Antitrust Battle Next for Net Neutrality?

Google said Tuesday that it was prepared to take the legal route if it felt telecommunications companies were abusing their market position, a sign that the net neutrality fight may extend beyond the halls of Congress and into the courts.

Attempts o have some type of net neutrality provision added to a broad communications law reform bill making its way through Congress have so far failed. The closest supporters have come was in late June, when a Democratic amendment failed in a Senate Committee in an 11-to-11 tie.

The net neutrality fight has also turned into a partisan issue. Most Democrats and Internet companies say not including the rules could create a "two-tier Internet," while a majority of Republicans have sided with the telecommunications industry saying the laws are needless regulation.

With Republicans in control of Congress, its rather unlikely that any net neutrality provision would make it into the bill if it was passed this session, say interest groups.

Google vice president Vint Cerf made the company's position known at a press conference in Bulgaria Tuesday, Reuters reported. While Google will not challenge the law outright in court, it would look at each incident, if any, and complain to the Justice Department's antitrust authorities if necessary.

Cerf, who is in the country on official business, said Google is not completely convinced that telecommunications companies will not abuse the powers they would be given under the new law.

Companies like Verizon and AT&T, which own the pipes that Internet traffic travels through, are now starting to offer services of their own that compete with those of companies like Google, Microsoft, Vonage and others.

These Internet companies fear that the telcos could prioritize their own traffic, giving them an unfair advantage over competitors.

With the 2006 elections fast approaching, it is appearing increasingly unlikely that a bill will be passed this session. That may benefit supporters of net neutrality, as it is widely expected that Democrats will pick up seats in both the House and Senate.

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