GOP Gets Its Way on Net Neutrality

House Commerce Committee Republicans defeated an effort by Democrats today
to strengthen network neutrality provisions in the panel’s telecom reform

With four Democrats breaking ranks and joining the Republicans, the panel
voted 34-22 to turn back an amendment by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that would
prohibit broadband providers from charging content and service providers different rates
based on bandwidth consumption.

Markey said the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Efficiency Act of
2006 (COPE) as currently written would “fundamentally and detrimentally
alter the Internet.”

In urging committee members to vote for his amendment, Markey said,
“This is the moment. You can’t go back from here.”

Under COPE, the proposed business models of AT&T and Verizon to charge
content providers an extra fee to deliver enhanced services to consumers would
be permitted.

“If [the telcos] spend billions and billions of dollars to put a network
into play and charge a fee to those who want to take advantage of these
enhanced services, I think that’s a good thing,” Commerce Committee
Chairman Joe Barton said.

Barton added that under the Markey amendment, the broadband providers “can’t
charge for those things. That lessens the possibility that they’ll even
offer those things.”

Rep. Anna Eschoo (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the Markey amendment, urged
members to go online and “Listen to what users are saying [about COPE]. There’s
a prairie fire out there and they are outraged. [The bill] would regulate
and establish tolls on the Internet.”

The third co-sponsor of the Markey amendment, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Vir.),
said with COPE, “The handwriting is on the wall. [COPE] will allow business
models to create a two-lane Internet. Companies in the slower lane will not
be able to effectively compete with those in the fast lane.”

Barton and other Republicans argued that COPE preserves the principles of
network neutrality established by
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last August.

Those principles, though, deal with the rights of those on the consumer end
of the broadband pipe. The FCC principles do not address the rights of
content providers to use the Internet as an equal and open platform.

“If there are abuses in the future, we’ll identify them and take action,”
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said. “[The Democrats’] premise is that this is a
zero sum game, but there is no true definition of network neutrality. Under
this bill, everyone is a winner and everyone will benefit.”

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) was the sole Republican on the panel to vote in
favor of Markey’s amendment.

“I’m concerned about the direction we’re going in here,” she said. “[COPE]
is a precedent setting solution that changes the way the Internet works.”

Earlier in the day, the committee defeated an effort by Democrats to impose
requirements that holders of national video licenses, the centerpiece of
COPE, serve an entire franchise area.

Under COPE, telephone companies such Verizon and AT&T will be allowed to
purchase a single, national franchise television license to expedite the
rollout of their Internet protocol television (IPTV) services.

The bill would also allow cities to develop their own broadband networks and
would require Voice over IP providers to offer E911 services.

As of deadline, the committee was still debating the overall bill. Barton
said he hoped for a vote by evening.

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