- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Google Inc. and other Internet companies yesterday urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would prevent telecommunications companies from charging them extra to use high-speed networks.

The telephone and cable companies that build and manage the networks say they should be able to reserve some capacity for their own video delivery and other offerings. Companies that want to market and sell similar services on that backbone should help consumers foot the bill.

Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, who are trying to determine whether the Telecommunications Act of 1996 should be changed to keep up with Internet advancements, appeared split.

Some said premature legislation could stifle the marketplace, while others have introduced bills that seek to ensure the networks remain neutral.

“We will not block, impair or degrade content, applications or services,” but businesses seeking to profit on the use of next-generation networks should help pay for them, said Walter McCormick, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Telecom Association in Washington.

But executives from Google, EBay Inc., Yahoo Inc., and Microsoft Corp., as well as consumer groups and some lawmakers, said future Internet innovation requires a “network neutrality” law.

“Powerful interests own the pipes and access to the Net and they’re trying to break the Net,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat. He said he will introduce legislation to prevent network providers from establishing “sweetheart arrangements to play favorites.”

Mr. McCormick said telecommunications companies need incentives to continue to invest billions of dollars in their networks, and legislation is not needed because the Federal Communications Commission has shown it will act swiftly if problems arise.

“We think it’s premature for Congress to legislate in an area where there is no demonstrated problem,” Mr. McCormick said in an interview.

Last year, the FCC imposed fines on a local telephone carrier that was blocking Voice over Internet Protocol service from Vonage, a company that provides telephone service via the Internet.

Vonage Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Citron said some carriers continue to impair his company’s service and he encouraged lawmakers to pass legislation to protect providers and consumers from similar discrimination.

Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, disagreed: “The right call would be to let the marketplace develop as it has without government regulation.”

But Vinton Cerf, known as one of the fathers of the Internet and who is now vice president at Google, said the future of the Internet is at stake.

“We must ensure network neutrality in order to allow the new Googles, Yahoos and Amazons to form,” Mr. Cerf said, adding that the best way to do that is by increasing competition among broadband network providers.

Millions of Americans have only one broadband provider option, including half of North Dakota’s residents, said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat.

“I don’t trust the Bell companies. I don’t trust any of them. I want competition,” said Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, who last year introduced legislation designed to boost broadband competition.

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