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THE ISSUES

Originally Published: 5/31/2006

NET NEUTRALITY BILL

By The Issue Wonk

 

 

The Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 (H.R. 5417), known as the “Net Neutrality Bill” is a bipartisan effort “to promote competition, to facilitate trade, and to ensure competitive and non-discriminatory access to the Internet.”  It amends the Clayton Antitrust Act (15 U.S.C. 12 et seq.) to ensure that network providers cannot discriminate against content and service providers.  Introduced by Representatives F. James Sensenbrenner (R, WI) and John Conyers (D, MI), the bill sets out protection for “network neutrality;” that is, a free and open Internet.  The Senate has proposed a similar bill (S. 2917), introduced by Senators Olympia Snowe (R, ME) and Byron Dorgan (D, ND).  Senator Ted Stevens (R, AK) also has a bill to re-do the Telecommunications Act (S. 2686), which does not protect internet neutraility but includes a provision for the Federal Communications Commission to study the Internet market for five years and file annual reports on the activities of broadband-access providers.

 

The Issue:  The House bill was introduced as a response to disclosures that “major telecom companies are laying plans to create tiered access to the Internet and to charge extra fees to consumers and content providers in order to offer select web sites for ‘fast access’ by consumers.”1  This is known as the “pay to play” concept; that is, in order to have fast broadband service, consumers and content providers would have to pay for it.  If you can’t afford the fees, content would be delivered more slowly.

 

These issues are not just a threat, they are real and are occurring now.  According to SaveTheInternet.com, the following have recently occurred:

 

In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.

 

In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from using a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a contentious labor dispute.

 

Shaw, a major Canadian cable, internet, and telephone service company, intentionally downgrades the “quality and reliability of competing Internet-phone services that their customers might choose – driving customers to their own phone services not through better services, but by rigging the marketplace.

 

In April, (2006) Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned www.dearaol.com – an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

 

The Christian Coalition of America1 has joined the list of organizations that adamantly support the bill.  It says “there is nothing to stop the cable and phone companies from not allowing consumers to have access to speech that they don’t support.”  One can only imagine what could happen.

 

The Network Neutrality Bill:  The sponsors of the House Net Neutrality Bill claim that the “pay to play” approach “would stifle innovation and diminish free speech on the Internet.”2  They warn that additional charges would hinder the availability of online content by creating two distribution channels – one fast and one slow.”3  The Internet today is a free and open media.  Every web site, no matter how obscure, is just as accessible to every user as any of the “big boys.”  Every user has the ability to access the same information as everyone else.  The bill would prevent “pay to play” Internet access, where broadband providers are able to act as gatekeepers and select preferred content that would move faster for consumers than other content.  The bill amends The Clayton Act to require that network providers:2

 

interconnect with the facilities of other network providers on a reasonable and nondiscriminatory basis;

 

operate their networks in a reasonable and nondiscriminatory manner such that non-affiliated providers of content, services and applications have an equal opportunity to reach consumers;

 

refrain from interfering with users’ ability to choose the lawful content, services and applications they want to use.

 

What this means is that it would be a violation of the Clayton Act for broadband providers to fail to provide access to its network on a discrimintary basis, to refuse to interconnect with other broadband providers, or to block, impair, discriminate, or interfere with anyone’s services or applications or content.  If a broadband provider prioritizes traffic of a particular type, it must prioritize all traffic of that same type, with no additional fee.

 

On May 25, 2006 the House bill 5417 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee.  No floor debate has yet been held.  S. 2917 was referred to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on May 19, 2006.  S. 2686 was referred to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on June 13, 2006.  A hearing was held on June 29th at which time an amendment was offered to include the Internet neutrality language.  The amendement failed by a vote of 11-11.

 

_______________

 

1 Christian Coalition of America press release.  May 17, 2006.  Christian Coalition Announces Support for “Net Neutrality” to Prevent Giant Phone and Cable Companies From Discriminating Against Web Sites.

 

2 U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary.  May 18, 2006.  News Advisory.  Sensenbrenner, Conyers Introduce Bipartisan Net Neutrality Legislation.

 

3 Hughes, Siobhan.  March 25, 2006.  House Panel to Vote on “Network Neutrality” Bill.  Marketwatch

 

 

© The Issue Wonk, 2006

 

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