Will Cable Firms Show Bias?

Several major consumer groups and media policy organizations are urging federal regulators to make sure that cable companies offering high-speed Internet service don't control the content consumers receive.

In a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission Thursday, the groups, including Consumers Union and the Center for Media Education, warned that under current policy, cable companies could discriminate against material from providers that are not partners.

The Consumer Federation of America and the Media Access Project also signed the letter.

"We believe, the current FCC policy, if unchanged, would strip the Internet of the very qualities that have made it one of the most powerful vehicles for expression and economic growth ever created," the organizations wrote.

Although cable companies have provided assurances that they would allow access to all Internet content, the groups argued that there are several ways in which the companies could skew consumers' access to certain material.

For example, the companies could send material not from affiliated partners at slower transmission speeds or place restraints on the ability of users to upload or download certain kinds of data, they wrote.

Small businesses will be placed at a disadvantage to larger established companies who can afford to affiliate with a cable company, they added.

The groups called on the FCC to create guidelines for ensuring fair competition in the marketplace for high-speed cable Internet service, also known as broadband.

By Kalpana Srinivasan