Friday, June 09, 2006

U.S. House Shoots Down Net Neutrality Provision

Jun 09, 2006
U.S. House Shoots Down Net Neutrality Provision

JUN 09, 2006 07:59:54 AM

The U.S. House of Representatives has defeated a provision to require
U.S. broadband providers to offer the same speed of service to
competitors that’s available to partners, a major defeat to a coalition
of online companies and consumer groups.

The 269-152 House vote against the so-called net neutrality amendment
late Thursday came after a last-minute push for the measure from many
technology companies. After the House defeated the net neutrality
amendment, it passed the underlying bill, a wide-ranging broadband bill
focused partly on speeding the rollout of television over IP.

Without a net neutrality law, the Internet will turn into a two-tiered
network in which the fastest speeds are reserved for content produced by
the large broadband providers and companies that pay extra fees, net
neutrality backers said. Customers who want to go to Web content from
competing Internet companies will end up in a "slow lane," net
neutrality backers said.

"It is a shame that the House turned its back on the open essence of the
Internet," Gigi Sohn, president of consumer rights group Public
Knowledge, said in an e-mail. "Instead, the House ... voted to allow the
telephone and cable companies to discriminate by controlling the content
that will flow over the network."

The Senate is debating its own broadband and telecom reform bill, but
the current version doesn’t include a net neutrality requirement.
Lawmakers have introduced four standalone net neutrality bills, but the
defeat in the House could mean the issue is dead until 2007.

Large broadband providers such as AT&T and Verizon Communications
opposed a net neutrality law, saying it would bring unneeded regulation
to the Internet. There’s little evidence of broadband providers blocking
or impairing competing content, they said.

Executives with AT&T and BellSouth in recent months have also talked of
new business plans that would allow them to charge Internet companies
extra for faster speeds. Broadband providers need new ways of paying for
the costs of building next-generation broadband networks, and charging
large Internet companies makes the most sense, they said.

The Hands Off The Internet coalition, a group supported by AT&T and
BellSouth, praised the House’s defeat of the net neutrality amendment,
sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat. The amendment
would have required broadband providers that set aside faster
connections for new services such as video over IP to offer the same
speeds to competing services.

"Bipartisan common sense won out over the bottom lines of a few big
online companies," Mike McCurry, co-chairman of the Hands Off The
Internet coalition, said in a statement. "They would dramatically shift
the cost of building tomorrow’s Internet onto the backs of consumers."

The underlying broadband bill, the Communications Opportunity, Promotion
and Enhancement Act, passed by a vote of 321-101. The bill would allow
the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to investigate complaints
about broadband providers blocking or impairing of Internet content only
after the fact.

The bill would also streamline local franchising requirements for
telecom carriers that want to offer IPTV services in competition with
cable TV. The bill would in essence create a national franchise,
allowing AT&T and Verizon to roll out their IPTV services without going
through lengthy franchising negotiations with each local government
where they want to provide service.

Verizon praised the House passage of the bill. It would bring "more
choice, better services and lower price" to consumers, the company said.
The company also cheered the defeat of the net neutrality provision,
saying Congress "won’t go down the road of legislating solutions to
problems that don’t exist."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, also calls
for requiring voice-over-IP providers to offer customers enhanced 911
emergency dialing service, and allowing municipal governments to offer
broadband data and video services. Verizon and other broadband carriers
have opposed municipal broadband services.

Several tech and consumer groups engaged in a last-minute lobbying
campaign for a net neutrality provision. Members of TechNet, a trade
group representing tech vendor senior executives, sent a letter to
members of the House Thursday urging support for net neutrality. Among
those signing the letter were executives with eBay, Microsoft, and the
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers venture capital firm.

Without net neutrality, small companies that can’t afford to pay extra
broadband fees won’t be able to compete for customers, said John Doerr,
a partner in the influential venture capital firm. "The telephone and
cable giants want to be able to add a surcharge on," he said Thursday.
"We have to work hard to make sure there’s not that discrimination."

-Grant Gross, IDG News Service (Washington Bureau)

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