US Politicians Debate 'Net Neutrality'

24 November, 2014

Another political fight is taking shape in Washington, D.C. At issue: proposed changes to the way the Internet is regulated in the United States. One side wants rules to suspend plans to charge extra for some heavy users of the Internet. The other side says new rules will slow the economic growth fueled by online services. Both sides say their way of thinking will lead to continued innovation.

Earlier this year, U.S. regulators proposed big changes in the way the Internet operates in the country. The Federal Communications Commission voted to offer a plan that could affect Internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. Under the plan, the service providers could make deals with companies like Google and Facebook to provide them with faster paths to get their content to consumers.

Some consumer groups and Internet companies oppose the plan. So do a majority of people questioned in a new University of Delaware study. President Barack Obama also dislikes the proposed changes. He spoke recently about how the Internet should be organized around ideas like openness, fairness and freedom.

US Politicians Debate 'Net Neutrality'
Protesters demonstrate across the street from the Comcast Center Monday, Sept. 15, 2014, in Philadelphia calling for net neutrality. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

"Ever since the Internet was created, it has been organized around basic principles of openness, fairness and freedom. There are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access, there are no toll roads on the information superhighway. This set of principles, the idea of net neutrality, has unleashed the power of the Internet and given innovators the chance to thrive. Abandoning these principles would end the Internet as we know it."

The Federal Communications Commission is an independent regulator. So President Obama cannot order the FCC to make changes. Last week, the President sought to persuade commission members to regulate consumer Internet services like a public utility.

Harold Furchtgott-Roth is an economist and former FCC commissioner. He says the Internet adds hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. He adds that new rules would be unnecessary and unwise.

"American online companies are the leading on-line companies in the world in practically every field. I think that is in part a result of our lighter regulatory approach relative to a lot of other countries."

He says proposals to govern the Internet as if it was a telephone company would interfere in many decisions, including pricing. He says those decisions should be made by people who operate the business.

The former commissioner says even the threat of new rules is bad for the investments needed to support innovation on the Internet. Some Republican members of Congress and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are in agreement with Mr. Furchtgott-Roth. The Chamber of Commerce speaks for many major businesses.

The issue will likely be fought over by regulators, the courts and Congress.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

*This report was based on a story from VOA's Jim Randle. Jonathan Evans wrote it for VOA Learning English. The editor was George Grow.


Words in this Story

economy n. the system by which money, industry and

trade are organized

principle - n. a basic truth or theory; an idea that forms the basis of something

innovationn. the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

regulatev. to bring something under the control of authority; to set or adjust the amount, degree, or rate of something

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