Justice Dept. Opposes Net Neutrality, Suggests Fee Scale

Anne Winter
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has informed the Federal Communications Commission that it opposes net neutrality, suggesting instead an option for telecom carriers to charge users for loading content at faster speeds.

The department said that imposing net neutrality regulations, which would make all websites equally accessible to all web users, could hinder Internet providers from expanding and improving their networks and possibly place the financial burden on consumers.

"Regulators should be careful not to impose regulations that could limit consumer choice and investment in broadband facilities," Justice Department antitrust chief, Thomas Barnett, said in a statement.

Instead, the department proposed that Internet providers be allowed to charge users a fee for different levels of service, e.g., having consumers pay extra for faster Internet access for services such as downloading movies.

"Whether or not the same type of differentiated products and services will develop on the Internet should be determined by market forces, not regulatory intervention," the Justice Department said.

Phone and cable companies such as AT&T, Verizon Communications and Comcast reportedly have expressed desire to charge certain Internet users for downloading content on some websites faster than others.

The Justice Department related its fee scale to that of the U.S. Postal Service's, which charges customers more money, and offers more guarantees, for speedier deliveries.

"These differentiated services respond to market demand and expand consumer choice," the department said.

Opponents to the department's suggestion believe that charging fees to users could significantly affect online content companies such as Google, Microsoft and eBay.

It also is reported that this would allow phone and cable companies to discriminate against certain websites and Internet services.

In June, Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras said that net neutrality regulations would stifle innovation and technology. Her report was responded to favorably by big telecom companies.

“The FTC report confirms that there is no problem to fix,” Verizon Executive Vice President Tom Tauke said. “Proposals to impose new regulation actually threaten further advancements in broadband Internet connections. That hurts consumers by denying them new and better services.”