Consumer Groups Push for Network Neutrality Rules

WASHINGTON -- Three consumer groups today repeated their calls for a U.S. law to prevent broadband providers from blocking or slowing customer access to some Internet content, saying that the public wants government protection.

In a survey released today (and sponsored by) by the three groups--the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, and Free Press--more than two-thirds of respondents said that the large telecommunications and cable companies offering broadband services should adhere to so-called network neutrality principles, which would guarantee that broadband users can go to any legally operated Web sites they want and run any Internet applications they want.

Without strong consumer protections, the openly accessible Internet is in danger because few broadband provider options are available to most people, the consumer groups said. The survey results are available here.

Some broadband providers have proposed a separate, faster service for their own broadband video services, or faster access to Web sites that pay the providers an extra fee. Officials with the three consumer groups complained that large broadband providers are "double-dipping" by trying to get both Web sites and Internet users to pay them for service.

"What we have here is no less than the future of the Internet as we know it," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, a consumer group focused on the media.

Two Views of Open Internet

"If we're not careful, we'll miss signs that there are threats to openness that makes the Internet so great," said Michael J. Copps, a Democrat on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, speaking at the consumer groups' press conference. "The more concentrated that our [broadband] providers become, the more they have the ability--and possibly even the incentive--to act as Internet gatekeepers.

"Our open and vibrant and freewheeling Internet is to me the last place on earth where we should tolerate gatekeeper control," Copps added.

A Verizon Communications spokesperson said Congress should avoid regulating the Internet.

"Verizon provides consumers open and unfettered access to the Internet and supports the Internet neutrality principles," said David Fish, the Verizon spokesperson. "The Internet is flourishing because consumers are in the driver's seat, and government meddling has been kept to a minimum."

Officials at large broadband providers Comcast and AT&T didn't have an immediate comment on the press conference.

FCC's Position

The FCC's network neutrality principals, endorsed in early 2004, would give broadband customers access to the lawful content and applications of their choice, permit them to attach the lawful devices of their choice, and allow them access to information about their service plans.

Congress will consider adding the network neutrality principles to law as it debates a telecom reform bill this year, but large broadband providers have generally opposed the rules. Large broadband providers such as Verizon and Comcast have called network neutrality rules unneeded regulation, saying they have no plans to block access to some Web sites.

But VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) provider Vonage has complained that some broadband providers have attempted to block its service.

Survey Results

According to the groups' survey of 1000 people, performed in the fourth quarter of 2005:

  • 72 percent of respondents agreed that broadband providers should administer their networks in a neutral manner.
  • 47 percent said they believe that broadband providers will voluntarily support network neutrality principles.
  • 55 percent supported a national network neutrality policy, with 54 percent supporting congressional action.

"If you change the way the Internet operates, then those customers are going to show up to Congress with pitchforks," Scott said. "They're going to be asking, 'Why is it that our Internet, which used to be a free and open platform, now has a fast lane and a dirt road?'"

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