TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Senator Stevens Offers Compromise on Net Neutrality

Senator Stevens Offers Compromise on Net Neutrality

Jeremy Pelofsky (
Sun, 18 Jun 2006 18:15:55 -0500

By Jeremy Pelofsky

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens has offered a
compromise in the fierce fight over legislation on Internet network
neutrality, but stopped short of demands sought by content companies
like Google Inc.

Google, Microsoft Corp. and other Internet companies have lobbied hard
for Congress to bar broadband Internet service providers such as AT&T
Inc. and Comcast Corp. from charging them to guarantee access and
service quality, often called network neutrality.

AT&T and Comcast, two of the largest high-speed broadband Internet
providers, have opposed any obligations imposed on their services or
restricting their business operations.

Stevens has added a new section to his proposed bill aimed at
preserving consumers' ability to surf anywhere on the public Internet
and use any Web-based application, according to the latest draft
obtained by Reuters this weekend.

However, the draft by the Alaska Republican does not include a ban on
pricing content companies have demanded.

Earlier versions of the bill only called for the Federal
Communications Commission to report on Internet access, prompting
Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye (news, bio, voting record), the top Democrat
on the committee, and some others to call for more protections.

Striking a compromise would likely make it easier for the bill to pass
this year. AT&T and Verizon Communications want it to pass quickly
because it would also make it easier for them to get licenses to offer
cable television service.

The Senate committee is scheduled to consider amendments and vote on
the measure at a meeting on Thursday. Spokesmen for Stevens and Inouye
were not immediately available for comment.

Stevens' compromise would also create a complaint process through the
FCC if consumers believe their access rights were violated and the
agency would be authorized to adjudicate complaints with penalties,
according to the draft.

However, the FCC would be barred from issuing any regulations under
the new law that would add to the obligations on Internet service

The compromise is somewhat similar to legislation that passed the
House of Representatives. However, there are other differences between
the House and Senate that would have to be resolved.

Broadband providers argue that they would not block any public
Internet site or application but may want to offer private
Internet-based services like for customers to download movies.

But content companies worry that will squeeze public Internet traffic
into a narrower, slower lane.

Another new provision in the bill would require Internet providers to
offer stand-alone service without forcing subscribers to sign up for
other products, like voice or video services. Some companies already
do so but charge more.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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