Hardware firms oppose Net neutrality laws

In split with other tech firms, Cisco, 3M, Qualcomm and others ask Congress not to enact laws regarding the concept.

The political debate in Washington over the concept known as Net neutrality just became a lot more complicated.

Some of the largest hardware makers in the world, including 3M, Cisco Systems, Corning and Qualcomm, sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday firmly opposing new laws mandating Net neutrality--the concept that broadband providers must never favor some Web sites or Internet services over others.

That view directly conflicts with what many software and Internet companies have been saying for the last few months. Led by Amazon.com, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, those companies have been spending millions of dollars to lobby for stiff new laws prohibiting broadband providers from rolling out two-tier networks.

"It is premature to attempt to enact some sort of network neutrality principles into law now," says the letter, which was signed by 34 companies and sent to House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "Legislating in the absence of real understanding of the issue risks both solving the wrong problem and hobbling the rapidly developing new technologies and business models of the Internet with rigid, potentially stultifying rules."

The letter even goes so far as to applaud a committee vote in the House of Representatives on April 26, in which Net neutrality proponents--largely Democrats--lost by a wide margin. "We are pleased that the committee rejected attempts to add so-called 'network neutrality' provisions to the bill," it says.

Even though many of the letter's signers are suppliers to telecommunications companies, it still is likely to help stall efforts to advance Net neutrality--which a Democratic senator said last week would be debated in the Senate.

Net neutrality proponents say the legislation approved by the House committee doesn't go far enough to target possible errant behavior by AT&T, Verizon Communications and other broadband providers, and could try to add amendments during a floor vote. A "Save the Internet" coalition has even been created and boasts members such as the left-leaning Moveon.org, the American Library Association and the libertarian-conservative group Gun Owners of America.

The groups say the Federal Communications Commission must be given power to regulate broadband providers that might want to do things like charging content providers extra for the privilege of faster delivery or other preferential treatment.

For their part, major broadband providers have repeatedly pledged not to block traffic or censor Web sites. Instead, they say, it will only be economically feasible to invest in higher-speed links if some bandwidth can be reserved for paid content. Also, they argue, the FCC has already taken action against violations of Net neutrality, so no new laws are necessary.

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