Senate Commerce Committee members Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) wasted no time putting the network neutrality issue back on the legislative calendar.
On Tuesday, the first day of the new Congress, the pair re-introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, which would prevent broadband providers from "discriminating against Internet content, applications or services, and require them to offer stand-alone broadband service not bundled with video or voice."
Snowe, in introducing the legislation, said there had been a turning point in the network neutrality fight, and pointed to the FCC's "imposition of net neutrality conditions" on the AT&T/Bell South merger as one of the new signs of the times.
They introduced the bill in the last Congress, but as an amendment to a larger video franchise reform bill,the vote to add it to the bill was an 11-11 tie, with ties meaning the amendment did not pass.
Co-sponsors of the bill's latest incarnation include John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Barack Obama (D-IL).
“We applaud Senators Dorgan and Snowe for reigniting the essential Net Neutrality debate on Capitol Hill," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press. "Their continuing commitment will help make competitive and affordable broadband services a central issue in the 110th Congress."
Not applauding was phone company, Verizon. While the company said it supports consumers' rights to Internet access, "Net Neutrality – better named Net Regulation – is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist," said Peter Davidson, Verizon seniorVP for federal government relations.
"We expect a robust debate. In the end, most policymakers will focus on how to increase broadband deployment, and wonder how Net Regulation advances that goal. It’s ironic that this bill is introduced at the same time the Consumer Electronics Show is filling the news with broadband-enabled innovations," he said in a statement released Tuesday. "There is a ‘disconnect’ between consumers’ desires for new products and services and the stifling effects of this bill. Turning to Net Regulation at this point would be a huge step backward."
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association saw it as an innovation-stifler as well. "We continue to believe that regulation of the Internet is unnecessary and will only stifle the investment, innovation and creativity that has been the hallmark of today's dynamic broadband marketplace," said spokesman Brian Dietz.
Could the revived bill mean a revival of the blitz of comment and e-mails--and expensive broadcast ad buys--from all those coalitions and "grassroots" groups?
The Hands Off the Internet Coalition (www.HandsOff.org) weighed in Tuesday a statement from co-chairs Mike McCurry and Christopher Wolf: “It’s disappointing that Sens. Snowe and Dorgan would introduce essentially the same bill to regulate the Internet that went down to such decisive defeat in Congress last June," they said.Coalition members include AT&T, the National Association of Manufacturers, Citizens Against Government Waste, the American Conservative Union, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
That was followed soon after by a note from FreedomWorks, which bills itself as a "grassroots organization with over 800,000 members nationwide dedicated to lower taxes, less government, and more freedom." FreedomWorks Chairman and former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey said that there is already too much "meddling in the telecom sector," adding: ""Common sense tells us that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it."
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.