls, as long as the prioritization is offered to all companies
equally, without prior arrangements or fees.
In a separate study released in conjunction with the CDT report,
Daniel J. Weitzner, a principal research scientist at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said nothing should preclude
users from paying more for higher speeds.
"The freedom to buy the bandwidth that one can afford means that
hundreds of millions of people around the world have been able to
participate in the Internet even if not at high speed," Weitzner
wrote. "These decisions are always up to the user, not the network
operator or the content provider."
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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