Federal legislation could change fundamental tenant of Internet access

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(Host) The U.S. House has approved legislation that some observers believe could have a dramatic impact on the way that consumers access information from the Internet.

Opponents of the measure — including Congressman Bernie Sanders — are concerned that the bill will create a two-tiered Internet system that will benefit large media corporations.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has the story.

(Kinzel) The changes to the operation of the Internet are part of a much larger telecommunications bill that’s designed to make it easier for telephone companies to compete with cable companies to provide broadband, video, phone and wireless services.

The legislation also eliminates an Internet operating practice known as “net neutrality.”

Under this existing practice, Internet service providers (IPSs) must make all content available to consumers at the same speed over their network.

The legislation would end this practice and allow providers to offer higher speed access to certain content sites. It’s possible that the ISPs could also charge the sites for providing this service.

The providers argue that doing away with net neutrality will help them develop more innovative services and they say it’s wrong for the federal government to regulate any aspect of the Internet.

Gary Kessler is an associate professor in the Computer Department at Champlain College. He’s concerned about the elimination of “net neutrality”:

(Kessler) “So I believe that, yes, that this could have some very fundamental impact on the future of innovation on the Internet and ability for people to again use the Internet in a way that they want to and the very, very egalitarian way in which the Internet has grown over the last 30 years.”

(Kinzel) Kessler thinks the Internet service providers face a potential conflict of interest if net neutrality is eliminated, because the providers could develop high-speed service to their own content services while providing much slower access to existing sites such as Google:

(Kessler) “If I’m the Gary Kessler ISP and I’m offering search engine services or music download services or voice over IP services, I want you using my services, if at all possible. I don’t want you going to other services.”

(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders is the co-sponsor of an amendment that maintains net neutrality. The full House defeated the amendment by a vote of 269-to-152. Sanders is concerned that without net neutrality, many smaller alternative Internet media outlets will have problems surviving:

(Sanders) “In terms of media, it means that you’re going to go to CNN who will pay the fee, or the New York Times. You’re not going to go to the small magazine, because it will take you too long and that again feeds the whole process of increased media consolidation. So it’s the big getting bigger, everybody else being penalized, if you don’t have the money to pay this fee. And it ends the extraordinary democratization that we now see on the Internet, where essentially everybody is treated the same. So this is a huge issue.”

(Kinzel) The measure now goes to the Senate. Backers of net neutrality are hoping to raise the issue once again when the legislation is considered in that chamber.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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