Net Neutrality: Big Guns Trade Fire

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As it gets down to the short strokes on a House bill to streamline video franchising and the rollout of Internet service--a possible House vote Friday--the lobbying heavy hitters are being brought out.

In the pro-network neutrality corner, that 800-pound Internet gorilla, Microsoft, sent a letter to House members Monday advising them to vote for a network-neutrality amendment to the bill, saying that decision "could dictate whether or not the United States will continue to lead the world in Internet-related technologies, communications, content and services over the next decade."

From the other corner was circulating another letter Monday from some academics (Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Carnegie Mellon) warning against too strong network-neutrality language.

Led by David Farber, former chief technologist at the FCC and dubbed "grandfather" of the Internet by net-neutrality opponents, they argued that neutrality is not a plus in all cases, citing traffic management, where prioritizing is important: i.e. moving VoIP faster than e-mail, or blocking viruses and spam. They also argued that, if companies can't charge more for security and speed, they might not be able to provide key services that depend on those additional features.

They also argue that antitrust laws are sufficient to handle those who would misuse their network power. "We believe that such a case-by-case approach that focuses on actual, rather than potential, harm to competition represents the best way to protect consumers while giving the Internet the breathing room it needs to move forward," Faber and his colleagues write. "Blanket regulation, which some network-neutrality initiatives support, is not a good policy choice."

Both sides of the argument have peppered journalists with hundreds of e-mails over the past few weeks.

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