September 12, 2006 3:40 PM PDT

Net neutrality bill may die this year

WASHINGTON--A rift over Net neutrality is the No. 1 issue holding up a massive communications bill and could cause it to be derailed this year, the chairman of a key U.S. Senate panel said Tuesday.

The less-than-sunny prognosis from Sen. Ted Stevens at a committee event here indicates a departure from the position he held before Congress left town for its August recess.

At that time, the Alaska Republican suggested he was confident he would be able to drum up the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster on the sweeping proposal, which includes everything from changes to the way the government subsidizes rural telecommunications to a revival of the controversial "broadcast flag" copy protection.

The split centers on the question of whether Congress should pass new laws barring network operators, in general, from prioritizing their own Web content and services. It also covers whether the operators should be allowed to make special deals with third-party content providers that want their material to be delivered more quickly or prominently.

An amendment proposing such an approach to a broader communications bill lost by a narrow 11-to-11 vote in the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this summer, but its mostly Democratic supporters plan to make a new push for its passage on the Senate floor. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, has approved a narrow measure that also falls short of Net neutrality fans' wishes.

Top Senate committee aides said it remains impossible to predict whether their bosses will succeed in passing its communications legislation this year, particularly since Congress has only a few weeks before it expects to recess again for last-minute campaigning.

But even if legislation stalls this year, the Net neutrality debate isn't likely to vanish anytime soon, some aides said.

"That issue is not going to go away until we have a whole lot more (broadband) competition than we do today, at least in my view," James Assey, senior counsel to the committee's Democrats, said at a panel discussion Friday.

Senators, such as Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, who have sought to derail the bill because of perceived inadequacies in the Net neutrality section could be doing more harm for their own cause than good, said Lisa Sutherland, staff director for the committee's Republican side. Most senators in that camp continue to believe the "Internet consumer bill of rights" included in the approved communications measure offers sufficient safeguards.

"It's a little confusing to us," she said. "If we don't get a bill up at all, we basically have the status quo, and there are zero protections on Net neutrality."

Net neutrality took center stage again at Tuesday's Commerce Committee hearing. The hearing was convened so that politicians could hear testimony from John Kneuer, who is seeking Senate confirmation as head of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and from Kevin Martin, who is seeking approval to continue his tenure as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Republicans who have blasted extensive Net neutrality regulations as unnecessary sought--and received--support from Martin, while Democrats grilled him on his rationale.

Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, asked whether network providers like Verizon should be able to charge more for "higher requirements" like video from their customers if Google and other content providers have the right to charge their customers for prime placement on their pages.

"I think so, and if we didn't allow them to, then they wouldn't be willing to offer those kinds of products," Martin replied, mirroring statements made by telecommunications executives who justify the extra fees as necessary new business models for expanding their broadband offerings.

That view misses the mark, charged Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat.

"All of a sudden, we're going to have ISPs setting up toll roads, charging Web sites different rates, and your view is if we interfere with that, they won't make any progress," Boxer said. "Well, that is not the history of the Internet...I hope you will take a look again at the way you answered the question."

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?????
So verizon wants us to pay for their transfer extra. They should just offer differnet models on their own with different transfer rates. By changing the internet to a kind of pay per view is ridiculous. Verizon did not built the internet. we all did, and therefore is ours for everyone. they can limit the transfer, but they should not make us pay for free content. We pay for music, games, movies and some info services as well. So when i pay for a movie it is mine already and should not be charged extra just to download it. When i offer a website with info on it (i pay for it already then) i want everyone to have the same rights to access my site in an agreeable timeframe as well. It is ok when it takes to built up a minute when u have a very slow connection and the website has a lot of content. But whatever transferrate i buy i like to have it.

