Cellular networks are canary in the coal mine for loss of net neutrality

by Andy Vuong, Denver Post

Aspen - Leaders from the country's largest telecommunications and online companies on Tuesday hotly contested an issue that could shape the future of the Internet - "network neutrality."

Qwest chief executive Richard Notebaert weighed in on the topic - involving networks' treatment of Internet traffic - during the Progress & Freedom Foundation's annual Aspen Summit.

His chief privacy officer, in a separate discussion, said Qwest supports retaining data on Internet users for one year to help in the fight against online predators.

At the heart of the net-neutrality battle is money.

Web companies such as Google and eBay are pushing Congress to enact regulations that would require network operators to give equal treatment to all traffic on their networks.

They fear that network operators such as phone and cable companies will offer faster speeds and better access to content and applications from companies that have financial deals with the operators.

But Notebaert called those fears "hogwash."

"There is no need for Congress to create a solution for which there is no problem to address," he said in a speech at the St. Regis Resort.

He said net-neutrality regulations would "put premature and unnecessary handcuffs on this one specific area of our business."

Phone and cable companies are investing billions of dollars in network upgrades and don't want to be restricted in their ability to recoup their investment, possibly from deep-pocketed Internet companies.

But Tod Cohen, deputy general counsel for eBay, warned that Internet users could be deprived of access to information if regulations are not enacted.

During a panel discussion on the subject, Cohen said the Internet in China, which doesn't have net-neutrality laws, discriminates against non-Chinese content.

Cohen said the wireless Internet in the U.S. is already operating in a non- neutrality environment when it comes to eBay, the online auction service.

He said Cingular cellphone customers are not able to use text messages to make a payment through eBay's online subsidiary, PayPal, because Cingular won't agree to give PayPal access to the needed codes on its network. PayPal is available to customers of other wireless services.

Carolyn Brandon, vice president of policy for the industry trade group Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, responded that under a capitalistic market, Cingular has the right to strike a contract with another online-payment company and shouldn't be required to cut a deal with PayPal.

"What's the market failure?" she asked.

Google general counsel David Drummond said net-neutrality regulations are needed to keep the Internet as it is.

Thomas Tauke, Verizon executive vice president, urged all of the industry players to join forces to address broadband concerns that go beyond net neutrality.

"It is critical that we be ahead of the curve to sustain broadband's revolutionary growth," he said in a keynote address.

Tauke highlighted four important issues: access, privacy, intellectual property and taxation of telecommunications services.

During his speech earlier, Notebaert urged parents to get more involved with the Internet to protect their children from predators.

The company's corporate counsel and chief privacy officer, Jennifer Mardosz, said in a panel discussion after Notebaert's speech that Qwest supports retaining data on Internet users for a year to help fight online predators.

"We currently do in 99.6 percent of our services," said Mardosz, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Internet predators.

Information such as Internet protocol (IP) addresses is key to investigations on predators "because the hardest thing to do when you prosecute these cases is prove who was sitting at the computer at the time the crime was committed," she said.

CNET, a technology news website, said Qwest appears to be the first broadband provider to call for data-retention laws.

article originally published at http://www.denverpost.com.

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