May 26, 2006]
House panel OKs 'network neutrality'
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)
May 26--WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee voted 20-13 on
Thursday to keep telephone and cable companies from imposing fees on
businesses that use their wires to connect with customers.
That was good news for Google Inc., eBay Inc. and other online
companies, and consumer groups were thrilled as well.
The lawmakers "voted to protect our rights to an open Internet," Chellie
Pingree, president of Common Cause, a public interest group, said in a
statement. "Many struggles remain, but we have won a key battle."
The part of her statement that phone and cable companies would agree
with is that many struggles remain on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are still
making their way through a maze of legislative options as they try to
decide whether, and how, to preserve "network neutrality" for Internet
Many Democrats and a fair number of Republicans want legislation to
require providers of high-speed Internet access to treat all Web sites
and services in a neutral way. They believe a phone company should
continue to give a DSL subscriber the same level of speedy service
whether she is using Google Video or YouTube to view a video.
This camp warns that giving big phone and cable companies the power to
act as gatekeepers could change the basic character of the Internet.
Big, established Internet companies would gain a huge advantage over
start-ups that can't afford such fees, they say, and consumers would be
deprived of the innovations that these start-ups are now able to put
forward on a level playing field.
However, phone and cable companies say they need to charge fees to the
companies using their wires most heavily. Under that scenario, if Google
were to pay up, then its videos would download more quickly than its
The broadband providers say that would pay for a dramatic upgrade of the
nation's Internet infrastructure.
"Radical Net neutrality proposals would chill the investment climate for
broadband networks, deter and delay broadband rollout and lock in
today's Internet architecture and levels of performance," said Tom
Tauke, executive vice president for Verizon Communications Inc., a phone
Members of Congress agree that the issue is momentous, but they are far
from a consensus.
The bill approved Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee treats
network neutrality as an antitrust matter and would require broadband
service providers to abide by tough network neutrality principles.
"The FCC recently reported that 98 percent of American consumers get
their high-speed broadband from either a cable company or a DSL
provider," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the panel's chairman
and the bill's sponsor. If Congress doesn't act, then broadband
providers will be free to "preselect, favor or prioritize Internet content."
When the telecom reform legislation comes up for a House vote in coming
weeks, Sensenbrenner is expected to offer his bill as a floor amendment.
A separate House panel, the Energy and Commerce Committee, already has
approved a Net neutrality provision as part of its telecom reform
Consumer groups had wanted something tougher than that provision, which
gives the Federal Communications Commission power to investigate
Web-site blocking abuses after the fact.
But the Senate Commerce Committee, which held a separate hearing on Net
neutrality Thursday, barely touches on the issue in its competing
telecom reform legislation.
The bill offered by Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) merely calls for the
FCC to do an annual study on it. Unhappy with that approach, committee
members Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) have
introduced a tougher network neutrality bill that they want incorporated
into the telecom legislation, which the committee will vote on next month.
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