From the Los Angeles Times
Panel Vote Shows Rift Over `Net Neutrality'
A House committee rejects a bid to ban extra charges for faster, more
reliable delivery of data.
By Jim Puzzanghera
Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON - A fight in a House committee about online tolls offered a
preview Wednesday of the larger battle brewing over the future of the
Internet as Congress overhauls telecommunications rules for the first
time in a decade.
Despite lobbying from online giants such as Google Inc. and Yahoo
Inc., the House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected an amendment
that would prohibit the owners of Internet networks from charging
extra for preferential treatment of data.
Uncertainty over so-called Internet neutrality threatens to derail
broader efforts to update the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which
governs phones and cable television as well as Internet access. Some
changes already are strongly opposed by the cable TV industry because
they would allow phone companies to more easily offer TV services.
Opponents hope to stir up an online groundswell for strong Net
"The public is starting to awaken to this great threat," Rep. Jay
Inslee (D-Wash.) told his colleagues on the Republican-dominated
committee shortly before they voted 34-22 against the neutrality
As more people use the Internet for data-heavy applications like video
and music, the copper wires and fiber-optic lines that whisk
information from computer to computer can get crowded. Big phone
companies led by AT&T Inc. want to charge extra to guarantee fast and
Critics contend that would turn the Internet into a virtual toll
road. They say such preferential treatment violates the egalitarian
spirit of the Internet and threatens to stifle innovation.
All but five of the committee's Democrats supported the amendment,
along with one Republican, Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.). The
Democratic support was heavier than in a subcommittee vote earlier
The overall telecom bill handily passed the committee 42-12, with 15
Democrats supporting it.
Opponents said they were not giving up. With House Minority Leader
Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) backing Net neutrality rules, and some
Republicans raising questions about the issue during a House Judiciary
Committee hearing this week, opponents hope to slow the bill's
momentum toward a full House vote in coming weeks.
Net neutrality could cause additional problems for telecom legislation
in the Senate. Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is
drafting a version of the bill and has said Net neutrality is the most
Supporters of the House telecom bill said it would make data
discrimination illegal and argued that no company was levying tolls
anyway. Committee Chairman Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), the main sponsor
of the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of
2006, promised to support a legislative fix if problems arose.
But leading Internet companies, including Sunnyvale, Calif.-based
Yahoo, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, Seattle-based Amazon.com
Inc., San Jose-based Ebay Inc. and Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash.,
do not want to take that chance. They have been pressing for strong
rules to guarantee neutral treatment of data over the Internet. Santa
Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. joined the group Tuesday.
On Monday, a variety of grass-roots organizations - including
MoveOn.org Civic Action, Common Cause, Gun Owners of America and the
Parents Television Council -- launched Savetheinternet.com to press for
Net neutrality rules. The group said 500 blogs had linked to the site
and more than 250,000 people had signed a petition to the Energy and
"It comes down to trust," Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, a
coalition member, told reporters in a conference call.
The telecom bill would allow companies such as AT&T and Verizon
Communications Inc. to more easily offer pay television services
similar to cable. The bill would eliminate the need for companies to
get permission from every community they want to serve by offering the
option to obtain a national franchise instead of the local franchises
that cable companies had to obtain.
That provision is part of an overall strategy by the companies to
compete with cable in offering video, voice and Internet packages to
consumers. Barton and other supporters of the bill say that making it
easer for phone companies to compete with cable would help create
incentives to build more broadband Internet services.
AT&T and Verizon also are pushing a bill in the California Legislature
to allow for a statewide franchise.
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times