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Conyers Bill Would Codify Network Neutrality

House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced a bill that would codify network neutrality in antitrust law.

Specifically, Conyers' bill, the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, would amend the Clayton Act, which deals with anticompetitive discrimination in terms of pricing and services, to include Internet-service discrimination.

According to a copy of the bill, it would add a prohibited category of discrimination by broadband-network providers that would spell out what would be illegal, including: discriminating against specific applications; discrimination on terms and conditions; blocking, impairing, discriminating or interfering with uploading or downloading of illegal content; failing to disclose terms, conditions or limitations on service; and more.

It allows for nondiscriminatory and reasonable network management but makes it clear that management can't include discrimination between content, applications or service.

House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a network-neutrality bill in the House, but that would simply codify the Federal Communications Commission's nondiscrimination principles to ensure that it had the power to enforce them.

Conyers’ bill would make Internet discrimination a violation of antitrust law.

The Open Internet Coalition, which has been pushing for strong network-neutrality legislation, was pleased.

"Over the past year, network operators have repeatedly taken steps to block Internet content, delivering a blow to the core Internet value of openness," Open Internet Coalition executive director Markham Erickson said in a statement. "Today's bill addresses this threat head-on. By providing a strong antitrust remedy, it puts direct, immediate pressure on broadband providers not to engage in arbitrary discrimination against content or applications."

Coalition members include Google, Comptel, EarthLink, Free Press and Media Access Project.

Equally happy was the Independent Film & Television Alliance, which sees the Internet as the best hope for access to audiences by independent content creators that they argued have been marginalized by consolidated media's control of the traditional TV pipeline.

IFTA president Jean Prewitt called the bill "vital legislation to help ensure an open and nondiscriminatory Internet. The bill recognizes that antitrust laws, as well as telecommunications laws, are important to preserve a free, open, and competitive market in this most vibrant communication platform."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had no comment on the Conyers bill.