Sen. Wyden pledges to block telecom bill without Net neutrality regulations
When last we visited the topic of Net neutrality, the House had rejected
the idea and a Senate committee had done the same:
More recently, Dave Farber has come out against extensive Net neutrality
regulations (a reasonable position) and Vint Cerf has done the opposite:
The latest is below.
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden
NET NEUTRALITY FLOOR SPEECH
July 21, 2006
Mr. President, I have already announced that I will do everything I can
to block Senate consideration of the major overhaul of the
telecommunications laws until it contains language to ensure that there
cannot be discrimination on the Internet.
Last week I outlined a number of examples of the kind of discrimination
that could take place unless there is language known as net neutrality
in the legislation. I'm going to give additional examples this morning
of what will happen if discrimination is allowed on the net. And I also
intend to start laying out answers to some of the most frequently asked
questions about net neutrality.
The major phone and cable companies that are now spending enormous sums
trying to prevent net neutrality outspend the folks who share my views.
I just think it's important for the Senate to get a sense of what is
really going on here. And that is why it is my intent to come to the
floor of the Senate again and again and again to really outline what is
at stake with respect to ensuring that the Internet is kept free of
Mr. President, let me begin by first addressing this question of what
exactly is net neutrality. Now if you listen to some of the so-called
experts about communications, they would suggest this is just so
complicated, so arcane, so difficult for anybody to understand, you
really ought to just let the lawyers and the lobbyists sort this out.
And of course that is traditionally what has gone on in this field.
You've got lawyers and lobbyists being paid very handsomely to battle it
out with each other usually in Washington D.C. or courtrooms across the
country. And somehow the typical person, the typical citizen who has
really become empowered using the Internet doesn't get to participate in
I tell you, Mr. President, I don't think the American people are going
to buy that any longer. The Internet, which, of course, has opened up so
many doors for our citizens in terms of health care and business
opportunities, education, and culture, has also ensured that they get a
lot of information about these communications debates that used to be
reserved for lawyers and lobbyists. And the people of this country and
the hundreds and hundreds of organizations that want to keep the
Internet discrimination free, they are no longer going to accept the
notion that a handful of insiders in Washington D.C. can have these
debates about the future of the systems they depend on and that the
people of this country will just have to take what these so-called
So this is going to be a debate, Mr. President, in my view, that's going
to be driven by the grass roots of this country, by thousands of people
getting involved and coming to their legislators and others to talk
about the future of telecommunications, why so much communications power
is concentrated in so few hands. And I'm going to try to advance this
debate here on the floor of the Senate every so often so that we can
make sure that somebody is getting the message out about what's at stake
other than those big cable and phone companies who seem to be spending
almost $150 for every $1 spent by folks who share my views.
The first question I want to talk about this morning, Mr. President, is
what exactly net neutrality is.
It is really not that complicated. It is a pretty straightforward
proposition. And what net neutrality means is you can't discriminate on
the Internet. And the people who are against net neutrality, I call them
the discriminators and that is because that is really their agenda. They
want to discriminate. They want to be in a position to play favorites.
They want to say we'll give certain people a good deal both in terms of
service and all the considerations that go in to folks making their
I don't think we should have that kind of discrimination. I think it
ought to be as it is today possible for our citizens to go with their
browser where they want to go, when they want to go, and everybody would
be treated equally. That's the way it works today. And I don't think
there ought to be any changes in that.
Today somebody pays a fee to get on the net. They go where they want,
when they want. And if you want to buy something on-line from Harry and
David -- their wonderful fruit which we know a lot about in the state of
Oregon -- you pay your Internet provider for the connection. Harry and
David pay its Internet provider for its connection. And that's that.
Once you pay your Internet access fee, no one stops you from shopping at
Harry and David because you didn't pay an extra fee. Without a clear
policy preserving net neutrality and ensuring that there's no
discrimination on the net, the net would be forever changed. And in my
view, it would be forever changed if discrimination is allowed on the
So that is why I have indicated that I am going to use every procedural
tool I have as a United States Senator, Mr. President, to block Senate
consideration of the telecommunications overhaul until it ensures that
there's net neutrality and no discrimination on-line.
The second question I'm often asked is people want to know as a consumer
how will net neutrality affect me.
