Senators Call For Net Neutrality Hearing

    October 26, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

Senators Bryon Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) sent a letter today to Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, calling for a hearing to discuss phone and cable companies’ recent discrimination against content on their networks, and whether current regulatory protections are enough.

The senators cite the contrast between recent cable and phone companies’ actions and their words. Companies from both industries promised they would not abuse their power as information gatekeepers, yet recent moves by Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast suggest other wise.

Here is most of the text from the letter:

Over the past several months there have been incidents that have raised serious concern about the phone and cable companies’ power to discriminate against content. Just recently, Verizon Wireless arbitrarily chose to block a series of text messages on the grounds that the subject matter was too controversial.

While the carrier, to its credit, reversed this decision, this illustrates its power as a content gatekeeper. Then came the news that AT&T reserves the right in its Terms of Service to discontinue service of customers that criticize the company. And just last week, we saw reports of Comcast interfering with the popular file-sharing service BitTorrent.

All of these developments, Mr. Chairman, suggest that the Committee needs to consider the issue of content discrimination and investigate these incidents further if they were based on legitimate business and network management policies or part of practices that would be deemed unfair and anti-competitive.

The phone and cable companies have previously stated that they would never use their market power to operate as content gatekeepers and have called efforts to put rules in place to protect consumers "a solution in search of a problem."

These recent events suggest that response is well short of being sufficient and this Congress should consider adopting targeted regulations to protect consumers and ensure an open and vibrant communications platform.

We request that the full Committee hold a hearing to discuss discrimination against content and applications by phone and cable companies, and whether current regulatory protections are enough.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission required a commitment from AT&T to Net Neutrality principals as a condition for regulatory approval of its merger with BellSouth. The condition has been proven to have no enforcement capability, as noted immediately by FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who opposed the conditions.

The Department of Justice also recently denied the need for Network Neutrality by reiterating telecom talking points. Skeptics feel the DOJ has a vested interest not only in scratching the backs of telecommunications providers who turn over phone records, but also in their ability to differentiate data packets. Net Neutrality legislation could, conceivably, prevent telecom’s rights to do so.