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Internet’s future in hands of Congress

John Dimsdale Jun 8, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Nobody really owns the Internet, right? How can you own a thing that’s just a bunch of boxes spread all over the world. But what about access to the Web? The phone and cable lines we use to get online. Companies own those. And they want to be paid. It’s not just idle speculation. Because the Web’s about way more than just e-mail nowadays. The House takes up new rules of the road for the information superhighway tomorrow. Rules that could make or break entrepreneurs trying to make a profit online. More from our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale.

JOHN DIMSDALE: This is a fight between Internet content providers and the owners of the pipes that carry all that content: telephone and cable TV companies. They say their pipes are just about full, what with all the sounds and pictures and text racing around the Internet. And they want permission to charge big users of the Internet — especially video providers — more money to use their lines. That way they can afford to build a faster network. Scott Cleland is a telecom consultant.

SCOTT CLELAND: One two-hour high definition movie is the equivalent of 35,000 e-mails. In the next year or two, the Googles and Microsofts and Yahoos want to distribute video which is like moving pianos. Obviously, the cost of moving a piano over the Internet should cost more than moving a letter.

But Web content providers say charging different tolls on the Internet creates a tiered system — one for the wealthy who can afford the faster service, and another, slower, grayer Internet for everyone else. Content providers oppose higher fees for things like video that require a fatter pipe.Google Co-founder Sergey Brin agrees. He says one flat fee ensures diversity.

SERGEY BRIN: We don’t need anybody’s permission to set up a new website. Nobody does. You can create a new service without anyone’s permission and everybody will get access to it. And I think that’s a great thing.

Backers of so-called net neutrality are supporting an amendment tomorrow that requires Internet service providers to treat all websites equally with no extra charges.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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