By Anne Broache, CNET News.com
WASHINGTON--Key senators who are planning to overhaul the nation's
communications laws remain at odds on the controversial topic of Net
At a briefing for reporters Monday, Republican aides to the Senate
Commerce Committee released a revised version of a sweeping
telecommunications bill -- but said the portions related to Net
neutrality would not be available until later this week. An earlier
version of the bill includes no Net neutrality regulations, reflecting
the position supported by broadband providers such as Verizon
Communications and AT&T.
Aides to Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who serves as
chairman of the committee, and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, the
committee's senior Democrat, are still negotiating new language about
whether broadband providers should be allowed to give special
treatment to certain types of content or Internet sites, the aides
"Does Congress want to get into regulating how much Google pays to
Verizon or what deals it makes with Yahoo?...(Stevens') view is that's
a matter better left to these multibillion-dollar companies and
Congress should focus on protecting the consumer," said Lisa
Sutherland, the committee's Republican staff director.
Last Thursday, the House of Representatives approved its own
communications bill but rejected a Democratic-sponsored
amendment--backed by companies like eBay, Amazon.com and Google--that
would have enacted detailed prohibitions against blocking, impairing,
degrading or prioritizing content. The final version authorizes the
Federal Communications Commission to police violations of its
broadband use principles and to levy fines if appropriate, but it bars
the regulators from making new rules.
In an interview with http://CNET News.com published Monday, Verizon
lobbyist Thomas Tauke said: "It's fair to say that Stevens is
committed to moving a bill. He'll probably have a new draft in the
next few days. He seems anxious to have the committee move in the next
few weeks and have it to the (Senate) floor in July."
Net neutrality, which has emerged as one of the most contentious
issues as Congress attempts to rewrite the nation's telecommunications
laws, is the idea that network operators should not be allowed to
prioritize Internet content and services that travel across their
pipes or to make deals with companies seeking special treatment. The
concept has received backing from some of the largest Internet
companies, a wide array of consumer groups, and entertainers like Moby
and Alyssa Milano.
Also on Monday, The Washington Post published an editorial opposing
Net neutrality mandated by the federal government. It said that the
dangers cited by proponents of Net neutrality "are speculative" and
the government "should not burden the Internet with pre-emptive
The current Senate language, scheduled to be the subject of a
committee hearing on Tuesday morning, directs the FCC to monitor
incidents that could be considered violations of Net neutrality
principles and report to Congress on its findings.
It may change in another revised draft expected to be released as soon
as the middle of the week, but it was "premature" to speculate on what
shape it would take, the aides said. The committee still plans a vote
on a final version of the mammoth bill on June 20.
Network operators from the telephone and cable industries, allied with
mostly conservative and libertarian groups and some of the nation's
largest hardware companies, have said repeatedly that they have no
plans to block, degrade or impair content and argue that new
regulations are unnecessary.
Democrats and at least one Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee
had attacked the bill's current approach, saying it failed to provide
adequate protections. Last month that group introduced a bill with a
long list of detailed rules prohibiting network operators from
prioritizing content as they please.
That bill could still be offered as an amendment to the broader
communications bill, though similar proposals in the U.S. House of
Representatives have met with sound defeat both in committee and on
the House floor in recent weeks.
"I am 99 percent sure we will have a network neutrality amendment in
committee on one side or the other," depending on how this week's
negotiations shake out, Sutherland said.
CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: See elsewhere in this special issue
on 'Net Neutrality' a response to the Washington Post editorial
referred to in this essay. PAT]