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Markey Introducing Net Neutrality Bill

Ranking House Telecommunications Subcommittee member Ed Markey (D-Mass.) says he will introduce a "network neutrality" amendment to a national video franchise bill.

Markey announced the amendment during opening statements on a video franchise bill that will be marked up in the committee Wednesday.

Markey and several co-sponsors including Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.) are concerned that the bill does not sufficiently protect against network discrimination in the provision of Internet access. The network neutrality issue has surpassed red-lining and the lack of build-out requirements as the hottest video franchise bill-related issue in Washington.

Markey, the bill's most vocal opponent in the committee, said the 'net was "endangered" because of its "misguided provisions."

One of those, said Democrat Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, was making the FCC the sole arbiter of complaints, including of network non-neutrality. He suggested that was a mistake, likening the commission to a "dollar store roach motel," saying a lot of complaints went in but not many decisions came out.

Committee Chairman Joe Barton and Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton took a slightly different tack, saying the bipartisan bill--it has a single Democratic co-sponsor--would be a step forward and would provide lower prices and more choices to consumers by spurring cable competition and the roll-out of high-speed Internet service. Upton said consumers could save up to several hundred dollars on combined phone, video and data services.

Both have said that it is wiser to let the FCC determine what constitutes abuses of network neutrality, then punish abusers, than try to come up up with a rule proscribing a practice noone can yet define.

Barton and others counted eight different definitions of network neutrality at an earlier hearing on the bill.

Barton said he would not railroad the bill through markup, which means that he would like to vote on it by Wednesday evening, but will carry the mark-up over into Thursday if need be. Mark-up is where a bill is amended and passed, or not, out of committee.

Other amendments to be introduced would strengthen anti-red lining language, insure service parity, and encourage the roll-out of VOIP service. Red-lining is the practice not building out service to areas where there is a lower expected return on investment or, as Markey puts it, "the other side of the tracks.