'Net Neutrality Amendment' fails in U.S. House

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

On Thursday, Congress turned down the "Net Neutrality Amendment" to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act (COPE Act) 269-152.

The COPE Act is designed to make it easier for telecommunications companies to offer cable TV service and strengthen competition. Proponents hope it would lower the price of high-speed Internet for consumer by enabling Internet service providers to bundle phone, data, video and mobile phone services. The act is the first major telecommunications bill to come before Congress in over a decade, and it passed by 321-101 vote on Thursday.

Portions of the "Net Neutrality" amendment to the COPE Act sought to assure that communication companies who provide Internet services treated all data delivery passing through their connections equally. It specified that each broadband provider has the duty "not to block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with the ability of any person to use a broadband connection to access, use, send, receive, or offer lawful content, applications, or services over the Internet." The amendment's passage would have prevented AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other broadband providers from charging content providers like Google, Yahoo, Amazon or eBay for priority access to their networks. Democrats were largely in favour of the legislation with 140 Ayes and 58 Noes, whereas only 11 Republicans voted for the measure, with 211 against.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi argued that "The imposition of additional fees for Internet content providers would unduly burden Web-based small businesses and start-ups," and that "They would also hamper communications by noncommercial users, those using religious speech, promoting civic involvement and exercising First Amendment freedoms."

The phone companies and their Congressional allies argued that the restrictions in the amendment would discourage investment in upgrading networks. Chief technology officer for BellSouth William L. Smith told the Washington Post that telephone companies should be able to charge companies for having their content load faster than that of competitors. "If I go to the airport, I can buy a coach standby ticket or a first-class ticket," Smith said. "In the shipping business, I can get two-day air or six-day ground."

The legislation has been subject to intense lobbying by telecommunication companies on one side, and content providers on the other. The bill is due to be discussed next in the Senate, where lobbying efforts from both sides are expected to intensify. The White House said that it supports the current bill.

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