Leahy in the middle of ‘net neutrality’ debate

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(Host) Legislation that could have an enormous impact on the future operations of the Internet is being considered in the U.S. Senate.

Vermont senator Patrick Leahy is right in the middle of this controversial issue.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The debate surrounds a provision known as “net neutrality” and backers and opponents of the practice are waging a vigorous fight in Congress.

“Net neutrality” allows all Internet content sites to provide their information to consumers on an equal playing field.

Some of the larger telecommunications companies want to eliminate this practice so that they can offer consumers a two-tiered Internet system – the current model and a new much higher speed plan.

Opponents of this approach are worried that Internet Service Providers, such as Verizon or Adelphia, will charge information sites a special fee to be part of the new high speed system – a move that will leave smaller content sites that can’t afford this fee at a disadvantage.

Senator Patrick Leahy, who has a reputation in Washington as being one of the most computer savvy members of Congress, doesn’t want to change the current net neutrality system.

(Leahy) “I think just about anything that allows people to step in and basically control the development of the Internet is a bad idea. This is one thing where the government did it right. It began the Internet, got it started and then let it grow. And to say that somehow telephone companies or the cable companies can say, we’ll decide just what you pay for whatever you get out of there’ that’s going to have a crippling effect on the Internet and I’m strongly opposed to that.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says he’s concerned that some Internet Service Providers will use the new two tiered system to steer consumers away from search engines like Google and towards their own programs.

(Leahy) “The Internet’s the one place where everybody’s equal and it should stay that way. If somebody’s got a very good site, if they’ve got something that’s a service that’s better than others, people will gravitate to that. But they shouldn’t gravitate to it based on the economic interests of somebody outside of the one who’s working with the Internet and it’s just a way of grabbing more money. It goes totally against the idea of the Internet.”

(Kinzel) Beth Fastiggi is a spokesperson for Verizon. She says critics like Senator Leahy are making false assumptions about how her company will develop future services and she maintains that consumers will be very interested in faster access to the Internet:

(Fastiggi) “And such attempts to anticipate potential problems in the market and establish rules to prevent them create bad regulations that are really in conflict with the orderly development of the markets. Now is not the time to see our consumer driven innovation and change in what is occurring. It’s not the time to adopt new regulations that will really throw sand into the gears of the fast growing and changing broadband marketplace.”

(Kinzel) The issue is being considered by the Senate Commerce committee. It’s part of a larger bill that will allow telephone companies to become more competitive in the cable tv business.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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