Politicians Push for Net Neutrality, Broadband Policy

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The U.S. needs to adopt a comprehensive broadband policy to bring connections to many areas of the country that don't yet have them, two Democratic politicians said Monday.

U.S. Representative Donna Edwards, who represents a district just outside Washington, D.C., said she does not have access to broadband service in her Fort Washington, Maryland, home.

Edwards hasn't used her home dial-up connection for months, she said during a OneWebDay event in Washington. "It's too much of a pain," she said. "It's too cumbersome. All of the data, all of the information that really I most want, you can't just handle on dial-up."

In addition, an elementary school near Edwards' house has limited access to the Internet, she said. The students "really should be engaged on the Internet for information, for resources, for research, but they can't be because they're in an old school with old wiring that's not really equipped to handle today's technology," she said.

Without broadband those students will be "left farther and farther behind," Edwards added. Many areas don't have broadband despite government reports saying about 99 percent of U.S. postal codes have broadband service, she said.

The goal of OneWebDay is to focus attention on key Internet values. First celebrated in 2006, OneWebDay has expanded since then, and events were held Monday in more than 30 cities across the globe.

Participants in the Washington event pushed for a comprehensive U.S. broadband policy that would bring broadband access to all U.S. residents, as well as net neutrality policies that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing some Web content.

Edwards and Jonathan Adelstein, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, both called on the U.S. Congress to develop a far-reaching broadband policy that would accelerate the rollout of faster broadband across the U.S. Adelstein, like Edwards a Democrat, also called for the FCC and Congress to enforce net neutrality rules.

Broadband allows new forms of democratic participation, including citizen journalists, debates and fundraising, Adelstein said. Broadband is an essential part of the solutions for many of the problems facing the U.S., including a stagnant economy and health care costs, Adelstein said. Without net neutrality laws or regulations, some political debates could be stifled, he said.

Broadband providers and free-market think tanks have argued that U.S. broadband rollout is happening quickly, despite some reports that the U.S. lags behind many other industrialized nations. In addition, net neutrality rules could limit broadband providers' ability to manage congestion on their networks, providers have argued.

Fast broadband and nationwide coverage may be incompatible goals, some critics have suggested.

Broadband providers need incentives to invest in more broadband capacity while managing the use of their services, said Berin Szoka, a visiting fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation.

"Making more bandwidth available simply encourages the development of new services and content whose use and consumption requires more bandwidth," Szoka wrote last month on the foundation's blog. "The significant advances in bandwidth available to U.S. broadband consumers in recent years have made it possible for us all to share huge amounts of data through peer-to-peer file-sharing services, view essentially infinite amounts of video, back up hundreds of gigabytes on online storage services ... and even begin moving our most basic computing tools like email and word processing into the 'cloud.'"

In the past 29 years, Internet access speeds in the U.S. have increased from 300 bits per second to 20 megabits per second on fiber connections, wrote Link Hoewing, Verizon's assistant vice president of Internet and technology issues.

"Today [there are] 60 million U.S. households wired with broadband," Hoewing wrote on the Verizon public policy blog. "Broadband connectivity has grown more than 300 percent in four years. And what may amaze some is how broadband speeds have continuously advanced. If you do the math, speeds have nearly doubled every 20 months or so."

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