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The Broadband Blocking Phenomenon

Business Week reports on a troubling new trend -- The Internet has always been a model of freedom. Today the Web is flourishing because anyone can click to any site or download any service they want on an open network. But now the phone and cable companies that operate broadband networks have a different vision. If they get their way, today's Information Highway could be laden with tollgates, express lanes, and traffic tie-ups -- all designed to make money for the network companies.

BLOCKED OUT: Doug Herring, 48, got a glimpse of that specter last November. Traveling on business in Tennessee, the General Electric (GE) sales manager phoned his wife at their Elberta (Ala.) home. Herring had just signed up with Web-phone provider Vonage Holdings and was pleased with the service. But this time, he couldn't get through. He switched Web-phone providers, but still couldn't make calls.

Frustrated, Herring contacted Madison River Communications, the rural phone company that provides his digital subscriber line (DSL) connection. The company said it was blocking calls from Internet phone companies. Outraged, Herring and Vonage complained to federal regulators.

"For me to get the Internet where I live, [Madison River] is the only provider," Herring fumes. In March the Federal Communications Commission fined the company $15,000, and the carrier agreed it would no longer block Internet-calling services.

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