Net Neutrality Gets Voted Down in House

Steve Javors
WASHINGTON — In the U.S. House of Representatives, the House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected an Internet neutrality amendment to the Telecommunications Act of 2006, by a 34-22 vote. Backed by House Democrats, the bill was supported by Microsoft, Amazon, Intel and Google.

Net neutrality supporters argue that the Federal Communications Commission should be given the power to stop broadband Internet service providers from charging extra fees for content delivery or other preferential treatment, effectively creating a tiered Internet system.

Net neutrality backers feel that without this amendment on the books it could lead to ISPs blocking traffic or censoring websites.

The buzz over the possibility of a two-tiered Internet was set off in November when AT&T CEO Edward Whitacre told Business Week that his company had every right to offer different Internet packages where AT&T could pick and choose which services get premium billing.

“Did the Bells create the Internet? Did the cable companies create the Internet?” asked Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Ed Markey, who sponsored the amendment. “The answer is no. The Internet was built on a different model, a public interest model, funded by American taxpayers.”

ICANN's Vint Cerf agreed with Markey in an open letter he wrote to Congress, writing, “Telephone companies cannot tell consumers who they can call; network operators should not dictate what people can do online.”

Opponents of the bill like Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton present a vague picture of what Internet neutrality exactly means, stating it’s “still not clearly defined. It’s kind of like pornography: you know it when you see it.”

BellSouth CTO Edward Smith argues that his company should be allowed to prioritize services, offering partners more bandwidth than unaffiliated content providers.

“If I go to the airport, I can buy a coach standby ticket or a first-class ticket,” Smith said.

Democrats could try to revive the bill on the House floor if Republicans permit, but that seems improbable given the reigning Republican majority.