Network Neutrality Issue Unites Political Foes Once again, the old cliche "politics makes strange bedfellows" is proving itself true: The liberal advocacy group is fighting on the same side as the Christian Coalition. That may be the most headline-catching part of an issue with a notably dull name: Network Neutrality.

Network Neutrality Issue Unites Political Foes

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Backers of a bill supporting something called network neutrality were dealt a blow today. The House voted down the legislation and now a rather diverse coalition is turning to the Senate for support. It pares the liberal advocacy group and the conservative Christian Coalition.

As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, advocates on both sides say a pending net neutrality bill will have far reaching implications for all internet users.

LAURA SYDELL reporting:

The supporters of network neutrality are desperately trying to make their issue sexier. There are a whole lot of videos making their way around the web to get your attention. There's one with pop musician Moby wandering around the streets of Washington D.C. in despair because no one will listen.

(Soundbite of video on web)

MOBY (Musician): Hi, miss. Can I ask you a few questions about the challenges to net neutrality. No, it's a very important issue. Really I'd like to talk about it.

Unidentified Woman: No, no.

SYDELL: Then there's the video by Ask a Ninja, a popular personality among users of the website YouTube.

(Soundbite of video on web)

Unidentified Man: Ask a Ninja, special delivery. Net neutrality. In case you don't know what's going on.

SYDELL: What's going on, says the ninja, is that broadband providers want to charge extra to companies like Google, YouTube or even individuals with a video blog if they want a high speed priority connection to your computer. Advocates of network neutrality say the result will be an internet where only big media companies will be able to afford the highest quality connection. J.D. Lasica runs a non-profit website called Ourmedia, a pioneer in using technology to allow average people to share video.

Mr. J.D. LASICA (Ourmedia): It would quickly create this two-tier structure of the internet where certain people would have access to fast pipes and the rest of us would have these pokey, slow internet connections.

SYDELL: Network neutrality legislation would prohibit broadband providers from charging extra for companies to get the higher speed connection to the consumer. Without such protection, the price of online services is likely to go up. That's what Stanford University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig believes. For example, in the online telephone market.

Mr. LAWRENCE LESSIG (Stanford University): Voice over IP has the opportunity to drive down the cost of telephone service far more than any single technological advance in the last 20 years. Well, what's the incentive of network owners to allow that to happen?

SYDELL: Rather, says Lessig, the network owners will give preferential treatment to their own higher priced services. Supporters of network neutrality want to ban broadband providers from discriminating against a business or organization by charging more for access to faster pipes. Hence, the network owners will remain neutral.

While it was mostly a Democratic effort in the house, network neutrality does have the backing of conservative groups, such as the Christian Coalition and Gun Owners of America, whose leaders fear broadband providers could use their power to clamp down on political speech. And the bill in the Senate has bipartisan support.

Opponents of network neutrality say it is a solution in search of a problem. Among the strange bedfellows on this issue is former Clinton White House spokesperson Mike McCurry, whose firm represents the broadband companies. He believes many of the smaller groups on the other side are being manipulated.

Mr. MIKE MCCURRY (Represents broadband companies): Someone is telling them their internet is going away or something will happen to them or their content won't be carried or that their website won't be provided. That's lunacy.

SYDELL: McCurry says those messages are being spread by big companies like Google and Microsoft who don't want to help pay for the installation of faster speed internet around the country. He says if they don't pay, consumers will have to foot the bill.

Mr. MCCURRY: I am a liberal progressive Democrat and I don't believe that we will ever get access to bandwidth that we need to make the arguments for the future unless someone invests in that future.

SYDELL: The bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate will be debated later this summer. While there are strong disagreements in this debate, both sides do agree that decisions made by Congress will determine the shape of the internet for generations to come.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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