New Senate Telecom Bill Stays the Course on 'Net Neutrality'
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Senate staffers appear to have made little progress resolving one of the most contentious issues in new telecom legislation: whether to impose "net neutrality" provisions that would limit how cable and telephone companies may charge others for access to their networks.
A fresh draft of telecom legislation released by the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday leaves its net neutrality language untouched, simply requiring the Federal Communications Commission to study the issue annually and to report back if it sees any problems.
The bill's major thrust would make it easier for telephone companies to get franchises to offer cable TV service. The panel is scheduled to hold a third hearing on the bill today and to hold a mark-up on the legislation June 20.
Net neutrality advocates fear network owners will cut deals to give some content providers priority delivery, putting those who don't pay at a disadvantage. Phone and cable companies say they will not block Web sites but should be allowed to manage their networks and to charge more to those who want guaranteed fast delivery.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is open to consumer protections but is loath to interfere with commercial deals among phone and cable companies and the content providers, a committee staffer said.
"If they [consumers] want Google, we want them to be able to access Google. I think that's Senator Stevens's view -- that people should be able to pick whatever content, whatever applications, whatever software . . . that they want," Stevens staff director Lisa Sutherland told reporters, saying a compromise had yet to be reached with the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (Hawaii). "A compromise requires two to tango, so we are not done tangoing yet," she added.
The House last week passed a video franchising bill that takes a different approach on net neutrality and that addresses fewer issues than the Senate version, a fact that analysts say makes it an uphill climb to reconcile the two and to enact telecom legislation this year.