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Wyden Confronts Senate On Net Neutrality

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The Net Neutrality debate hit the floor of the United States Senate today as Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) made an impassioned plea for Net Neutrality protection, promising to use all means necessary to block Sen. Ted Stevens’ telecommunications bill unless it expressly forbade Internet discrimination.

Saying that the Internet had been a “huge step forward” for democracy, Wyden endorsed tough sanctions against those would discriminate online and change the Internet “for the worse.”

Though opponents of Net Neutrality have argued about the future lack of bandwidth and have painted the debate as one between corporate giants like Verizon and Google, Wyden stated that it was more about who would “call the shots” about Web content.

Earlier, Verizon executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications, Tom Tauke, called the heightening feud in the Senate “odd.” In Tauke’s view, it “amounts to holding a congressional vote on hypothetical business plans.”

In response, Wyden highlighted plans announced by telecommunications executives at AT&T and Bell South to carry out the tiered system in question, as published in the Wall Street Journal (and the Washington Post).

“I don’t think there is anything odd about fighting against a bill that will take control of the Internet away from the American people,” said Wyden. “Those who own the pipes don’t want to be told they can’t discriminate. They don’t want to be told by the Congress or anybody else that sweetheart deals are off-limits.”

“Sweetheart deals” refers to the notion that Internet service providers could broker deals with companies willing to pay a higher fee for their Website or Web-service to operate faster and without degradation.

He used the example that if Google refused to pay the toll in addition to the bandwidth and access fees the company already pays, then searching on Google could take considerably longer than on competing sites like Yahoo! and MSN.

This type of tiered service could cascade, Wyden reasoned, into a system where Web companies would not pay just once to use the so-called “fast lane,” but hundreds of times as they negotiate with individual Internet service providers around the country.

The senator outlined three situations where the average consumer could also be affected by a lack of Net Neutrality. A small electronics shop, for example, whose business is suffering because of a “big-box electronics” store opening nearby, would look to the Internet to sell online and better compete.

But with layers of access fees to the fast lane, the costs to the small business would be more than it could pay. Relegated to the slow lane, the business still could not compete. Those access fees would be “a drop in the bucket for that big-box store that is already hurting the sales of that small business.”

Wyden also illustrated how a non-neutral net would affect the price of services like iTunes, as Apple would have to pass on the costs of access fees to the customer for downloading music. Depending on the community, the iTunes customer may have no other choice in Internet service.

Also, a computer programmer with a new Web product that must be tested online and requires the fast lane for testing, would also face the barrier of tolled access to the fast lane.

“She’s going to be forced to fork over new priority access fees because she knows no one is going to go looking in the slow lane,” he said. “I will do everything to block this bill and kill it,” he continued arguing that phone and cable companies under this legislation could “put a stranglehold on Internet content.”

“Verizon and Google can take care of themselves. They’ve got deep pockets; they’ve got lots of clout. But what I’m concerned about are the future Googles, the people who are dreaming, the people with the start ups, the people with innovative, cutting-edge ideas who have been able to go on line and as a result been successful. That’s what the American dream is all about. That’s what’s made the Internet so exciting.”

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Wyden Confronts Senate On Net Neutrality
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