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Copps warns of Internet gatekeepers

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has warned that the Internet is under threat of domination by communications giants.

“The more concentrated that our facilities providers become, the more they have the ability — and possibly even the incentive — to act as Internet gatekeepers,” Copps told a news conference sponsored by the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and Free Press.

“Our open and vibrant and freewheeling Internet is to me the last place on earth where we should tolerate gatekeeper controls,” Copps said, contending that the Web “wasn’t built to be that way.” Copps was quoted by the National Journal’s Technology Daily.

Copps comments came as the House Energy and Commerce Committee finalizes language on network neutrality and other issues in a draft telecommunications bill floated by Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), and several of his Republican colleagues.

One draft issued in November 2005 mandated network neutrality, which is a prohibition on the blocking or degrading of content of competing players over high-speed Internet pipes. But the draft made an exception for premium tiers that would give preference to the content of providers that own broadband pipes. Competitors would have to pay a fee to offer such content.

Copps and consumer advocates oppose premium tiers.

CFA Research Director Mark Cooper said companies owning the infrastructure would not publicly admit that they plan to discriminate against rivals — but would effectively accomplish that.

Consumer advocates have asked the committee to only permit premium tiers when network owners can justify them. The groups issued survey results indicating that two-thirds of Internet users have serious concerns about owners of Internet pipes blocking or impairing access.

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