RealTime IT News

Dems Rip Net Neutrality Compromise

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, the leading Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, today blasted Republican compromise language on network neutrality.

The new language, released over the weekend by the Republican majority on the panel, would institute a Consumer Internet Bill of Rights to be enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The new proposal is part of a massive telecom reform bill by Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska. The bill is currently scheduled for a Thursday committee vote.

"The new draft's provisions on net neutrality utterly fail to protect consumers and preserve an open Internet," Inouye said in a statement.

"Under the current language, network operators will have the ability to dictate what the Internet of the future will look like, what content it will include and how it will operate.

The Republicans' original network neutrality language simply called for more study by the FCC.

Earlier this month, the House Commerce Committee approved legislation leaving network neutrality issues to the FCC.

The new Consumer Internet Bill of Rights now included in the Senate bill would force all broadband providers to allow users to access and post any lawful content on the Internet and access and run all legal applications and devices of the users' choice.

In addition, consumers would be guaranteed to access and run the voice, video and e-mail applications of their choice. The bill would also require broadband providers to offer standalone, unbundled broadband service.

The proposed language, however, would still allow the telephone and cable companies to implement a two-tiered pricing business model based on bandwidth consumption for the Internet.

Critics of the idea, including most Silicon Valley companies and a wide range of consumer grassroots organizations, claim the business models will create a two-lane Internet with those who can afford it running in the fast lane and those who can't in a slow lane.

"[Under the bill] network operators will have the unfettered capacity to discriminate against unaffiliated online content, degrade their quality of service or impose steep charges for prioritized traffic," Inouye said.

"Without further improvements that restore principles of non-discrimination, competition and service will suffer as network operators begin to dictate the choices available to consumers."

Democrats are expected to attempt amending the bill during Thursday's vote to force broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast to treat all network traffic in a non-discriminatory manner.

Similar efforts failed in the House vote.

"I realize that Chairman Stevens and his staff wanted very much to have a communications bill pass into law and have been working toward that goal for some time," Inouye said.

"Without further improvements that restore principles of non-discrimination, competition and service will suffer as network operators begin to dictate the choices available to consumers."

Stevens and the Republicans are banking on defeating the network neutrality amendments and daring the Democrats to vote against the overall bill, which highlights national video franchising to facilitate the entry of competitors to the pay television market.