Otherwise we will have that scenario. Let's say u have highspeed internet and the video u just purchased should take maybe an hour to download. But now your provider tells u that this movie falls in their special categorie and ask u to pay for it to download as well. Or to see the weather or stocks in real time u gotta pay extra. That all would be just ridiculous and a big step back from the progress of the internet.
Posted by tdallendoerfer (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let It Die
This "reform" telecommunications bill is rotten so better to let it die. Sen. Stevens fashions a bill regulating technology for which he has demonstrated no comprehension of. He clearly has an understanding of who is contributing to his political funding though. This bill gives lip service to consumer's rights while carving out huge concessions to corporate interests. The "broadcast flag" is a crippling technology that will allow Hollywood content providers to defeat current consumer owned technology and allow them alone to decide how and which future devices will function. Movie studios and recording conglomerates will have full say over how and when you may access their content. Innovation will be thwarted by a handful of powerful companies intent on maintaining the archaic business models they have in place. The Ipod and similar digital devices would never have been allowed to reach the market if a "broadcast flag" was activated controlling how every movie, song, and broadcast can be used. "Fair Use" would be history under the full control of a "flag" because even though copying for personal use is allowed under the current draconian copyright laws most content providers don't recognize it! If you think otherwise just try and make a backup copy of a DVD. If you override the DRM that it is "protected" with you are now a felon in violation of DMC Act of 1998. Your "fair use" rights are gone .
Sen Jim DeMint couldn't be more wrong if he tried. There is no equivalency between Google's fee rate for ad placement and Verizon deciding to charge more for a customer using video vs. email. Anyone with Internet access has a wide variety of search engines equally at their disposal. I and many others in this country do not have any choice as to broadband providers. One business area is thriving with competition while the ISP's defend their barely competitive dominant positions. It's important to remember that Google pays for every speck of bandwidth they use as well as every consumer under contract with an ISP. Demint is afraid that if we don't allow ISP's to double charge customers and content providers then they won't have any incentive to bring forth new and greater services. This is patently outrageous for many reasons. In 1996 the major telocos promised to deliver to 86 million households fiber optic 45 mbs symmetric broadband by 2006. In exchange the companies would receive property rights-of-way, fee increases, and tax reductions. Through merger consolidation, cross subsidation, and other maneuvers they have completely defrauded the public of at least $208 billion dollars and delivered virtually nothing! They had plenty of incentive it seems but instead diverted much of the money to unfair competition by cross subsidizing other areas of their businesses. The rest went to lousy DSL and huge profits. Now this collection of welfare bums is back with new money scheming plans. Uninterested in competing as just bandwidth providers they want to tilt the playing field to extract more money. Extort large online companies for ensured quality of connection. Charge consumers again for bandwidth they have already paid for. Degrade competitor's VOIP and fast track their own offerings. Ensure that ISP affiliated content services are faster, smoother, and more reliable than any outside network competitor.
If you don't believe they will resort to these and other anti competitive tactics then why are they so strongly opposed to legislation that would prohibit it? If you don't plan on robbing anyone why be against laws that make theft a crime?
One excuse the ISP's use in opposing Net neutrality is the freedom to traffic shape their network for prioritizing quality of service to activities that seemingly require it. Your email can wait a few seconds longer so my streaming movie experience isseamless . The problem here is that the Internet is comprised of numerous nets that would each have their own set of possibly conflicting priorities that would play havoc to multi traffic shaping interferences. For many technical reasons traffic shaping and prioritizing does not give satisfactory results if a network approaches it's capacity. The only real solution is to build and maintain adequate bandwidth and then ALL traffic behaves in an acceptable manner.
Opposition to Internet equality is an anti competitive position. Broadband service in the United States is an embarrassment when compared to the vast majority of developed countries. The US has vastly higher prices, painfully slow connection speeds, and lags behind in roll out. In a competitive world economy this shoddy record is totally unacceptable. It's time that something is done about this and electing new leadership in Congress is a start.
Posted by zanzzz (138 comments )
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Read this comment, ZANZZZ is RIGHT ON POINT!!
Zanzzz,

RIGHT ON!

I could not have summarized this any better and even the author of the article could do good by reading your commentary.

Our US government is broken with greed and so is the private sector.

This whole idea of "pay us twice because we're greedy" from the telcos and cable companies has got to stop.

The telco and cable companies are CONTRIBUTERS and ENABLERS to the overall internet, NOT CONTROLLERS.
Posted by Axiomatic13 (24 comments )
Link Flag
This Sums It Up EXACTLY....
Kudos for the concise and insightful retort...I could not have summarized the issue any more adequately. Sheer irony that America broadband is lagging behind the rest of the developing world with no viable competition (which *SHOULD* be the catalyst for continuing development of the internet infrastructure as opposed to corporate homogeny)while maintaining ludicrous price rates.

Precisely what I've previously stated - check out what your neighbors in the world are getting in terms of broadband and pricing and as opposed to what constitutes such in America and you'll be appalled. FAIR competition is what has always proven successful in maintaining innovation and development in America's history - but that paradigm is being diminished. The Bush Administration has rolled back a number of provisions that were implemented during the 90s to ensure a proper foundation for broadband to flourish and prosper.

Eliminating clauses for Telcos to open up their lines to other providers has obviously wrought the present situation that companies like Verizon seek to exploit. Tell the government to establish Net Neutrality as a protective measure for fair and equitable access for the American public. It's in everyone's best interest as opposed to the vested interests of Teclos.
Posted by By_Any_Other_Name (2 comments )
Link Flag
Just look at who is making this decision for us....
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.zipperfish.com/mediabase/popup.php?Active=ViralVideo&#38;&#38;ID=1330" target="_newWindow">http://www.zipperfish.com/mediabase/popup.php?Active=ViralVideo&#38;&#38;ID=1330</a>

I say 2 term limts for ALL elected offices!
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not radical enough
I say ONE term limits for all elected offices, and 2 year terms for the Senate and House of Reps.

The people in office right now are totally techno-ignorant, and do NOT have our best interests in mind because they are so ignorant.

Time for political representatives to be elected every year.
Posted by Leria (585 comments )
Link Flag
This country cares about money
Nothing more, nothing less. For the past 20 years, its been getting away from the peoples government going towards the WORLD government. Do some research and find out for yourself. IT IS TRUE
Posted by Zupek (85 comments )
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