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Top Senate Democrat Attacks ‘Net Neutrality’ Bill

Jun 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

A top Senate Democrat criticized Republican legislation that would preserve Internet service providers’ ability to charge Web-content providers different rates for different levels of service, setting up a conflict that could derail the bill.

Daniel K. Inouye, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee said the legislation offered by Republican panel Chairman Ted Stevens would hurt consumers by damaging the open nature of the Internet, where content providers currently are treated equally.

The so-called net neutrality issue is part of a larger bill that would ease telephone company’s way into the pay-TV business by freeing them from having to seek franchise approvals jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction the way cable-TV providers have had to.

“Under the current language, network operators will have the ability to dictate what the Internet of the future will look like, what content it will include, and how it will operate,” Mr. Inouye, who represents Hawaii, said.

He warned it would give network operators “the unfettered capacity to discriminate against unaffiliated online content.”

Video franchising legislation that helps the phone companies easily passed in the House. Senators have often taken a more skeptical view of issues involving media competition and may subject the bill to greater scrutiny.

Mr. Inouye’s comments came after Mr. Stevens altered his original proposal to drop some controversial elements, increasing consumer protections. Mr. Stevens replaced his original proposal for a study of net neutrality with language that would create a new “Internet Consumer Bill of Rights,” aides to the senator said today.

Those provisions would bar phone companies from blocking access to content from Internet content providers and rivals such as Internet phone operators. It would also give the Federal Communications Commission new authority to punish after violators.

The legislation introduced by Stevens, who represents Alaska, bans the Federal Communications Commission from ever imposing net neutrality requirements.

In the latest version of the bill, Mr. Stevens abandoned a proposed requirement that cable providers allow phone companies access to their regional sports networks. It also dropped a line requiring companies air a broadcast flag for TV, but not for audio and moved to require most court challenges of FCC actions be decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a court that has been very friendly to business.