Skip to main content

Senators See Progress in Network-Neutrality Debate

Senate Commerce Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said Tuesday that he saw inklings of progress in the rhetorical battle over network neutrality and its "offspring," nondiscrimination and network management, while a Hollywood writer pitched hard for a bill mandating network neutrality.

At a hearing Tuesday on the future of the Internet, Inouye cited "dialog" between cable operators and peer-to-peer application providers, as well as the Federal Communications Commission's open-access requirement on a recently auctioned block of spectrum for advanced wireless communications and "the swift response of a wireless provider [Verizon Communications] to a text-messaging snafu that thwarted political speech."

While Inouye said it might be too early for optimism on resolving an issue that is framed as holding the future of the Internet in the balance, he added that progress "deserves praise."

Also adding his shout-out for that progress was Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), although that did not prevent him from pushing for legislation codifying network neutrality. Kerry said he was not talking about "nitpicking regulatory structures," but basic rules about how and when Internet-service providers can manage content.

Kerry added that the last time the network-neutrality debate raged, networks said it was a solution in search of a problem. Pointing to the incidents of alleged content blocking by AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, he said the problem had been found and the solution was for either Congress or the FCC to take action.

But even the co-author of network-neutrality legislation, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), refused to make the issue personal. He said there were no bad actors, only big companies, but added that those big companies needed reining in. Dorgan is a vocal opponent of media consolidation, which he sees as the root of the network-neutrality debate.

One witness who agreed that the future of the Internet was tied to media concentration was Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America West. In his testimony, he said the recent 100-day writers’ strike was all about jurisdiction and compensation for content on the Internet, but it was also won because of the Internet.

Verrone added that when rallies of thousands got less coverage on the local news than a dog wedding, they turned to the Internet -- to blogs, e-mails and podcasts -- to get the word out.

He said network-neutrality legislation was needed to keep the new medium from being dominated by the gatekeepers of the old. "The Internet holds incredible potential to resurrect a vibrant industry of independent creators with free access to and distribution of democratic (with a small "d") content," he added.