by CIO Staff

Congress Unveils New Net Neutrality Bills

May 19, 20064 mins

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a stand-alone net neutrality bill after a House committee thwarted efforts to pass strong prohibitions against broadband providers slowing access to online competitors.

Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher, who pushed for a stronger net neutrality provision in a wide-ranging telecom reform bill, is one of the new bill’s sponsors, introduced late Thursday. He’s joined by James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, as well as Reps. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, and John Conyers of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

On Friday, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, and Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, introduced their own net neutrality bill. The Thursday House bill and the Friday Senate bill are the first two stand-alone net neutrality bills that have members of the majority Republican Party as primary co-sponsors.

The new House bill, called the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act, would amend the 1914 Clayton Antitrust Act and prohibit broadband network providers from interfering with computer users’ access to Internet content of their choice. The bill would also require broadband providers to allow independent content providers to reach consumers with the same speed and quality of service as the network provider has.

The bill would require broadband providers, if they prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service for some content, to offer the same level of service to all content of that type at no charge.

Backers of a strong net neutrality law say it’s needed after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission last August deregulated DSL providers, freeing them from having to share lines with competitors. With no regulation, large broadband providers such as Comcast and Verizon Communications will block or impair competing Web content in favor of companies that pay for faster service, Net neutrality advocates predict.

Large broadband providers have opposed efforts to write net neutrality requirements into law, saying they’re unnecessary. There have been few examples of broadband providers trying to block competing services, they say.

“These net neutrality fixes are solutions in search of a problem—and nobody is clear on what the problem really is,” said David Fish, a Verizon spokesman.

Boucher, of Virginia, is also co-sponsor with three other Democrats of another stand-alone net neutrality bill introduced in May, days after the House Energy and Commerce Committee in April rejected Democratic attempts to pump up the net neutrality provisions in a telecom reform bill. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has introduced a stand-alone net neutrality bill in the Senate.

Consumer groups and some Internet-based companies praised the new House bill, but the United States Telecom Association, a trade group representing large telecom carriers, opposed it.

“Today’s Internet has flourished because of the government’s hands-off approach,” said Allison Remsen, spokeswoman for the trade group. “It’s unfortunate that Chairman Sensenbrenner wants to impose harmful, anticonsumer regulations on the Internet, and if this bill were ever enacted into law, it would drive up the cost of broadband.”

Among the groups praising the new bill were the Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America and Public Knowledge. Companies supporting the bill include, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

“Congress is wise to act in a way that takes into consideration the best interests of millions of Internet consumers and protects the innovative global market economy that thrives under the current open Internet model,” the companies said in a joint statement.

For more on net neutrality, read The Net Neutrality Debate: You Pay, You Play?

Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.

Grant Gross, IDG News Service