Net-Neutrality Allies Want Barton Bill Changed

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Software companies and Internet-service providers with a combined market value greater than $500 billion complained Tuesday that a new House telecommunications bill would allow cable and phone broadband-access providers to harm Web-based competitors and rob the Internet of its open, competitive nature.

The legislation, offered Monday by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), includes provisions that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to police the Internet and curb discriminatory actions taken by access providers.

But in a letter to Barton, some of the Internet’s biggest players argued that the bill lacked teeth.

“We are extremely concerned that legislation before your committee would fail to protect the Internet from discrimination and would deny consumers unfettered access to the tremendous scope of content, applications and services that are available today on the Internet and will be developed in the future,” the letter said.

The one-page letter was signed by Amazon.com Inc. (www.amazon.com), eBay Inc. (www.ebay.com), Google Inc. (www.google.com), InterActiveCorp, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo! Inc. (www.yahoo.com). The market capitalization of the six combined was about $518 billion at the close of trading Tuesday.

Under the Barton bill, the FCC could field complaints and order cable and phone companies to comply with the agency’s broadband principles adopted last August. But the agency would not be allowed to prescribe network-neutrality rules that would bar network providers from blocking or degrading content providers and from attempting to charge Internet-content providers fees to guarantee high-quality access to consumers.

“Consumers embraced the Internet because innovation was rapid and anyone could provide lawful content without interference or permission from those companies that control the networks,” the companies told Barton. “That policy is at risk, and that is why we have urged Congress to adopt network-neutrality requirements that are meaningful and enforceable. The provisions in the committee bill achieve neither goal.”

The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Thursday. Paul Misener, Amazon.com's vice president of global public policy, and Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, are among the witnesses expected to testify.

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