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02.13.06

Net Neutrality Divides On Party Lines

By David A. Utter

The potential to future innovators to build on the success of the Internet may well hinge on network neutrality, but the two major political parties in Congress see the issue differently.

In a nutshell, or at least in a story appearing on ZDNet, Democrats noted in the article side with the concept of net neutrality, while Republicans favor holding off on legislating against infringements on net neutrality.

At the heart of the debate are billions of dollars the phone and cable providers claim they need to generate in order to continue to develop their broadband networks across the country. To raise that revenue, the network providers say they want a two-tiered Internet, where providers like Google and Yahoo can pay extra for a guaranteed, reliable delivery network.

The debate began in the Senate, as Google VP and chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf told a Senate committee how essential net neutrality will be going forward. On the opposity side off the issue, executives from the US Telecom Association and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association both say their members would never discriminate against services like VoIP, nor do they "plan to impede network activity."

Now we'll have a little fun with ZDNet's report and the always-useful OpenSecrets.org, a website that tracks campaign contributions to elected officials.


The article mentions Senator John Ensign (R-Nv), who called for modernizing regulations to "create more incentives for companies" and generally do all the things they should have accomplished anyway after passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Among the big contributors to Ensign's recent campaign cycle is SBC Communications (now AT&T), whose CEO Ed Whitacre has been very public with his calls for a two-tiered Internet.

Senator George Allen (R-Va) showed reluctance to legislate because "no broadband provider has moved yet to block or impair certain sites." Allen's campaign contributors include several of the big phone and cable providers in his top twenty generous givers: Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner.

The argument that no one has blocked or impaired sites yet is a dodge. A two-tiered Internet doesn't mean the existing connectivity would be impeded in any form. It just means that an improved second tier could be constructed that is faster than the existing tier.

Think of the way TV commercials frequently sound louder than the programs. Broadcasters don't pump out louder volume levels for commercials, they just transmit programs at a lower volume level and the ads at a closer level to the maximum.

Contributions do not mean that any particular elected politician will favor or oppose a given issue just because a party close to the issue has provided a few thousand dollars to a politico's war chest; political affiliation does not rigidly define the 'for' and 'against' sides of an issue either. However, neither should the influence of money be discounted from the equation.


About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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