New Congress could fast-track Net neutrality issue

In light of the FCC’s holiday approval of the $86 billion mega merger of AT&T and BellSouth, net neutrality may get early attention from the new Congress, now under Democrat control.

Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) are optimistic that a middle-ground solution can be found to protect net neutrality. The controversial issue has become a buzzword for proposed plans to charge preferred customers more money for faster, higher bandwidth service by those who own Internet lines.

"The driving fear [among content providers] is owners of the pipes would set up a situation where access is controlled by how much they pay," Goodlatte told the National Journal. "People would not get as good access to your business if you don’t pay more." Goodlatte said he hoped Congress could prevent the problem by changing antitrust regulations.

The controversial deal broke an FCC deadlock in late December when, as a condition of the merger, AT&T agreed to follow net neutrality principles for 30 months.

Specifically, the telco agreed "not to provide or to sell to Internet content, application or service providers, including those affiliated with AT&T/BellSouth, any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet transmitted over AT&T/BellSouth’s wired broadband Internet access service based on its source, ownership or destination."

Both Congressmen said legislative action would be needed to resolve the issue on a long-term basis. Democrat control of Congress makes it more likely to happen, Boucher said.

Broadband providers need to have this issue resolved, Boucher told the Journal, adding that nothing is going to pass unless the net neutrality issue is addressed.