The Silicon Valley was legislatively thumped yesterday on the issue of network neutrality. Again.
After almost two hours of often contentious debate, the Senate Commerce Committee defeated a measure to insert controversial network neutrality provisions into the panel's ambitious telecom reform legislation.
Republican Senator Olympia Snowe joined the 10 Democrats on the panel to vote for the amendment. The remaining 11 Republicans voted against the amendment. Under the Senate rules, a tie is the same as a loss.
Snowe and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) sponsored the amendment that would have made it illegal for broadband providers to discriminate "in the carriage and treatment of Internet traffic based on the source, destination or ownership of such traffic."
Instead, the committee endorsed language that refers issues of network neutrality to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
"Those who support [network neutrality] want to use the Internet for their own end profit," Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said. "Why shouldn't we use the FCC as an arbiter until we know what [network neutrality] really is?"
Stevens' bill would establish a Consumer Internet Bill of Rights forcing broadband providers to allow users to run the legal applications and services of their choice.
Tech titans such as Google, Microsoft and eBay are urging lawmakers to include strong network neutrality language into any telecom reform bill ultimately approved by Congress.
They argue the telephone and cable companies' plan to charge based on bandwidth consumption will create a two-tiered Internet with a fast lane for those who can afford it and a slow lane for those who can't.
"Broadband operators will be able to pick winners and losers," Snowe said. "That is the cable model. Do we want that to be the Internet model?"
The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote.
The House of Representatives passed its own version of telecom reform on June 9, also leaving issues of network neutrality to the FCC.
The industry argues statutory language is necessary to guarantee non-discriminatory network traffic management since telephone and cable broadband services are no longer bound by the common carrier regulations ruling the dialup Internet world.
Freed from the common carrier obligations through a series of court decisions and FCC rulings, broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T are seeking the new pricing scheme in order to maximize their return on their expensive fiber-optic systems.
After more than a year of back-room "listening sessions" with a wide range of stakeholders, Stevens released a draft telecom reform bill to Democrats on May 2.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, the ranking Democrat on the panel, tepidly co-sponsored the effort to get the ball rolling but noted his endorsement was not a "demonstration of support for the bill itself."
By the time Stevens convened the markup last week, more than 200 amendments had been submitted, including a "substitute bill" from Inouye.
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