Net Neutrality Bill Approved in House

Steve Javors
WASHINGTON — In a move that seeks to prevent Internet service providers from charging customers extra for an exclusive “high-speed lane,” a House Committee approved a measure that would ensure ISPs operate in a indiscriminate manner.

Called the “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act” or HR5417, the committee approved the bill, 20-13, largely along party lines. All 14 Democrats voted for the bill.

The proposal, introduced last week by the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, aims to make net neutrality enforceable under existing antitrust laws. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who serves as co-chairman; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; and Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Vir., co-sponsored the measure along with Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.

The crux of the debate revolves around the central principal that broadband providers should not be able to discriminate against certain websites, content delivery and ISPs. Some network operators argue they should be able to charge extra for bandwidth-hogging downloads and other “special services.”

“The lack of competition in the broadband marketplace presents a clear incentive for providers to leverage dominant market power over the broadband bottleneck, to preselect, favor or prioritize Internet content,” Sensenbrenner said.

The burgeoning issue of net neutrality has caused a stir of proposals within both houses of Congress. Six pieces of legislation are currently on the docket awaiting further votes. This has caused confusion within the legislature, and propels an emerging turf war of competing legislation to the forefront, experts predict.

Interestingly, members of the committee said they were voting for the bill because competing legislation diminishes their power in the future, CNet News said. Another House committee approved the bill they cite last month.

That other bill, called the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement or COPE Act, gives the Federal Communications Commission complete authority to enforce the principles of net neutrality. It’s backed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the operation of the FCC.

That proposal worries Judicial Committee members because it would eliminate its influence and authority in attempting to regulate the Internet.

This situation left committee members between a rock and a hard place — vote for a measure they weren’t enthusiastic about, or cede control of the issue to their colleagues.

“I think the bill is a blunt instrument, and yet I think it does send a message that it’s important to attain jurisdiction for the Justice Department and for antitrust issues,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said.

The vote is a victory for Google, Amazon and other Internet giants that lobbied staunchly for the principles of net neutrality in recent months.

“The Internet has revolutionized the way Americans communicate with one another and do business,” Lofgren blogged. “It’s just common sense to keep that revolution where it belongs — in the hands of ordinary individuals instead of a handful of big corporations. Americans’ Internet freedom depends on it.”