Congress expected to debate ‘net neutrality’ soon

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(Host) In the next few weeks, Congress is expected to debate a new internet plan that has strong supporters and opponents in Vermont.

The proposal is to create a two-tiered system for delivering information from different websites to consumers.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The issue has come up because a number of telecommunications companies want to offer individual websites a new higher speed connection to the Internet. Under the plan, the companies would charge these content providers a special fee for this service.

Colleen Thomas is the associate director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. She thinks the new proposal is a terrible idea.

Thomas is urging Congress to maintain the current system known as “net neutrality” – a system that makes all websites available to consumers at a common connection speed.

(Thomas) “With the loss of net neutrality they fully intend on establishing a 2-tiered Internet whereby those who can afford to pay for priority handling of their Internet content – that that information is going to be delivered fast and quickly and those who don’t pay to access that fast lane won’t have their information as accessible.”

(Kinzel) Rob Roper is the director of Freedom Works – Vermont. He wants to do away with net neutrality because he thinks it inhibits future technological investments in the Internet.

(Roper) “It probably will create a two-tiered system. The Post Office has a 2-tiered system for people who absolutely positively have to get it there overnight – they pay more to send a bigger package faster than somebody who’s sending a first class letter. People are trying to scare small Internet sites into thinking you’re not going to have access to the Web or it’s going to be slower. I don’t think the free market is going to stand for that.”

(Kinzel) Roper also says the establishment of net neutrality in law will give the government unprecedented control over the Internet.

(Roper) “It’s a property rights issue really. People own the bandwidth. Private companies own the bandwidth that the Internet runs on. And the government is essentially through net neutrality, which is a nice sounding phrase, but they’re coming in and essentially confiscating that band width and telling companies how they can use it.”

(Kinzel) VPIRG’s Thomas says government involvement is needed because many people don’t have options in selecting high speed access to the Internet. So if their service provider creates a two tiered system, the consumers will have to live with it.

(Thomas) “Without that kind of healthy competition it simply leaves the consumer with no other option and therefore we need to actively protect the interests of consumers in this market.”

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy plans to offer a net neutrality amendment to the telecommunications bill when it comes to the floor of the Senate in the next few weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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