By Sophia Kirschenman
The debate surrounding network neutrality has sparked interest once again as members of Congress consider a bill to ensure that Internet Service Providers do not charge extra for visiting or broadcasting certain popular sites. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) proposed the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007 on Tuesday, Jan. 9.
Encouraged by the shift of control in Congress as well as the limitations recently placed on AT&T, Democrats have high hopes for this new legislation. If passed, the Act will prevent broadband service providers from offering Internet customers different prices based on viewing content or service type. Broadband companies will also be restricted from requiring payment from content providers for enhanced, faster service or use of their Internet channels.
Paul Meizer, vice president of global public policy for online retailer Amazon.com, says that companies like Amazon.com should not be punished for the high volume of traffic they create.
"Filling an Internet channel only occurs when a receiver pulls that information to him or her," Meizer said in an interview with City on a Hill Press (CHP). "It is completely wrong for Internet operators to say that companies like ours fill up their pipes."
Currently, there is complete network neutrality in the United States, a condition that guarantees that there is no selectivity based on content. Telecom companies have proposed using a tiered service model to allow them to label high priority Internet traffic.
Under that system, the most popular Internet sites would take higher priority over blogs or other seldomly visited sites. Some telecom companies have stated that the government has no right to interfere with the Internet.
Dr. Mark Thorton, senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute at the Austrian School of Economics, agrees that legislation in favor of network neutrality is unnecessary.
"The ‘need’ for network neutrality has been conjured up to provide a rationale to introduce government regulation of the Internet," Thorton told CHP.
Dr. Thorton also believes that some sites that tend to congest broadband traffic require specific treatment.
"Pipeline providers have to rationalize the allocation of resources and discriminatory prices to help do that in a number of areas," Thorton said. "The solution is not new government regulation-monopolization of the industry."
Allen Gunn, executive director of Aspiration Tech, a San Francisco company that provides nonprofits with web and hardware support, explained that without network neutrality, the Internet would alter greatly and allow powerful companies to exploit other organizations.
"If corporation X controls some Internet backbone [routes of net traffic] and is being protested or opposed by organization Z," Gunn suggested, "what’s to keep corporation X from throttling with or ‘losing’ packets to or from organization Z?"
Regulation of telecom companies began during AT&T’s $67 billion merger with Bell South last year.
The Federal Communications Commission highlighted strict guidelines for AT&T as a condition of the buyout, ensuring that the company would not take any action to prioritize content and would uphold net neutrality for the next two years. According to Gunn, this was a "magical byproduct of a nasty corporate merger."
Though AT&T’s case represents a precedent for neutrality during large-scale mergers, the future of Internet neutrality at large will likely be a product of the current debate. According to Gunn, the United States sets an example for how other nations will deal with citizens’ interaction with the information superhighway.
"Network neutrality is being discussed as a U.S. legislative issue at this point," Gunn said. "But the frame should be global, as the impact of any such change will be."