updated 4/26/2006 7:24:55 PM ET 2006-04-26T23:24:55

Intel Corp. has waded into the debate over the future of the Internet, joining major Web companies in supporting legislation that would force Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally.

AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., the country's largest Internet carriers, have said they would like to explore ways of prioritizing some traffic to ensure delivery, and perhaps charge content providers for such a service.

Video: Net neutrality Web companies like Google Inc., eBay Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. as well as consumer groups have opposed the idea, saying equal treatment of traffic is one of the reasons the Internet has been such a success.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini signed a letter, dated Tuesday, to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that supported legislation to "ensure the Internet remains open and neutral."

The other co-signers were the CEOs of Google, eBay, Amazon, Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and IAC/InterActiveCorp.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved a telecommunications bill Wednesday that did not contain the kind of safeguard the "net neutrality" proponents are seeking.

With the defeat in the House, attention on the issue is expected to shift to the Senate, where Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., plan to introduce a net neutrality bill.

Telephone and cable companies have argued that the Internet should remain free from regulation, and that tiered service would provide a fair way of funding their build-out of Internet capacity to accommodate streaming video and other high-bandwidth traffic. They have emphasized that they don't intend to block any Web site or degrade any Internet service.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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