US net neutrality law could outlaw 'throttling'
By Reuters and New Scientist Staff The New Year will see a bill introduced to the US senate that would enshrine network neutrality into law, barring internet service providers (ISPs) from filtering the parts of the web their customers can access. Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, says such a law is essential to prevent ISPs from discriminating against certain internet content in their own interest. The net neutrality fight pits ISPs like AT&T and Verizon against content companies like Google and Apple. ISPs say they need freedom to manage the ever-growing traffic on their networks without government interference. But content companies say that ISPs hold too power much to block or slow down traffic as they wish. For example, by slowing down bandwidth-hogging movie downloads, or preventing users accessing certain content for commercial reasons. President-elect Barack Obama promised legislation on net neutrality during his campaign. The big Democrat election win adds momentum to the cause, says a Dorgan advisor. Dorgan has been influential on the issue to date, and will be among the highest ranking Democrats on the Senate’s Commerce Committee when it reconvenes in January. AT&T says that the US communications regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, already has enough power. “The current principles already deal with unreasonable discrimination,” says Jim Cicconi, AT&T executive vice president for regulatory affairs. He points out that fellow ISP Comcast was recently ordered by the FCC to stop “throttling” file-sharing traffic between users on its network. The public would not pay for its internet services if AT&T discriminated against content, he added. “We’d be shooting ourselves in the foot.” But supporters of net-neutrality legislation say that consumers need full legal protection. Such legislation will become more likely if Comcast successfully sues the FCC over the recent decision, experts say. “The telephone and cable companies say trust them,” said Markham Erickson, director of the Open Internet Coalition, a trade group that lobbies for net neutrality,