Net-neutrality rules would be good for federal Web sites: analysts

Without it, government traffic on Web may go to lower tier

The access rules proposed by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission could help preserve widespread public access to government Web sites, according to two consumer advocates.

On Sept. 21, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined a plan he said would ensure that consumers would continue to have unrestricted access to Internet content and to use any service they want. Under the plan, the FCC intends to develop rules to prevent Internet service providers from favoring certain traffic on their networks.

The so-called "net neutrality" proposal is supported by some consumer groups, but is opposed by some telecommunications providers that say it will hamper their networks, harm innovation and delay upgrades.The advocates said that without net neutrality or other open-access regulations, Internet service providers are likely to continue to move toward tiered pricing systems for Internet access that set up priority access to specific Web sites for a higher price.

Under such systems, government Web site visitors presumably would be in the bottom tiers because the government agencies would be less likely to pay the premium prices, and the top tiers would be occupied by the largest commercial content providers, the consumer advocates said.

“If we move into a world in which the network operators are setting priority for access to the Internet, gradually we will see deterioration for the rest of the traffic where people are not paying for priority access,” said David Sohn, senior policy counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Currently, network traffic on the Internet is evenly routed on a first-come, first-served basis, Sohn noted. However, if tiered access becomes the predominant model, a consumer loading a video from a federal Web site or watching a state legislative hearing may experience slower, more limited access than would someone viewing a high-priority commercial video feed, he said.

“Net neutrality will help the federal government,” agreed Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a consumer access advocacy group. Because federal, state and local agencies presumably would not be able to afford premium rates for the fastest access, consumers would probably encounter slower traffic and lower priority when they visit government Web sites, she said.

“We don’t think anyone should pay for better service,” Sohn said, adding that under tiered service, government content “would not be in a favorable position,” she added.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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