Verizon: Net neutrality concerns are 'hypothetical'

Lobbyist dismisses concerns about favoring some Web sites over others, saying no new laws are needed.

WASHINGTON--Verizon Communications on Thursday dismissed concerns about Net neutrality as "hypothetical problems" and suggested that new laws mandating the concept were premature.

C. Lincoln "Link" Hoewing, an assistant vice president at Verizon Communications, said that the ability to charge for services such as high-quality video is crucial to being able to afford the multibillion-dollar price tag of upgrading its network-to-fiber links.

"We could put other services on those pipes--it's got a lot more capacity to do this," Hoewing told the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference here. That would help "to make it more viable economically and financially and to help us compete."

Calling concerns about Net-favoritism entirely hypothetical, Hoewing said: "I'm getting tired of it...We've never done anything that I know to interfere with anyone's traffic."

Net neutrality, the concept that all Internet sites should be treated equally by broadband providers without any kind of discrimination, has become a hot political topic in Washington, D.C., this year. Lobbying for laws making the concept mandatory are firms including Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google--which have found allies in Democrats and are being opposed by Republicans.

Republican members of the House of Representatives last week defeated a bid by Democrats to enshrine extensive Net neutrality regulations into law. Under the defeated amendment, the Federal Communications Commission would receive the authority to police the Internet for violations of the rules and ban any kind of preferential treatment based on charging extra fees. (Even without the amendment, however, the FCC already has taken action in cases of blocking traffic.)

Hoewing said that Verizon is able to slice up bandwidth on its high-speed Fios service based on different lasers and different frequencies. But he declined to say what services might be offered. "I can't give you a portfolio of services that I can lay out that are coming out of the broadband networks that we're deploying," Hoewing said.

Gigi Sohn, president of the Public Knowledge advocacy group that has pressed for neutrality legislation, said: "This is an issue of discrimination, or on the flip side, favoritism."

Sohn's group has been part of a coalition that includes one or two conservative organizations--but mostly liberal groups such as Moveon.org. Perhaps as a result, Sohn acknowledged, "This has become very politicized on the Hill...They have decided to make this a partisan political issue."

Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, admitted that some longtime Internet hands may be skeptical of giving the FCC more regulatory power. But, he said, if AT&T would ink contracts letting Google.com load in one second but other search engines load in 3 to 4 seconds, "that's a serious distortion of competition in that market."

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