August 22, 2010

Advocacy Group Vying For Net Neutrality

A technical industry group hosted a closed-door meeting to discuss the future of the open Internet.

Public advocacy groups said these types of dealings were detrimental.

The meeting follows the publication of a controversial plan laid out by Google and Verizon that allows net providers to have certain types of Internet traffic to be given priority over others.

Consumer bodies said those proposals are an "Internet killer."

About 100 people marched to Google's headquarters in California last week to present boxes they said contained 300,000 signatures upholding the values of net neutrality, a principle that states all Internet data be treated equally.

The Google/Verizon plan suggests loopholes for mobile traffic and for specialized content.

The protestors are trying to persuade Google to honor its famed "don't do evil" motto.

Some critics say that neutrality could stifle innovation.

Campaigners say that net neutrality is a central tenant of the Internet and guarantees free and open access to all.

They say that watering down the concept of net neutrality would pave the way for a two-tiered Internet.

The Information Technology Industry Council's president Dean Garfield told BBC News "great progress has been made to develop Internet openness principles in recent weeks" but more needed to be done "to ensure cross-sector support and to preserve Internet access, innovation and investment."

"This new effort will build on that work to arrive at something that can achieve both public and private sector support and strike the balance of encouraging continued innovation and investment in the Internet."

Garfield said he believed the way forward was through a private sector initiative.

"All the other solutions are ones that will take a fairly long time to effectuate. Private sector leadership is important here, " Garfield told BBC.

Net neutrality supporters say that news of another "set of secret negotiations" is worrying.

"Industry talks that don't have any public process or consumer interest are not likely to result in good policy making that promotes the public interest," Aparna Sridhar, policy counsel for Free Press told BBC News.

"Developing meaningful open internet rules is a job that is best done at the FCC with full public input from a diverse variety of stakeholders and not limited corporate closed door meetings."

That was a view that Media Access Project, another advocacy group, backed.

"These 'negotiations' are illegitimate," Andrew Jay Schwartzman, the project's senior vice president, told BBC.

"They do not involve representatives of people who use the internet for free expression and commerce and they lack representation from the infant businesses that depend on an open internet to build the future Ciscos, Microsofts and Skypes."

Sridhard of Free Press told BBC that the FCC has exacerbated the present confusion and ensuing rancor.

"Unfortunately there is a bit of a vacuum right now because the Commission hasn't acted so various industry players are taking advantage and stepping in to fill that vacuum."

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