Online Retailers Wish for Online “Network Neutrality” and May Get It

Many Internet users don’t know that some Internet service providers allow certain sites to load faster than others do. However, the debate over “network neutrality” is gathering momentum again in Washington and e-commerce sites may finally get to compete on a level playing field if legislation is passed to make access to all websites equal. ISPs and Arizona Senator John McCain lead the opposition to this legislation. Whether the debate will favor e-retailers is still very much in doubt.

The Federal Communications Commission recently proposed new rules that would prevent giant Internet service providers, such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and others, from allowing the transmittal of web traffic of some websites at faster speeds than others allow. These ISPs claim that they should be able to charge more to send some traffic at higher speeds since streaming content for television shows and videos are chewing up large chunks of bandwidth and straining network capacity.

Many Internet companies and retailers favor network neutrality, arguing that allowing Internet users equal access to all online content promotes innovation and growth of the web, especially smaller companies that can’t afford to pay more for faster transmission.

“An open Internet fuels a competitive and efficient marketplace, where consumers make the ultimate choices about which products succeed and which fail. This allows businesses of all sizes from the smallest startup to larger corporations to compete, yielding maximum economic growth and opportunity,” stated a letter sent to the FCC last week by the CEOs of such companies as, eBay Inc., Google Inc., Craigslist, Twitter and Sony Electronics.

The FCC surprised some experts by proposing to include Internet access for mobile telecommunications devices in their proposed network neutrality rules. However, it said that it would review whether wireless communication providers would need more flexibility under the rules than land-based providers would. Any new rules may have to treat mobile Internet access a bit differently, as these networks experience much more variability in demand and must serve customers using their devices in different locations at different times of the day.

The FCC proposed six principles that would apply to ISPs providing broadband access, including one principle that said ISPs “would be required to treat lawful content, applications and services in a nondiscriminatory manner.” The public is allowed to comment on the FCC’s proposal through January 14, 2010, and the FCC said that it would consider replies to those comments through March 5, 2010. After this comment and rebuttal period, the FCC may vote on the matter. Senator McCain has introduced legislation called the Internet Freedom Act that would prevent the FCC from establishing network neutrality rules, saying that network neutrality would stifle competition.

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