February 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Hope rises among proponents of network neutrality

AT&T, to get government approval of its acquisition of BellSouth Corp., last month promised not to impose a tiered system of wired broadband Internet access for the next two years, increasing hope among retail industry groups for federal legislation designed to keep the Internet a level playing field for e-commerce companies.

With network neutrality-supporting Democrats in control of Congress, and with a favorable if unexpected nod from AT&T; Inc., hope is rising among proponents of an open Internet.

AT&T;, to get government approval of its acquisition of BellSouth Corp., last month promised not to impose a tiered system of wired broadband Internet access for the next two years, increasing hope among retail industry groups for federal legislation designed to keep the Internet a level playing field for e-commerce companies.

“This delays implementation of any system of discrimination in Internet access, and gives us a little breathing room while trying to make some headway in Congress,” says Bill McClellan, director of government affairs for the Electronic Retailing Association.

AT&T; promised in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission that it would not offer during the next two years any service that would grant any company an advantage in transmitting content over the Internet. Retailers and others have argued that such a premium service would let some companies buy Internet services that would let them deliver content at much faster speeds than would be available to their competitors.

Although legislation to mandate network neutrality has failed to pass through Congress, new legislation expected to be introduced this year is expected to fare better in committees controlled by Democrats known to favor net neutrality, McClellan says. Pushing through such legislation will be easier while AT&T; is abiding by its promise to abide by network neutrality principles, he adds.

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