(CNSNews.com) - "Net neutrality" is a hot topic in Washington these days, with some interest groups (conservative and liberal) demanding it -- and free marketeers (conservative lawmakers among them) rejecting it.
The issue involves the delivery of Internet content -- and concerns that broadband providers will offer faster delivery to web sites that are willing to pay for the favor.
Net neutrality advocates say the nation's largest telephone and cable companies want to be "Internet gatekeepers," deciding which Web sites load quickly or slowly -- and which ones won't load at all.
But a free market group says it's a big mistake to allow federal regulation of the Internet, because such regulation will erode American Internet competitiveness.
An online campaign, SaveTheInternet.com, says broadband providers "want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video -- while slowing down or blocking their competitors."
Net neutrality, the website argues, would open "express lanes" for companies pushing their own content and services -- "leaving the little guy in the 'slow lane' with inferior Internet service, unable to compete."
There oughta be a law...
On Thursday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.) and the committee's ranking Democrat, John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), introduced bipartisan legislation to "preserve Internet freedom and competition."
H.R. 5417, the "Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006," would ensure competitive and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet, they say.
"This legislation is a necessary step to protect consumers and other Internet users from possible anti-competitive and discriminatory conduct by broadband providers," said Sen. Sensenbrenner. With most Americans now getting high-speed broadband from a cable company or DSL provider, "a clear anti-trust remedy is urgently needed," he added.
"This legislation will provide an insurance policy for Internet users against being harmed by broadband network operators abusing their market power to discriminate against content and service providers," Sensenbrenner said.
"While I am not opposed to providers responsibly managing their networks and providing increased bandwidth to those consumers who wish to pay for it, I am opposed to providers giving faster, more efficient access to certain service providers at the expense of others. This legislation will ensure that this type of discriminatory behavior will not take place."
Rep. Conyers rejected "pay-to-play" Internet access, which he said "would stifle innovation and diminish free speech on the Internet."
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said it will "ensure that the Internet continues to exist as an open and accessible medium where startups and businesses of all sizes can provide content and services reachable by all consumers."
FreedomWorks, a group that advocates lower taxes and less government, is urging Americans to just "say no to net neutrality."
The group chaired by former Rep. Dick Armey argues that 'network neutrality' legislation would give the federal government "massive and unprecedented power over the Internet."
FreedomWorks argues that technological innovation is placing pressure on bandwidth capabilities, and as more people demand more services providing high definition video and greater speed, substantial investments will have to be made in basic internet infrastructure.
"Net neutrality mandates will depress investment and innovation by not allowing private providers to charge a premium for advanced services," FreedomWorks said. "Underinvestment will erode American Internet competitiveness."
Freedom worked warned against the "hysterical cries" of groups such as MoveOn.org, which insist that the government must step in to preserve "the free and open Internet as we know it."
But "the Internet as we know it" is actually one without network neutrality regulations, FreedomWorks said. "It's MoveOn and its ilk that wants to end the Internet as it is by granting the federal government new expansive powers."
FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe noted that some large content providers are spending millions of dollars to support "net neutrality campaigns" like that being waged by MoveOn.org.
"What is clear is that 'Net Neutrality' is a government expansion masked with populist rhetoric," Kibbe said.
"FreedomWorks believes the Internet has thrived precisely because it is largely free of regulation, and now isn't the time to hand the future of the Internet to regulators at the FCC."
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