For starters, keeping things the way they are, keeping net neutrality,
isn't going to change anything about the net for millions and millions
of our consumers who rely on it. Net neutrality has been the way we have
enjoyed the net since day one, and it is only in the last year that
there has been this new front opened up where folks say we've got to be
allowed to discriminate. It's only been in the last year where the basic
nondiscriminatory nature has been under attack. It is not going to
change the world for the consumer if net neutrality is preserved, but I
tell you, it is sure a troubling question for consumers if we don't have
Consumers, in my view, without net neutrality would immediately feel the
effects. They would have fewer choices and they would pay higher prices.
I'm going to try again to use some examples this morning of why that's
Currently consumers pay a fee for connecting to the Internet. The fee is
for a certain amount of bandwidth. The more bandwidth you buy, the
faster the speed with which you connect to the Internet. So with a
dialup connection at 56 kilobits per second of bandwidth, it's going to
take a lot longer to get your favorite web sites than with a high-speed
connection at six mega bits per second. That's why some folks called
broadband "high-speed." A broader bandwidth can accommodate more bits
and they can move faster down the pipes. A growing number of our
citizens want the higher speed or broadband connection to the net.
If the large phone and cable lobbies are able to stop net neutrality,
consumers would no longer have access to all the content available on
the bandwidth that they buy. Rather, those that provide content on the
net -- that's everybody with a web site, from small nonprofits,
universities, to large corporations -- would be forced to pay the big
phone and cable companies an extra fee for access to the consumer's
bandwidth. If they didn't pay or couldn't afford to pay these extra
fees, their content would be waylaid. It would be off on the Internet
slow lane. This would mean consumers would have fewer web site choices.
Some small businesses that depend on the net for sales, in my view, will
end up closing down. Many of the bloggers -- and we know that now
blogging is awfully popular; these are folks who write just to be heard
-- they're going to find it hard to continue without net neutrality if
they have to pay those extra fees. Nonprofits -- I'm not sure we'll see
all their web sites. At the end of the day, without net neutrality,
consumers will be left with fewer choices.
That is not all, Mr. President, that consumers will be left with.
Because the loss of net neutrality is double-barrel discrimination,
consumers would also be left with higher prices. Those companies that
choose to pay fees to the larger phone and cable companies, they're
going to pass those fees on to the consumer. The price of goods sold
on-line is going to rise because consumers will pass on the fees to
consumers. And because no one can determine now how high the fees are
going to go, no one can predict how high the price of goods sold on-line
would go either.
So that's a little bit of what all this means, Mr. President, to the
typical consumer. It does mean, in my view, higher prices, fewer choices
for the reasons that I outlined. But I thought that I would continue
what I started last week, and that is bringing some specific examples
that I think we'll see on the Internet if there is an absence of net
The first example I'm going to cite this morning involves somebody I'm
going to call Josh Nelson. Josh Nelson wants to get Internet broadband
for him and his family at home. Local cable is the only choice for
Internet access, and we'll say it charges $49.99 for a six
In a world with net neutrality, when Josh buys his connection from local
cable, he gets to visit any web site he wants, when he wants and how he
wants. If he wants, for example, to download movies from the popular
Vongo for $10 a month, he can do that. If he wants to search the web
using Yahoo or book a family vacation on-line at Travelocity, Josh can
do that too.
Under the bill that has come from the Senate Commerce Committee, Mr.
President, the bill that does not protect net neutrality, Josh won't be
able to do any of those kinds of things that I've just described unless
content providers pay a new priority access fee on top of the $42.99
Internet access charge Joe already pays and the fees the content
providers pay to get on the net. Unless Travelocity pays the additional
priority fee, booking that vacation at Travelocity could take 20 minutes
to process because they aren't paying the extra fee to local cable for
priority access. Downloading movies at Vongo could cost more as well, it
could cost $20 rather than $10, because Vongo is passing on the costs of
paying local cable the priority access fee. Josh, at this point -- I
think this is just as sure as the night follows the day in terms of
what's ahead -- Josh is going to want to switch to another broadband
provider, given all these extra costs he would have to eat. But he's
stuck. No other choices for many, many people across the land.
The second example that I wanted to outline, Mr. President, involves
somebody that I'm calling Mary Smith. Mary goes on-line now through a
broadband connection with a local bell company to purchase a television
from her local electronics story, Barnes Electronics.
In a world with net neutrality, when Mary goes to Barnes Electronics'
web site, the site works properly and she can purchase the new
television with ease.
