Renewed Warning of Bandwidth Hoarding

Vinton G. Cerf is worried about the power of Internet service providers over content.
Vinton G. Cerf is worried about the power of Internet service providers over content. (By Reed Saxon -- Associated Press)

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By Jonathan Krim
Thursday, November 24, 2005

A couple of years ago, a group of big technology companies got together and issued a public alarm about the future of the Internet:

Those who own the wires that get us online, the companies said, should not be able to pick and choose what Web content and services we can see and use.

Just as electric companies can't cut deals with electronics makers to allow only some products to work, the Internet should have similar, guaranteed "network neutrality," argued tech firms such as Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc.

The telephone and cable companies that provide most Internet access dismissed the warning as a pro-regulatory, paranoid rant. It was a solution in search of a problem, they said, and they vowed they would never, ever do such a thing. And the issue receded.

But now it's back in a big way, and the question is: How will the tech industry respond?

Consider:

On March 3, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it settled a case against a small North Carolina-based telephone company that was blocking the ability of its customers to use voice-over-Internet calling services instead of regular phone lines.

On Sept. 15, the first major draft of proposed changes in the nation's telecommunication's laws was circulated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The draft said Internet service providers must not "block, impair, interfere with the offering of, access to, or the use of such content, applications or services."

On Nov. 2, another draft of the bill came out, with language specifically addressing the Internet video services that are proliferating as connection speeds increase and the phone companies get into the digital television business. In this draft, the prohibition on blocking or impeding content was gone.


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