Google, Skype Argue for Net Neutrality
McCurry is now co-chair of a group called "Hands off the Internet," which opposes network neutrality legislation. McCurry was added to Tuesday's bill after blasting Voice On the Net (VON) Coalition founder Jeff Pulver in a blog exchange about network neutrality some months ago, as VON general counsel Jonathan Askin said by way of introduction.
Panel moderator and former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chief of staff Blair Levin kept the discussion civil, so there wasn't as much name-calling as you tend to see in online discussion groups. Still the session provided a concise refresher on a media policy issue that won't go away. (See AT&T's Whitacre: 'Nobody Gets a Free Ride'.)
Verizon VP of Internet and Technology, Link Hoewing, got things going by explaining that the telcos have always serviced a two-sided market, selling Internet access to consumers on one side and "onramp" services to businesses (like Google and Skype) on the other.
Hoewing says Verizon sells consumers Internet access in a number of sizes and shapes and speeds, and does the same for its business customers. "Now we are saying we'd like to be able to offer that in a little broader form," Hoewing says. Operators like Verizon, Hoewing suggests, should have the "flexibility" to sell wider and faster lanes on the onramp to the Internet as well. (See Report: QOS Fees Could Net Billions.)
Network neutrality backers fear that if broadband operators sell rich business customers an inside track on the Internet onramp, smaller companies won't be able to compete. "If you and I both started a VOIP business, and I had the money to pay for the extra bandwidth and you didn't, whose site do you think consumers would go to?" asks Skype senior director of government and regulatory affairs, Chris Libertelli.
Coming up with a set of laws about Internet control that both sides like is a tough sell in Washington. Numerous attempts at it failed during the last Congressional session. (See Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Telecom Reform Bill.)
Mike McCurry, like many others in the anti-net neutrality camp, believe a net neutrality law would have harmful unintended consequences. He asks: "What about the QOS agreements carriers already have with enterprises? How do you make net neutrality legislation that will not harm agreements like that?"
Skype's Libertelli countered: "Nothing about net neutrality legislation would declare those QOS agreements illegal."
McCurry broke in again, questioning the idea that writing a net neutrality law that does more good than harm is even possible. "What kind of law do you want?" he asked.
Google's Washington telecom and media counsel Rick Whitt replied, saying that the net neutrality concessions offered up by AT&T last December provide a pretty good start. (See AT&T Embraces (Some) Net Neutrality.)
Google's message on the issue has been a little confusing. Whitt is calling for laws to be passed, while his teammate, Google senior policy counsel Andrew McLaughlin, suggested the market would take care of itself during a policy summit in late February:
"Net neutrality will ultimately be solved by competition in the long-run,” McLaughlin said at the time. "Cutting the FCC out of the picture would probably be a smart move.”
So what do the net neutrality proponents want in a law? They want binding legislation on the books that the FCC can use on a case-by-case basis as complaints are brought to it, Skype's Libertelli explained to Light Reading later at ringside. Libertelli says the Bells are strongly against such a rule.
Indeed the Bells see such a law as a remedy for harm that has yet to happen. Such "prescriptive" legislation, they say, could have "unintended consequences" sooner or later. "What do you do then, Rick [Google's Whitt], make a long list of things that could happen?" Verizon's Hoewing asked. "It looks like what you would get ultimately is something regulated by the FCC."
The issue is by no means dead in the Capital. The Democrats now control Congress, and have voiced their sympathy for the net neutrality forces. A net neutrality bill introduced by Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) last year was recently re-introduced by the bill's co-sponsor Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota). The House, so far, doesn't seem close to introducing a bill of its own.
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading