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Net Neutrality Supporters Find Hope in Tie Vote

When is a loss a victory? In the U.S. Senate, apparently, according to network neutrality proponents.

When Sen. Olympia Snowe broke ranks with her fellow Republicans Wednesday afternoon to join 10 Democrats voting to insert network neutrality language in a telecom reform bill, the defection created an 11-11 tie.

Under Senate rules, though, a tie is a loss and the measure was jettisoned.

Nevertheless, network neutrality coalitions claimed victory.

"The tie vote…shows the gathering momentum for network neutrality across political lines," Ben Scott of Free Press, an advocacy group supporting the issue, proclaimed shortly after the vote.

Moveon.org, the liberal grassroots organization, went so far as to trumpet in an e-mail, "Procedural tie leads to huge political win."

Perhaps, but the fact remains network neutrality has failed to win a single vote so far in either the U.S. House or the Senate.

After failing to win support in a House Energy and Commerce Committee telecom reform bill vote, the issue was rejected again on June 8 in a full House vote.

Although the vote was considerably closer this time around, the end result was the same.

Snowe and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) sponsored Wednesday's amendment, which would have made it illegal for broadband providers to discriminate "in the carriage and treatment of Internet traffic based on the source, destination or ownership of such traffic."

With the exception of Snow, the Republicans on the committee held the party line and supported referring any issues of network neutrality to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The House version of telecom reform also passes off network neutrality issues to the FCC.

The Senate bill includes a Consumer Internet Bill of Rights that Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska contends will deal with questions of network neutrality.

"The bill ensures that all Internet service providers allow subscribers to access and post any lawful content; access any web page; access and run any voice, video, or email application of their choosing; access and run any software or search engine service; and connect any legal device of their choosing," Stevens said after the vote.

What it explicitly does not do is mention discrimination in handling network traffic, the linchpin point in the debate.

Verizon and AT&T have announced plans to charge content, application and service providers bandwidth consumption fees to travel over their new fiber optic networks. The telephone companies claim the fees are necessary to help build out their multi-billion dollar networks.

The telecom giants have pledged never to block content to consumers while framing the debate as an effort by tech titans Google, Microsoft and eBay to avoid paying the cost of moving their data.

"We have consumers who use the Internet and commercial users of the Internet," Stevens said Wednesday during the often testy debate. "They [the tech sector] want to use it for their massive commercial purposes."

"Consumers are fully protected [under the bill]."

Stevens also noted the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to pass antitrust legislation dealing specifically with issues of network neutrality.

"In failing to approve strong net neutrality language, the committee gave the telephone and cable companies something they have not had in the history of the Internet -- a way to control what goes over the Net," Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said in a statement. Public Knowledge has tirelessly stumped for network neutrality.

"They would be free to discriminate in favor of content in which they have a financial interest or in favor of those companies which can afford special new fees the companies charge."

The legislation now moves to the full Senate for consideration. Democrats aim to offer a network neutrality amendment.