May 18, 2006 3:58 PM PDT

Politicos propose new action on Net neutrality

WASHINGTON--The push for new laws mandating Net neutrality principles appears to be gaining steam on Capitol Hill.

The leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee released a five-page bill on Thursday that would embed new provisions requiring so-called network neutrality in existing federal antitrust laws.

Unlike existing proposals in both houses of Congress, the bill was endorsed not only by Democrats but by Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican. Michigan Democrat John Conyers, who serves as the committee's co-chairman, California Democrat Zoe Lofgren and Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher co-sponsored the measure.

Called the "Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act," the bill is designed to "provide an insurance policy for Internet users against being harmed by broadband network operators abusing their market power to discriminate against content and service providers," Sensenbrenner said in a statement.

Citing government statistics that 98 percent of Americans have at most two choices for broadband service, Sensenbrenner said such a "virtual duopoly" is ripe for anticompetitive practices, and "a clear antitrust remedy is needed."

Net neutrality, which critics charge is impossible to define, centers on the idea that broadband providers must not be permitted to favor some Web sites or Internet services over others. Network operators argue that they should be entitled to charge bandwidth hogs extra for faster transmission and prioritized placement in order to help finance vast build-outs of broadband infrastructure.

The Judiciary bill would make it illegal under antitrust law for network operators to impose such fees or to fail to provide their services on "reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms." It also borrows language from an earlier House proposal co-sponsored by Boucher that would, for instance, bar broadband providers from blocking, impairing or degrading sites or services and from stopping users from attaching the devices of their choice to the network.

Related story
Moby raises voice for Net neutrality
Musician insists that politicians pass new regulations enforcing open Net architecture.

The committee's action was not unexpected, as members had voiced concern over the issue--and asserted their jurisdiction to make new rules--at a recent hearing convened by the committee's antitrust task force.

At a press conference on Thursday, Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been a vocal proponent of similar legislation in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was unaware of the proposals in the rival committee and couldn't comment. He said he remained determined to reintroduce a Net neutrality amendment when a pending telecommunications bill goes to the floor for a vote by the full slate of legislators.

That proposal, which enjoyed support mostly from fellow Democrats, was soundly defeated twice by fairly large margins during earlier votes on a broadband bill in his committee.

"Our goal is to have a full debate and record...where every member stands" on Net neutrality, Markey said at an outdoor press conference where Grammy-nominated musician Moby also spoke out in favor of the bill.

Sparking controversy
Net neutrality became an arguably unintended focus during the first round of the Senate Commerce Committee's sweeping attempt to rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The hearing was supposed to focus on components of the bill dealing with video franchising and the Universal Service Fund, with a separate hearing on Net neutrality scheduled for May 25. But a handful of senators and witnesses testifying before them couldn't resist voicing their opinions on what has become an increasingly volatile topic.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said he planned to introduce an amendment that would deal with Net neutrality, though it was unclear Thursday what shape that would take. "It's complicated, no doubt about it, but I think Internet freedom is very, very important," he said. That action likely wouldn't come until later, with a vote on the bill tentatively scheduled for June 20.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer, also a Democrat, said that if Congress didn't take action to protect Net neutrality principles, "We're going to put a lot of people in the slow lane--as a matter of fact, we're going to have a lot of people not able to access the Internet, and it's a very unfair system."

Right now, the Senate's telecommunications bill contains a provision that would direct the Federal Communications Commission to keep an eye on incidents that could be considered violations of Net neutrality and report to Congress on its findings. That's exactly the right approach, Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, told the senators Thursday.

"This is the kind of issue that is most appropriately studied a lot more," he said.

Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, said he'd hate to see the Senate's proposal get "hung up" over the topic of Net neutrality but acknowledged the politicians wouldn't succeed in getting broad approval unless they "find a way to accommodate the legitimate interests being put forward on both sides."

Meanwhile, resistance to such new laws is also growing. On Wednesday, several of the world's largest hardware makers sent a letter to Congress decrying new Net neutrality laws.

Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas also have joined the opposition against the idea of legislating Net neutrality. In a one-page letter (click for PDF) to their Senate colleagues dated May 16, they argued that doing so would "penalize broadband access providers for making major improvements to the Internet."

The senators also charged that such rules would "deprive parents of new technologies they may use to protect their families from online harm."

As of now, the issue of Net neutrality is being addressed by Congress in a couple of other forms aside from the Markey amendment and the new House Judiciary bill, but each of those measures would have a number of hurdles to clear before becoming law. The first standalone bill came in March from Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and prescribes the same kind of detailed rules found in the latest proposals. Critics of the laws charge that they amount to unprecedented regulation of the Internet.

The House broadband bill that Markey would like to amend includes a provision that would permit the FCC to police violations of its broadband policy statement, which outlines expectations that broadband providers will allow their users to view sites, run applications and connect devices to the network as they wish, within legal bounds. Net neutrality proponents have criticized that approach as too weak to prevent what they decry as a "fast lane" for those who can afford to pay extra to network operators.

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Net Neutrality, antitrust, antitrust law, committee, Rick Boucher

26 comments

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This article is FALSE
I am the FreedomWorks staff member who was assaulted by the MoveOn thug.

