RealTime IT News

House Democrats Try Again With Net Neutrality Bill

Two House Democrats today introduced another bill that would prohibit Internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing or degrading the delivery of some content over their networks.

The issue is known as Net neutrality, and supporters of legislation charge that it is essential to preserving innovation and openness that have enabled the Web to flourish. ISPs and other critics argue that there is scant evidence that unreasonable network management occurs, and that government regulation would impose an undue burden on their business that could impede investment in broadband networks.

The Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act, introduced by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), seeks to block ISPs from discriminating against certain network traffic on antitrust grounds.

"Americans have come to expect the Internet to be open to everyone," Conyers said in a statement. "If we allow companies with monopoly or duopoly power to control how the Internet operates, network providers could have the power to choose what content is available."

The Conyers bill is the second piece of Net neutrality legislation to appear in the House this year. In February, Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced a bill that would write into law the Net neutrality principles advanced by Federal Communications Communication in 2005, and charge the agency with holding a series of summits to consider the issue.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet held the first hearing on Markey's bill earlier this week.

Last month, a Senate committee held a hearing to consider a similar bill, which was introduced last January.

Today's bill was introduced in the Judiciary Committee, which Conyers chairs. Conyers had brought a similar version of the bill before the previous Congress, but it never received a floor vote.

A Conyers aide told InternetNews.com that the two Net neutrality bills now in the House are compatible, and that Conyers would support Markey's bill if it came to a vote.

An antitrust approach

In taking an antitrust approach to the problem, the new bill goes a step further than Markey's legislation. In addition to barring ISPs from discriminating against certain content, it requires them to interoperate with each other to the extent that is technically feasible. The Conyers staffer said that the representatives had identified anticompetitive concerns about one network provider blocking or degrading traffic to a person who subscribes to another, competing network provider.

"Part of the problem is that there's a lack of transparency on the part of the network providers," the aide said. "A lot of the companies' policies are not in the public domain."

The aide said that the bill does not give any extra authority to the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice, the two government entities that oversee antitrust proceedings. Rather, it would update the anticompetitive purview of the Clayton Antitrust Act to include ISPs.

Markey's press secretary, Jessica Schafer, declined to comment on the details of the new bill, but said, "We think the introduction reflects the widespread interest in the issues and in protecting consumers and innovators."

Historically, the debate typically has broken on partisan lines, and Republican-led opposition has shot down previous efforts to make Net neutrality the law of the land. Both the Markey bill and the Senate legislation have bipartisan sponsors, but unlike the bill he introduced in the last Congress, Conyers was unable to find a Republican to cosponsor the bill.

"We would love to have Republicans join our bill," the Conyers staffer said, adding that he was not sure why Republicans who had previously supported the effort were not on board this time.

The press secretary for James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who cosponsored Conyers' previous Net neutrality bill, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.