RealTime IT News

Net Neutrality Faces Senate Panel Vote

UPDATED: For the second time in two meetings, the Senate Commerce Committee ran out of time for network neutrality.

After a weary day of dealing with dozens of amendments to the overall telecom reform bill before the panel, Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) announced the most controversial part of the bill -- network neutrality -- would be handled separately Wednesday morning.

Stevens originally hoped to dealt with network neutrality last Thursday, but delayed the vote until Tuesday.

The Communications, Consumers' Choice and Broadband Deployment Act covers a wide range of subjects from national video franchising to spectrum issues to Voice over IP to reform of the Universal Service Fund.

In addition, the bill targets the "indiscriminate redistribution of audio" by digital radio broadcasters by establishing a Digital Audio Review Board to promulgate broadcast flag-like regulations for digital radio.

The politically crucial part of the legislation, though, is network neutrality.

Republicans wrote a Consumer Internet Bill of Rights into the bill that would permit users to run the legal applications and services of their choice. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would handle issues of network neutrality.

The legislation would pave the way for broadband providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to establish a two-tiered pricing plan for content providers based on bandwidth consumption.

In what projects as the most contentious vote of the day, Democrats are expected to support amendments that would block the plans of the broadband providers.

"It boils down to one word: nondiscrimination," said Chris Libertelli, Skype government regulatory affairs chief, at a Tuesday morning teleconference.

Libertelli, who worked as a legal advisor to former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, added, "It's simply not true that the FCC has rules in place [to enforce network neutrality]."

Democrats hope to push through language that would require broadband providers treat all network packages in the same manner.

Similar efforts in the House roundly failed in both committee and full floor votes.

"It's really not a philosophical issue but merely a fact issue," Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president of global public policy, said. "This should be about preserving the fundamental openness of the Internet."

"[The telephone companies] have the means to limit that openness."

Misener noted Amazon already "pays handsomely based on [bandwidth] capacity. Consumers are already paying for Internet access."

Last year, the FCC ruled the DSL broadband product of the telephone companies is no longer subject to common carrier rules, including network neutrality. Instead, the FCC said broadband was an information service.

Cable companies offering broadband are also exempt from common carrier laws courtesy of the Supreme Court's Brand X ruling last year.

The FCC also approved a set of non-binding network neutrality principles, most of which were incorporated into the Republicans' Internet Bill of Rights.

"[The telephone companies] have smart lawyers and very, very good inside-the-beltway lobbyists," Craig Newmark, founder of Craig's List, said.