RealTime IT News

Senate Panel Delays Net Neutrality Vote

WASHINGTON -- Harried by time constraints, contentious Democrats and dozens of proposed amendments, the Senate Commerce Committee took a pass Thursday afternoon on network neutrality.

After two hours of parliamentary maneuvering on the massive telecom reform Bill, which includes a section on network neutrality, Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens delayed the showdown vote until Tuesday morning.

The legislation would establish a Consumer Internet Bill of Rights forcing broadband providers to allow users to run the legal applications and services of their choice.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would handle any issues of network discrimination in handling traffic.

The bill would allow broadband providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast to implement plans for a two-tiered pricing scheme for content providers based on bandwidth consumption.

That issue is at the core of the network neutrality debate.

"We need to hold fast to what's in the bill," Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said. "The bill will not pass the House with the network neutrality language that has been proposed."

Democrats are expected Tuesday to push for amendments to the bill that would force broadband providers to treat all network traffic in a non-discriminatory manner, including pricing.

Senate Republicans are expected to defeat any efforts by Democrats to change the network neutrality portion of the bill.

A similar effort failed earlier this month when the U.S. House passed its version of telecom reform.

On an overwhelming vote of 269-152, House members voted to leave network neutrality issues to the FCC.

"The founding principle of the Internet is network neutrality," said Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of the few Republicans opposing the current language in the legislation.

"If we do not incorporate [network neutrality] into the bill, we will radically transform the Internet as we know it."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) complained that network neutrality should not be a partisan issue.

"The [bill] fails to address the fundamental issue of discrimination," she said.

"The [Senate Consumer Internet Bill of Rights] ... fails to address the core concern of network discrimination that does not overtly block access but instead impairs access by increasing the cost of competitive online services," the Consumers Union stated Wednesday in a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee.

Internet icons Google, Microsoft, eBay and Amazon also oppose the current network neutrality language in the Senate bill.

"We believe consumers are best served by an open access model where network owners offer fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory wholesale rates to others who seek to bring customers to that network," Chris Patula, executive vice president of public policy at EarthLink, told the Senate Commerce Committee last week.

Republicans want the focus of Tuesday's vote to be on provisions in the bill creating a national video franchise license for IPTV providers. The House bill contains similar language in the hope of spurring competition in the pay television market.

"There is so much good in the broader bill, it would be a shame of network neutrality ruined it," Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) said.