McCurry Warns Dems About Net Neutrality

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McLean, Va. -- Former Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry said Tuesday that Democrats should think twice before using possible control of Congress next year to impose network-neutrality requirements on cable and phone broadband-access providers.

“I worry that not enough Democrats really have thought hard about what it would mean to be the party that introduced the first complex regulatory scheme to the Internet,” McCurry said at an Internet-policy debate here hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council that included a Google executive.

McCurry -- arguing that the Clinton administration took a deregulatory approach to the Internet -- is co-chairman of the Hands Off the Internet coalition, funded by AT&T. AT&T is trying to gain Federal Communications Commission approval Friday of its $81 billion merger with BellSouth without conditions on the management of its broadband network.

The imposition of net-neutrality requirements -- which would likely stop cable and phone companies from demanding cash from Web-based companies for priority delivery of their content -- would result in a victory by the “Lamont-Feingold wing of the party, which is in some ways deeply hostile to business” over moderate Democrats who have reached out to business interests for support, McCurry said.

“As a matter of politics, I worry about whether we’re going to become the anti-business party and cede that argument to the Republicans,” he added.

Alan Davidson, Google’s Washington counsel, disagreed that net neutrality had been embraced mainly by Democrats.

“It may be convenient to try to paint this as a highly partisan issue embraced by the liberal left, but I don’t think that’s really an accurate description,” Davidson said. “Our belief is that openness and competition on the Internet is a value that’s shared by Republicans and Democrats.”

In case anyone had a doubt, Davidson quipped: “Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, Microsoft -- the broad coalition of companies that are working for net neutrality -- we are not hostile to capitalism. We are pro-big business, pro-business.”

The four companies have a combined market value of about $482 billion.