Under legislation that came through the Senate Commerce Committee, it is
going to be a different world for Mary. When she types in the web
address for Barnes Electronics, the site may not immediately load.
Instead a page could load asking her if she would prefer to shop at big
box electronics' website, which paid the local bell to interrupt Mary's
browsing. After clicking no, she's directed to Barnes Electronics' web
site. The site takes a long time to load and she becomes so frustrated,
she says, well, I'll just go shopping at big box and I'll just eat all
those higher prices.
In each of these examples, those who own the pipes extend their reach to
the detriment of the American people. According to the business plans --
and these have been not exactly hidden -- according to the plans of the
big phone and cable companies and what they tell Wall Street, the kind
of world I described is what we're heading for. Without net neutrality,
neither of the people in the examples that I just outlined would enjoy
the Internet the way they enjoy it today.
One last question for purposes of this morning, Mr. President. I'm
often asked now, well, if we have net neutrality, does that mean we're
not going to have a sophisticated communications network built in my
neighborhood? And of course we all want these sophisticated
communications systems. Folks want them in Georgia, they want them in
Oregon, and they want them across the land. We all understand the value
of constantly trying to upgrade our communications systems. Nobody wants
policies that create disincentives to building these new and improved
communications networks. Now, for years the cable companies have been
digging up the streets in neighborhoods across the land to build more
sophisticated networks, even though net neutrality protections were in
So let me repeat what that means. For all these years when we've said
we're not going to allow discrimination on the Internet, we've had the
cable companies out there digging up the streets, putting in these
systems. So it's not as if we don't have some evidence of what you can
do when the Internet is free of discrimination. We have seen these
sophisticated networks built by cable companies right now. And they're
doing it when there is an absence of Discrimination on the net. And the
reason I cited this is it proves that if consumers demand it, the
communications companies are going to build it because they can make a
The Bells, for example, as far as I can tell, would rather build a
network with discrimination in it because they can make billions of
dollars of extra profit. That's why they're threatening not to build
networks and to try and hold consumers and businesses across America
hostage. I don't think that's right. And I think there is concrete
evidence -- concrete evidence, Mr. President -- that this notion that we
will not have sophisticated communications networks unless we allow
discrimination on the net, I don't think it makes any sense at all.
I've tried to make a focus of my career in public service, Mr.
President, to keep the Internet free from discrimination. I think it has
paid real dividends already, particularly in regard to taxation. I was a
Senate sponsor of the legislation that prohibited discrimination in
taxes on-line. When we started, it was a very simple proposition. We
would see, for example, that if you bought a newspaper on-line, you paid
taxes, but if you bought the snail-mail version of that paper, you
didn't pay any taxes. So Congress came together on a bipartisan basis
and said we are not going to allow discrimination in taxation with
respect to the Internet. We've done it. It's made sense. All of those
who claim that there are going to be dire consequences to states and
localities-- the states and localities wouldn't have any money, for
example, that it was going to kill the traditional retailer, the main
street retailer -- we haven't seen any of that. The Internet
Nondiscrimination Act, as it relates to taxation, has made a huge
I've worked with Senator Allen on the other side of the aisle on it. Our
mutual friend, former Congressman Chris Cox, who now heads the
Securities and Exchange Commission, he and I began this effort when he
was then serving in the other body. We have seen already with respect to
ensuring that the net is free from the multiple and discriminatory
taxes, we have seen why it makes sense to keep the Internet a
discrimination-free zone. So for the life of me, I can't figure out why
we want to bring discrimination back to the telecommunications world,
which is what this telecommunications overhaul will do, unless net
neutrality is protected.
The major cable and phone companies have spent more than $40 million
just since January of this year to make the American people think that
net neutrality is what they call a lose-lose proposition. I'm here to
say that the absence of net neutrality will really be the lose-lose
The American people will see discrimination in Internet content. They
will see higher prices for consumers. And that is why, Mr. President,
hundreds of organizations that span the political spectrum, who disagree
with each other on virtually everything - virtually everything -- have
come together to say, we are going to pull out all the stops to try to
protect the Internet from discrimination.
I do not want to see the American consumer face a double-barreled
discrimination on the net of reduced choices in content, diminished
services, the additional prospect of higher prices, and, as a result, it
is my intent, Mr. President, to keep my hold on this major
telecommunications rewrite until it ensures true net neutrality and an
Internet free of discrimination.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
Posted by Declan McCullagh on Jul 21, 2006
in category economics