New Net Neutrality Bill Hits Senate

Network neutrality stayed at the top of Washington’s legislative stack today.

A day after a measure calling for non-discrimination in handling network traffic by broadband providers was introduced in the U.S. House, similar legislation hit the Senate today.

Called the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006 (S. 2917), the measure would prohibit telephone and cable companies from charging content providers premium fees on content, applications or services.

Introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and co-sponsored by Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the bill defines the obligations of broadband providers in supplying the link between content providers and consumers.

Included in the obligations is the requirement that broadband providers supply a connection, at no extra charge, that “is at least equivalent to the access, speed, quality of service and bandwidth that the [provider] offers to affiliated content, applications or services.”

Snowe, Dorgan and Inouye are all members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which is scheduled to debate the net neutrality issue next week.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the committee, is seeking to avoid network neutrality provisions in the telecom reform bill before the panel, relegating it to further Federal Communications Commission study.

“This bedrock concept of connecting innovators and consumers without interference – known as net neutrality – has been a hallmark feature of the Internet and is a principle reason why America leads the world in online innovation,” Inouye, the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, said in introducing the bill.

AT&T, Verizon and other telecoms are developing business models that would require content owners to pay extra fees based on bandwidth consumption, creating a tiered pricing plan at the commercial end of their broadband pipes.

The House Commerce Committee has approved legislation that would permit the plan.

“Traditional rules that have required communications operators to follow principles of non-discrimination no longer apply,” Inouye said, referring to court and FCC rulings that classified DSL and cable modems as information services and exempt from common carrier rules and regulations.

Inouye said under the legislation introduced Friday, “Internet businesses will have the ability to compete head-to-head with network providers on the basis of the merits of their offerings.

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