The sound was his sign hitting my face. There were plenty of witnesses. I reported the incident to the Capitol Police, but did not ask them to arrest the guy.

CNET needs to correct this error.

Also, I was not blocking his sign, he was blocking mine. Your reporting is woefully mistaken.
Posted by bstein (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Net neutrality - absolutely necessary. Here's why...
According to Wikipedia, the history of the carriers with respect to innovative Internet services is not proud:

About ten years ago, as new devices and applications arose on the Internet, the reaction of many broadband operators was truly frightening. According to Wikipedia:

- AT&T, as a cable operator, warned customers that using a Wi-Fi service for home-networking constituted "theft of service" and a federal crime
- Cox Cable disciplined users of virtual private networks
- Comcast blocked ports of VPNs, preventing government workers from telecommuting
- In the Madison River case, a local telco was found to be blocking voice-over-IP (VoIP) service and was fined by the FCC

Without strong net neutrality rules and FCC enforcement tools, the carriers could very likely return to the days of blocking any innovative service in the hope that they could control and monetize it.

Are regulations necessary? Damn right - until there are true choices for last-mile services. If nothing else, the carriers' past behavior teaches us just that.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://directorblue.blogspot.com" target="_newWindow">http://directorblue.blogspot.com</a>
Posted by MercilessUnicorn (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nanny state mentality
Why is the government the first stop to solve any problem? All it will do is add more red tape, regulations and government intrusion to yet another industry.

I imagine there will need to be records kept to insure compliance. The NSA will of course be glad to help with that...
Posted by freemarket--2008 (5058 comments )
Link Flag
Comcast is degrading my VoIP!
I hope our law makers don't screw this one up too. My $145 a month Packet8 VoIP hosted PBX is nothing more than a glorified answering maching with extensions because I can no longer use one of the extensions on my Comcast line. It worked fine until a couple of months ago. Now if I run speed tests between me and a server of mine on an ISPs rack, VoIP packets have higher latency than http, ftp, etc.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Comcast.
Sorry to say, THEY are the problem, and all the government regs in the world won't change it. They've got a virtual monopoly, and they don't really give a &lt;censored&gt; about anything else... And I'm in the civilized section of the world... I think it's worse as you get farther from the city / town.
So far, I've had issues with the Cable system, issues with the modem, issues with the phone, issues with the phone line, issues with the cabling, and then there's the transmission trouble that shouldn't be occurring.... Drops in service, drops in programming, wrong schedules, etc, etc, etc... And I think I've gotten off lucky so far...

It's like running Winblows.... We don't have a lot of choice, if we want to actually communicate with others; we either use Word or some sort of plain text editor, or we don't talk to everyone else... (Open Office not withstanding...)
Posted by steyraug96 (2 comments )
Link Flag
WHAT?
HTH did some idiot come up with this amazing line:

"deprive parents of new technologies they may use to protect their families from online harm."

So by making sure AT&#38;T can't block me from a site that offers online, real-time filtering, without paying a premium, I am deprived?

Only a Congress full of drunks, tax evaders, and liars could possibly come up with inane garbage like this.
Posted by schubb (202 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Regulate Only When Necessary
The proponents for "net neutrality" are fighting against something which MIGHT happen. The argument is ourely a hypothetical/theoretical argument. We simply do not know that a free market in this area will, overall, hurt internet users. In fact, the hypothetical arguments against net neutrality are also theoretically convincing.

Since the government's track record is to decrease inovation and increase cost, we should be cautious when asking them to regulate technological advancement. Perhaps we should let this go for now and see what the market does. If it acts up, then maybe we should regulate it. But then it would be based on actual events...not hypothetical, worst-case-scenario arguments.
Posted by ender.krum (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Regulating after-the fact
Is like giving New Orleans levees *after* Hurricane Katrina hits. Once the telco's have it their way, there will be *no* going back.
Once they have the infrastructure in, they will be able to convince Congress that it makes "economic sense" to keep it that way.
And by the way, these scenarios are *not* hypothetical; there are already cases where telco's and ISP's have blocked or degraded service to third party applications and services (like VOIP) that have competed with the ISP's own product.
AT&#38;T cant wait to force Vonage users to move to AT&#38;T's CallVantage(which is priced more like normal phone service instead of a cost-saving phone service). Comcast has been seen degrading the service of all third party VOIP providers so that their customers must switch to "Comcasticall" phone service.
In the free market, monopolies win. And what do the phone and cable companies have? Thats right, a *monopoly*.
The NN legislation will merely put the former Net Neutrality rules back in force. This way small businesses can continue to innovate.
But, it sounds to me like you dont shop at Amazon, or look up movies times and reviews online, or book travel without a travel agent, even read email. So AT&#38;T's policies wont affect you.
But it will affect us, so either join with us to save the internet(savetheinternet.com) or get out of the way.
Posted by Vurk (147 comments )
Link Flag
Guess what -- it's necessary
"We simply do not know that a free market in this area will, overall, hurt internet users."

