Senate Committee Revisits Net Neutrality Issue

Steve Javors
WASHINGTON — With six pieces of legislation circulating in Congress attempting to enforce the idea of net neutrality, numerous federal legislators are seeking to gain control of the issue.

Sen. Ted Stevens R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he plans to revise the wording in his panel’s communications bill.

Stevens spoke to hundreds of cable industry representatives at a summit organized by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Wednesday, explaining that existing provisions regarding net neutrality in his bill don’t “go far enough.”

The new language to the bill is expected to be made available later this week, with a hearing scheduled for June 13.

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

The current bill proposes that the Federal Communications Commission regulate incidents that could be in violation of net neutrality principles and report its findings to Congress. House Democrats and some Republicans have been pressuring Stevens to beef up his regulations and not cede too much control to the FCC.

Stevens explained that the revision would concentrate on “protecting the needs and rights of consumers, preserving network management and stimulating commercial interaction between companies,” but he did not offer specific details.

Many divergent groups have united to support net neutrality. The Christian Coalition, National Religious Broadcasters and Gun Owners of America have joined Microsoft, Google and Yahoo.

“If Congress guts net neutrality, independent music and news sites would be choked off, consumer choice would be limited and the Internet will become a private toll road auctioned off by companies like AT&T,” recording artist Moby said in a statement read on Capitol Hill.

In the House, the Judiciary Committee approved a net neutrality bill last month. The bill also seeks to provide a national franchising process for cable operators to offer its services to consumers. This would replace the current system where cable companies operate and negotiate contracts on a municipality-by-municipality basis. Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner R-Wis. is hoping to get a vote on his bill this week.

Google President Sergey Brin met with lawmakers yesterday and expressed his desire for the enforcement of net neutrality. Brin’s company opposes broadband providers that seek to offer faster network performance for a higher fee.

“The only way you can have a fast lane that is useful — that people will pay a premium for — is if there are slow lanes,” Brin said. “The thesis is that some content providers will pay for premium service. Why are they paying? I assume they are paying because otherwise they would have worse performance, or maybe it won’t really work.”