More than 60 technology companies, consumer advocates and trade groups are urging a U.S. House of Representatives committee to seriously consider legislation designed to prohibit broadband providers from discriminating against competing services transmitted over their networks.
Amid reports that the House Energy and Commerce committee was ready to scrap so-called net neutrality provisions from a broad-ranging communications bill, the groups sent a letter to the committee Wednesday. A committee spokesman said Thursday no decisions have been made about what provisions will be included in the communications bill.
The bill also includes a streamlined video franchise plan that would allow large telecommunications companies entering the video market to get quick approves to offer service to compete with cable television.
"We ... believe that unless Congress acts, the Internet is at risk of losing the openness that has made it an engine for phenomenal social and economic growth," the letter form the groups says. "We are writing to urge that Congress take steps now to preserve this fundamental underpinning of the Internet and to assure the Internet remains a platform open to innovation and progress."
Among the companies signing the letter were Amazon.com, EarthLink, eBay, Match.com, Microsoft, Pulver.com, TiVO and Yahoo. Advocacy groups signing onto the letter included the Consumer Federation of America, Free Press and Public Knowledge.
On Thursday, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said he would introduce a net neutrality law. Under Wyden’s bill, the Internet Nondiscrimination Act of 2006, network operators would be prohibited from charging companies for faster delivery of their content to consumers over the internet or favoring some content over others.
Large broadband providers, including Verizon Communications, Comcast and AT&T, say a net neutrality law isn't needed, because there's little evidence of a problem. Such a law would prohibit broadband providers from providing preferential treatment to their own or their partners services and blocking or slowing access to competing services, such as an unaffiliated VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service.
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) provider BellSouth has proposed a business model where it charges Web sites and services an additional fee for better speed and performance, and most net neutrality backers say such a service would hurt small businesses and innovative startups. Officials from BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T have all, in recent months, complained that Web-based businesses such as Google Inc. are getting a free ride over their pipes.
Wyden's bill would prohibit broadband providers from creating a "priority lane where content providers can buy quicker access to customers, while those who do not pay the fee are left in the slow lane," Wyden's office said in a press release.
"Creating a two-tiered system could have a chilling effect on small mom-and-pop businesses that can’t afford the priority lane, leaving these smaller businesses no hope of competing against the Wal-Marts of the world," Wyden said in a statement. "Neutrality in technology enables small businesses to thrive on the Internet, and allows folks to start small and dream big, and that’s what I want to protect with this legislation."