Past history of telcos, especially the companies in question such as AT&#38;T shows that it will. Without legal restraint or significant market pressure (which just about doesn't exist after the recent round of mergers) they will abuse their monopoly status as much as possible. Therefore it is now neecessary.

"In fact, the hypothetical arguments against net neutrality are also theoretically convincing."

False. Hypothetical arguments that are theoretically convincing are just hot smelly air.

"Since the government's track record is to decrease inovation and increase cost, we should be cautious when asking them to regulate technological advancement."

The Net Neutrality statues that have arisen are being requested by people, who are the government. They are a direct response to lobbying efforts by the telcos to be granted the right to perform extortion on successful Internet businesses, and by the way shut out smaller players. It's an attempt to wall off the Internet and freeze its current configuration as-is, before any other upstart players figure out ways to make business.
Posted by slippytoad (9 comments )
Link Flag
It will limit choice
It's called Democrats trying to stick their corrupted noses where
it does not belong. They are trying hard to grow this socialist
idea and it supposedly is supposed to "help the little people".
What net neautrality is going to do is force the Broadband
providiers to offer up the fastest service they can pump out.
Sounds great until you examine further. Take Time Warner for
instance, they offer Roadrunner light for $24.95 at 3 MBPS,
Regular Roadrunner for $39.99 at 5 MBPS, and premium service
for $89.95 at 8 MBPS. Not everybody needs 8 MBPS or even 5
MBPS. Heck 3 MBPS is plenty for even streaming radio and
video. The only time you ever really need anything beyond that
is if you do ALOT of downloading. Also SBC offers plain DSL for
as low as $14.95 (with a Phone Line service package and a year
or so agreement) with a standard bitrate of 1.5MBPS. For many
who already have phone service and just want something faster
than dialup and maybe would like a dedicated internet line, that
is a steal! The permium DSL service runs at 3 MBPS and only
costs $24.95 (with a qualifing package and contract of course).
Now imagine a world where congress now suddenly dictated to
the companies that they are only going to be allowed to pump
the fastest possible speeds and they wont be allowed "to cap for
users of less bandwidth" or charge for a premium service for
"users of greater bandwidth", well all SBC, Time Warner,
Comcast, and all of the others have to do is give you the
Premium service. If you think that by automatically getting the
premium service is going to save you money???? Think again.
SBC and Time warner will still charge the premium price for the
premium service that they will be "forced to provide". The
consumer will not be able to lower their costs by subscribing to
a lower grade service even if they dont need all that bandwidth.
So Now Cable is going to cost $89.95 and DSL is going to cost
anywhere from $24.95 regardless. No more $14.95 for web
surfers and email checkers... no more $29.95 for no contract
required fast cable. All this because the Socialist Democrats
thought this would be "in our best Interest". This is what
Socialism vs a free market is about! I can only hope this
measure to be defeated!
Posted by ericblr0716 (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You have it backwards
That is not at all what net neutrality bills are working to stop. It has nothing to do with what services and speeds an ISP can offer to an end user. What the backbone providers want to do is charge sites like Google that have heavy traffic to their sites additional fees to guarentee that their traffic continues to flow at top speed. If they don't pay the premium, they can have their traffic choked off, effectively limiting or killing their access to their customers. The real reason they want to do this is not to ensure they get paid for the infrastructure they provided, it is so they can limit other companies that compete with services they want to provide. If allowed to tier access to the backbone, they can ensure their service flows fast and the competitions service flows slow knowing that customers will then switch to the providers service. These bills aren't forcing providers to only provide the fastest speed possible to end users or limiting the choice of plans they can subsribe to. These bills are protecting consumers from predatory providers interested in hijaking the internet so they become monopoly providers of all net services.
Posted by Chris Baumgardt (9 comments )
Link Flag
You're kidding, right?
How will it limit choice? Broadband providers already throttle usage based upon your billing plan. If I pay for 8Mbps with Time Warner, I should be able to use my 8Mbps for anything I want and as often as I want. If I want to download 24/7, then thats my choice. Likewise, if someone only wants to use it for email, then pay for that package. SBC/AT&#38;T's Chairman said they are his lines and that he should make money from them before somone else, but isn't that what I pay 90 bucks a month for? Aren't I paying him to use them????

Your statements, all of them, are just moronic.

Furthermore, I think the corruption tally board is heavy on the Republican side. A Republican calling a Democrat corrupt? Pot? Meet Kettle.
Posted by danes75 (1 comment )
Link Flag
net neutrality? more like could be politically bias?
next thing you know they will be blocking peoples access to prolife sights or any conservative sights.
Posted by newcreation (118 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's why we need net neutrality
Several knee-jerk reactions on these boards have wrongly
equated net neutrality with everything from unnecessary
bureaucracy to communism. But network neutrality is the only
way to continue the status quo of common carrier requirements
that made the dial-up era of the internet such an explosive
success.

For more, read:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=902071" target="_newWindow">http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=902071</a>
Posted by ShoutingLoudly (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Offensive Comparison
I cannot believe someone stooped so low as to compare this isue with Hurricane Katrina. That is offensive and hyper-emotional.
Posted by ender.krum (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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