As the U.S. Congress argues the pros and cons of network neutrality, many companies doing business on the Internet say their very futures may be at stake.
Net neutrality supporters want new laws prohibiting Internet providers from blocking or degrading traffic from their competitors’ networks. If providers are allowed to give preferential treatment to some Web traffic, businesses using competing tools will find themselves in the slow lane, said Dave Greves, owner of Denver-based Faction Media, an advertising agency that focuses on online campaigns.
Greves’ 20-employee company uses Web analytics packages, an ad server product, a hosted e-mail service, and even Google for business-to-business advertising. Without net neutrality rules, a broadband provider could block Google in favor of its own, or a partner’s, search engine, Greves said.
“Of course, it’s all speculation, but it could radically change the way we operate,” Greves said. “It would put us effectively back in startup mode.”
Determining the full effects of net neutrality can be difficult, however, in part because the concept is hard to define precisely. Most of the debate has taken place inside the Washington Beltway, where lawmakers and outsiders have proposed several different versions.
One proposal, from Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey and other House Democrats, would require broadband providers to offer the same enhanced routing for services such as television over IP to competitors that they set aside for themselves. That proposal represents one of the most specific — and, opponents say, regulatory — approaches to net neutrality.
Members of Congress have introduced three other bills, but none so far has gained broad support in either the House or Senate. Most recently, on June 28 the Senate rejected a proposal to add a net neutrality provision to a bill now under discussion.
Business in the cross fire
The neutrality issue pits large broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon against consumer groups and large Internet-based companies such as Amazon.com, eBay, and Google. A neutrality law would create new regulations for the Internet, broadband providers say. They argue that they need to explore new business plans as a way to pay for next-generation broadband networks, and that they should be free to divide up their broadband pipes to offer new services such as television over IP.
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“I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it,” Whitacre told the magazine.