Representatives of the major telco and cable trade associations pledged to the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday that they would not "block, degrade, or impair" Internet services or applications or limit access by their Internet customers to legal content on the Internet.
But they also argued that if the Congress mandates network neutrality--nondiscrimination in access to their networks by independent Internet service providers--it will sour Wall Street on investing in continued network build-outs and innovation in services.
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Telecommunication Act of 1996, the committee is considering how to update that act to reflect the advent of broadband and speed its rollout.
Everyone, senators and witnesses alike, seemed to agree that the ability to access Internet content should not be dictated by a consumer's choice of ISP, but whether Congress should mandate that through network neutrality was the $100 billion issue.
Bringing the issue to a head, in addition to the planned rewrite of the Act, were court and FCC decisions last summer and fall that cable and telcos do not have to open their networks to independent ISP's, though the commission also stated that network neutrality was an important tenet.
One of the witnesses for net neutrality was Google executive Vinton Cerf, one of the architects of the Internet, who argued that there is not currently sufficient competition for Internet service, saying 53% of Americans have no choice in broadband access. If there were competition, we wouldn't be here, he said.
Saying nothing less than the future of the Internet was at stake, Cerf said that without mandatory network neutrality: "We risk losing the Internet as a catalyst for consumer choice, economic growth, technological innovation, and global competitiveness."
NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow, who joined U.S. Telecom Association President Walter McCormick in pledging an open Internet, said that the marketplace has been working, that there is not problem that needs addressing through legislation, and that mandating network neutrality would stunt economic growth and put innovation in "neutral."
McSlarrow pointed out that the cable industry has invested $100 billion on its networks in the last 10 years. This model works, he said, why change it to pursue "hypothetical theories."
Pointing to another $100 billion--the market capitalization of Google--McSlarrow said that in the four years since another call for net neutrality legislation was buttressed with the argument that the Internet would be stifled without it, the 'net, and Google, have instead flourished. Obviously, they were wrong, he said.
The committee members appeared to have been upset by reports that Verizon wants companies like Google to pay for access to its networks, with Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) pointing out that consumers, including themselves, were already paying via their monthly fees for access.