Oregon Senator Unveils Bill To Ensure 'Net Neutrality'

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has unveiled a bill that would prohibit telephone and cable companies from charging others businesses for faster delivery of content to consumers over the Internet.

March 3, 2006

3 Min Read
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Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Thursday unveiled a bill that would prohibit telephone and cable companies from charging others businesses for faster delivery of content to consumers over the Internet.

The bill to ensure so-called 'Net neutrality' would also prohibit network operators from favoring content over others, such as their own video services over those of Internet companies.

In unveiling the Internet Nondiscrimination Act of 2006, Wyden said in a statement that allowing cable and telephone companies to create a two-tiered system for distributing content over their networks would "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."

"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," Wyden said.

The bill prohibits network operators from interfering with, blocking, degrading, altering, modifying or changing traffic on the Internet. It also disallows the creation of a priority lane where content providers can buy quicker access to customers.In addition, the bill says consumers must be allowed to choose the devices they use to connect to the Internet, and it ensures that consumers have non-discriminatory access and service. Finally, the measure calls for a transparent system in which consumers, Web content and Internet companies have access to the rates, terms and conditions for service.

The bill stems from ongoing lobbying in Congress by telephone companies Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T and others, including cable operators, to prevent legislation like Wyden's. Internet companies, including Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, want Congress to pass a law that would require Net neutrality, where all content gets equal treatment.

A Verizon spokesman said in an email that Wyden's bill was unnecessary.

"People get awfully nervous when they hear a member of Congress talk about regulating the Internet," spokesman David Fish said. "This is an attempt to fix a hypothetical problem that doesn't exist."

AT&T issued a statement saying it had no plans to degrade, impair or block access to any legal Web site, application or service, or to hamper the delivery of content from Internet companies. Instead, the company was looking into alternatives for addressing the problem of third-party content providers moving video and other bandwidth-eating services on its network."At this stage, we are exploring different product models to address the challenges of proliferating applications on the Internet that will require significant network bandwidth, but we feel strongly that this is an issue best left to the marketplace," the company said.

The bill doesn't interfere with network operators' efforts to protect subscribers against spam, spyware, viruses, pornography or other unwanted content. It also provides exceptions for responding to emergencies and court-ordered law enforcement actions.

The proposal provides for a complaint-filing process with the Federal Communications Commission. If the FCC accepted the written complaint, then it would be up to the network operator to show that it did not violate the act. The FCC would have 90 days to make a decision.

Potential fines would be stiff enough to encourage compliance, Wyden said.

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