Monday, February 6, 2006

Senate Hears Network Neutrality Debate

The debate on Internet Neutrality reached the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday, pitting the interests of independent application providers, such as Google and Vonage, against last mile access providers. At issue is whether, the RBOCs and cable operators should be allowed to favor their own advanced services with preferential network policies or whether independent application providers pay more for advanced, quality of service on next generation networks.

In Favor of Network Neutrality

Dr. Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google: "The Internet's open, neutral architecture has proven to be an enormous engine for market innovation, economic growth, social discourse and the free flow of ideas. The remarkable success of the Internet can be traced to a few simple network principles -- end-to-end design, layered architecture, and open standards -- which together give consumers choice over their online activities... Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success."

Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Stanford University: "It is my view that Congress should ratify Powell's "Internet Freedoms," making them part of the FCC's basic law. However, in the time since Chairman Powell announced these principles, it has become clear they are missing one important requirement. The now openly-stated intentions of AT&T and others to introduce access tiering to the Internet threatens to undermine application competition on the Internet. Congress should act to avoid that result."

Jeffrey A. Citron, CEO of Vonage: "As a businessman, I don't get -- nor do I expect -- a "free ride" on anyone's network. But the truth is these network operators are already getting paid twice. Vonage pays network operators millions of dollars a year for Internet access to deliver our service to our subscribers. On top of that, consumers pay billions of dollars every year to these companies for high-speed Internet access. No one gets a free ride."

Earl W. Comstock, President of Comptel: "Put simply, the FCC is betting America's future on the goodwill of the Bell companies and large cable operators. Counting on companies to act in the public good against their own financial interests has been tried before, and it has never worked."

Gary Bachula, Vice President for External Affairs, Internet2:
"If a network operator starts to give preference to packets from one source (that perhaps pays the operator for preference), what happens to all of the other, ordinary packets? We know that when an ambulance or fire truck comes down a congested highway, everybody else has to pull over and stop. For emergencies, and for public safety, that is accepted, but what if UPS trucks had the same preference? Giving preference to the packets of some potentially degrades the transport for everyone else...

Today our Abilene network does not give preferential treatment to anyone's bits, but our users routinely experiment with streaming HDTV, hold thousands of high-quality two-way video conferences simultaneously, and transfer huge files of scientific data around the globe without loss of packets. We would argue that rather than introduce additional complexity into the network fabric, and additional costs to implement these prioritizing techniques, the telecom providers should focus on providing Americans with an abundance of bandwidth -- and the quality problems will take care of themselves."

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR): "I will shortly introduce legislation that will make sure all information is made available on the same terms so that no bit is better than another one. First, it will assure that information from a company like J. Crew is not treated worse than information from a company like LL Bean. Second, it will assure that a company like Comcast that offers Internet access does not give preferential treatment to its own information bits compared to information bits from another company, like Yahoo. Third, broadband service providers should not be able to create private networks that are superior to the Internet access they offer consumers generally. These principles would prevent Internet access providers from tipping the competitive advantage toward their own services, such as phone calls over the Internet (VoIP) or television over the Internet."

In Favor of Internet Tiers

Walter B. McCormick, Jr., President of the U.S. Telecom Association: "Our companies have a 150-year tradition of connecting people to each other over our networks. We are 100% committed to continuing this tradition as we invest billions of dollars -- nearly $15 billion in 2006 alone -- building out new, next generation broadband networks capable of meeting America's increasing need for speed... We will not block, impede, or degrade content, applications, or services.. If you can go there today, you can go there tomorrow... Simply put, our side believes that businesses that seek to profit on the use of next-generation networks should not be free of all costs associated with the increased capacity that is required for delivery of the advanced services, they will be seeking more bandwidth. If you want more, then you pay more, is as American as it comes."

Kyle McSlarrow, President of National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA): "Congress' policy of leaving the Internet unregulated has been a resounding success... any change to this policy could have serious repercussions to continued network innovation and investment... in the absence of any problem calling for a legislative solution -- and since the broadband services market is characterized by robust competition -- Congress should refrain from premature legislative action and allow the marketplace to continue to grow.

J. Gregory Sidak. Professor of Law, Georgetown University: "The practical effect of 'net neutrality' obligations would be to require a telecommunications carrier to recover the full cost of its broadband network connection through a uniform flat-rate charge imposed on all end users. Companies like Google, eBay and Yahoo! might believe that such an outcome works to their private economic advantage, but that short-run view would neglect the disincentive that 'net neutrality' obligations would create for private investment in the very broadband infrastructure upon which these companies rely to deliver their content and applications to consumers."

Webcast coverage and submitted testimony is available on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee website.

See also