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KAI RYSSDAL: It's easy to think that it's just you and your computer when you're online, but the big telecommunications companies know exactly who's using what sites and for how long. They know because our Web access passes through their digital pipelines. Think about that for a minute. If they wanted to, companies like Comcast and Verizon could control what sites we can get to, and how much we'd have to pay for the privilege. It's a lingering policy debate that goes by the name "net neutrality."
Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson reports, the battle was joined once again today on Capitol Hill.
JEREMY HOBSON: The bipartisan bill would give the FCC more authority to make sure service providers don't discriminate in delivering Internet traffic to users. Timothy Karr with Free Press supports the legislation. He says telecom giants pose a threat to consumer freedom if they are allowed to slow down or block traffic to some sites, and speed it up to others.
TIMOTHY KARR: When you allow a very powerful company to sort of dictate who gets access and where they can go, I'd say that's a fundamental violation of very basic democratic principles.
For example, he says cable and Internet giant Comcast may be getting a little jealous of all that online video downloading.
KARR: They want to get into that business and the way that they're doing that is through blocking this kind of consumer-driven use of video and trying to steer people towards their legacy products.
Like their own cable TV. Christopher Wolf denies that's going on. He's with the Hands Off the Internet coalition that represents Internet providers like AT&T and Qwest. Wolf says companies should be able to price services as they wish.
CHRISTOPHER WOLF: The downside of enacting across-the-board government regulation of the Internet is that it will have the effect of hindering the development of the Internet at a time when we need greater broadband capacity.
CHRISTOPHER YOO: One option, that's probably not available, is to keep things the way they are.
Christopher Yoo teaches law and communications at the University of Pennsylvania. He says the demands on broadband are out of control, and solutions like tiered pricing could help ease congestion.
In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.