US Congress joins debate on Internet neutrality

The US Congress has plunged into a multi-million-dollar debate over Internet usage fees that are feared by computing giants such as Google and Microsoft and championed by the phone companies, an AFP report said.

The report said opponents of the new usage toll demanded nothing less than "Internet neutrality" where all traffic remained free in the spirit of democratic usage and access.

But telephone giants such as Verizon, AT&T and cable TV provider Comcast argued that opponents of the fee were standing in the way of progress since the charges would cover faster Internet access, and were waging their own "hands off the Internet" campaign, the report said.

"It would be the first time content is dictated by network owners," Republican Senator Olympia Snowe was quoted as saying. "Our goal is to preserve the Internet as it is and to prevent restricted access."

The lawmaker was also quoted as saying that unless Congress intervened, the Internet would one day start to operate the way cable television did in the US, where providers decided on the content of specific packages depending on the subscription price.

Snowe, who defended the "Internet neutrality" camp, had support from main content providers Google, eBay and Amazon, which all felt threatened by the new pricing scheme, the report said.

On the other side, the large telecom companies, supported by some consumer organizations, said they wanted to introduce the equivalent of multilane highways for the Internet, the report further said.

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