Cohen: Call It 'Network Neutering’

Washington— Comcast Corp. executive vice president David Cohen said in Senate testimony last Wednesday that Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and others that advocate “net-neutrality” laws were actually seeking to transform cable networks into “dumb pipes” and deny them the right to innovation in features or services they provide.

“We don’t believe Congress should grant their wish, nor do we think their proposal would help consumers,” Cohen told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Google vice president and chief Internet evangelist Vinton Cerf told the committee, however, that the Internet was at the dawn of a world potentially rife with market-power abuse by network owners. He said that is because broadband access is controlled by cable and phone companies.

“For the first time in history, the openness and the innovation of the Internet are now threatened by the market power of broadband carriers,” Cerf said.

The Senate panel, like many in Congress, is as divided on net neutrality as the warring industries.

“Let’s keep the Internet open for everyone. It’s worked pretty well so far. Let’s not screw up a good thing,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), concerned that cable and phone companies might discriminate against Web-based rivals for financial gain.

Cohen called net neutrality “the worst new idea in Washington — regulating the Internet under the cloak of network neutrality, a vague and misleading term.”

He said Internet companies have predicted network discrimination for many years but it has yet to surface. “They’ve been wrong before and they are wrong now,” Cohen said.

In recent years — the period in which cable and phone companies were supposed to be squeezing Internet companies — Microsoft’s profits soared and Google accumulated a $117 billion market capitalization, he noted.

“Everyone should have these kinds of problems,” Cohen said.