Senate Panel Rejects Net Neutrality

Steve Javors
WASHINGTON — In a narrow vote, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee failed to enforce strict net neutrality regulations. The panel, knotted at 11-11, rejected the Democrat-backed bill. A majority was needed for the bill to pass.

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.

“If [broadband providers] get their way, not only will you have to pay more for faster speeds, you’ll have to pay more for something you get for free today: unfettered access to every site on the World Wide Web,” Sen. Ron Wyden, R-Ore., said on the Senate floor. “To me, that’s discrimination, pure and simple.”

Earlier in June, the House of Representatives rejected the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act, or COPE Act, by a decisive 211-58 vote, with Republicans taking the lead.

The COPE Act, proposed by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., aimed to restrict the major broadband providers from being able to offer varying pricing structures to consumers based on different access speeds.

That proposal worried Judicial Committee members because the bill would have eliminated its influence and authority in attempting to regulate the Internet.

“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.

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.

“We’re giving two entities, the Bells and cable, the power to be able to cut deals, and that will change the relationship of entrepreneurs to the Internet and to the financial marketplace,” said John Kerry, D-Mass.

Network neutrality has been a hot-button issue lately and has spurred support from Internet giants such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon.com, The Christian Coalition, National Religious Broadcasters and Gun Owners of America. Even the founder of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, stepped forward to voice his disdain for giving Internet service and broadband providers the right to create an Internet “fast lane.”

The senators also rejected a broader bill that was backed by Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. His proposal, which was voted down 12-10, included sweeping language that covered net neutrality, “video franchising” and “universal service.”