Cohen: Net Neutrality About Neutering Cable

Comcast Corp. executive vice president David Cohen said in Senate testimony Wednesday that Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and others that advocate “net-neutrality” laws were actually seeking to transform cable networks into “dumb pipes” denied the right to innovate.

“We don’t believe Congress should grant their wish, nor do we think their proposal would help consumers,” Cohen told the Senate Judiciary Committee, the fourth congressional panel trying to understand the forces driving the Internet economy.

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

But Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) said that if network owners decided to abuse their power, “there will be a virtual explosion in his country.” He added that since there has not been an explosion, the net-neutrality forces might be jumping the gun on regulation.

“I think it’s a legitimate concern. I just wonder whether or not this need for pre-emptive action is as urgent as being argued,” Biden said.

In his testimony, 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.

He noted that in recent years -- the period when cable and phone companies were supposed to be squeezing Internet companies -- Microsoft’s profits soared and Google accumulated a $117 billion market capitalization.

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