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Senate committee chairman says 'no' to Net neutrality

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, told eWEEK on June 22 that he does not want any sort of Net neutrality legislation to be part of the telecom bill currently being debated by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

"Until somebody tells me what Net neutrality means, until they can give me a definition, I don't want it in there," Stevens said to eWEEK June 22.

"Right now, nobody knows what it means, so why put it in the bill?"

Stevens has previously said that he was opposed to legislation that would put common-carrier-like provisions into the bill. Earlier he told eWEEK, "The Internet should be free."

The committee held a markup session on Senate Bill 2686, the Communications, Consumers' Choice and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 on the afternoon of June 22.

A markup session is when the Senate committee considers amendments to the current version of a bill before it goes before the full Senate for a vote.

The June 22 meeting was the first in what promises to be a long series of meetings extending over the course of several days or weeks.

The bulk of the debate was aimed at two areas: funding communications initiatives for the War on Terrorism and for VOIP (voice over IP) legislation.

Net neutrality, if it is considered at all, will not be debated before Tuesday, June 27. Only two events of substance took place at the June 22 markup session. The first was to adopt an amendment to accelerate the spending of money for interoperability solutions for first responders.

Also voted on yesterday was an amendment to limit local regulation of VOIP services, and to preempt local and state limits on VOIP carrier operations, with the exception of consumer protection, child pornography or privacy laws.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., would prevent states from taxing interstate calls or raising financial barriers to entry for VOIP carriers.

A number of committee members expressed concerns about the need for Net neutrality legislation in their opening statements.

While it's likely that committee members will have the chance to express their opinions on Net neutrality, and to offer their thoughts on what it actually means, it's unlikely that any such provision will make it into the current bill.

The chairman of a Senate committee has great power to control the content of legislation, and it's highly unlikely that provisions a Senate committee chairman opposes will see the light of day.

However, the current version of the bill is notable in its bipartisan support.

Over the 18 months that the bill has been in process, members from both parties contributed.

"This is a product of all members from both sides of the aisle," Stevens said in his opening remarks.

Stevens noted that much of the bill's content was crafted by members from both sides, and a large number of amendments were incorporated by consensus.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said that the committee should add a strong provision for Net neutrality to ensure that Internet access is not subject to discrimination.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said that any Net neutrality provisions must protect the free, unfettered environment that has characterized the Internet to date.

A total of 216 amendments were introduced for inclusion into the Senate version of the bill. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a similar bill.

If the Senate version passes the full Senate, the two bills will be reconciled in a conference committee.

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