Companies opposed to Network Neutrality spent more than 4 times as much money on lobbying last quarter than organizations in support of it, according to a report on new hearings on the subject by watchdog organization Sunlight Foundation. Net Neutrality opponents spent $19.7 million in lobbying in the first quarter of 2010 -supporters only $4.7 million.

Net Neutrality is a concept that means internet providers would be prohibited from limiting access to bandwidth based on the content being communicated. Beyond simple democracy, that Neutrality is argued to be important in order that unforeseeable and disruptive innovations can be built using less restricted bandwidth. The next YouTube in someone’s garage, it is said.

Opponents of Net Neutrality argue that their substantial investment in bandwidth infrastructure and need to best serve all their customers necessitate that certain high-bandwidth activities be limited in some circumstances.

See also: Towards a Value-Added User Data Economy

According to Sunlight, organizations supporting Neutrality at the latest Congressional hearings included “Google, Microsoft, and two service providers breaking with their industry, DISH Network and Sprint. Opponents included AT&T, Verizon, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Communications Workers of America and the US Telecom Association.”

While the long-running questions about potential legislation and legal rights is an important one, it is conceivable that technology could develop fast enough to change the terms of the debate. MIT scientists, for example, announced today that they have developed an experimental method of data transport that could make the internet 100 times faster. The scientists complain, however, that use cases for such speed improvements are unclear enough that demand, and thus support for their research, remains minimal.

marshall kirkpatrick