Verizon Claims Net Neutrality Will Limit its Appeal

Grant Gross, IDG News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Efforts in the U.S. Congress to prohibit broadband providers from impairing or favoring some network traffic will "shut the door" to new services, a Verizon Communications official said Tuesday.

Current congressional attempts to write a so-called Net neutrality provision into law would stop broadband network operators from offering VPNs (virtual private networks) to online gaming vendors looking to improve connectivity or to hospitals launching home health-monitoring services over IP (Internet Protocol), said Tom Tauke, Verizon's executive vice president of public affairs, policy, and communications.

Tauke's concerns that Verizon could no longer offer VPNs are "ridiculous," said Art Brodsky, a spokesperson for Public Knowledge, an online rights advocacy group.

"The point is that there has to be room for a company other than Verizon's favored health-monitoring partner to offer the service as well," Brodsky said in an e-mail.

Industry Response

Tauke's speech -- at a broadband policy summit sponsored by Pike & Fischer, a research and publishing company -- was a focused rebuttal to consumer groups and e-commerce firms calling for a Net neutrality provision to be included in telecommunications reform legislation now being debated in Congress.

Advocates for Net neutrality want lawmakers to prohibit large broadband providers from blocking or impairing their customers' access to competing Web sites or applications. Net neutrality advocates say a law is necessary because recently deregulated broadband providers -- many of which have few competitors -- have also talked of charging e-commerce companies new fees for top-priority network connections.

But Verizon's Tauke said most current Net neutrality proposals -- including one in a House of Representatives telecom reform bill that Net neutrality advocates complain is too weak -- would limit broadband providers from offering innovative services that need connectivity guarantees. "The Internet, after all, is a network of networks," he said. "It operates on a 'best efforts' basis, and therefore no carrier is accountable for end-to-end management or quality of service." The House bill would prohibit the U.S. Federal Communications Commission from creating new Net neutrality rules and would only allow the organization to investigate blocking abuses after the fact.

The Net neutrality provision in a bill approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month says consumers are "entitled" to broadband access and competition. Overzealous regulators could interpret that language to mean broadband prices should be regulated, Tauke said after his speech.

Background Instead of creating new government regulation of the Internet, lawmakers should let the marketplace and consumers decide what's needed, Tauke said. "If policy makers decide that all network access must be the same -- that a carrier cannot differentiate or discriminate -- we will be shutting the door on an array of new and exciting services for consumers," he said.

Blocking access to Web content consumers want makes no sense, Tauke added. He compared a broadband provider blocking Web content to a premium coffee shop replacing its coffee with an instant grocery-store brand. "On paper, it makes them more money; in reality, it puts them out of business," he said.

Copyright 2006 PC World Communications, Inc.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: What are _your_ feelings on net neutrality? How should this go, realistically? PAT]

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