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Wall Street, Hill Diverge on Bill Prospects

Lisa Sutherland, majority staff director for the Senate Commerce Committee, says that "network neutrality" will be the biggest hurdle to passage of a video franchise reform/telecom reform bill this session, though she remains hopeful it is not insurmountable.

In fact, she told reporters Tuesday that if the House and Senate can get a bill to conference--where differences are worked out--"I have zero doubt we can get a bill passed."

Network neutrality, the principle that networks shouldn't discriminate in Internet access, has generated a flurry of lobbying and doomsday predictions about turning the info highway into a toll road, with networks squeezing out future Googles and Yahoos by charging for faster download speeds. The House bill has general proscriptions on the practice, but the FCC has no authority to write rules preventing it. The Senate bill only charges the FCC with studying the issue.

The concern by those opposed to strong network neutrality language, including Republicans in both the Senate and House, is that there is not yet even an agree-upon definition of what the term means, and that preventing networks from charging for more bandwidth will discourage the investment necessary to build out their networks and provide the high-speed access that is behind the push to reform telecom law.
House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) Tuesday shared Sutherland's optimism about eventual passage of the billl, saying he thought the odds were "pretty good," despite some journalist's predictions. But some on Wall street were not as sanguine.

Banc of America analyst Douglas Shapiro, for one, saw a tougher time reconciling the differences in the two bills. He saw the Senate draft as favorable to incumbents, in part because "the scope of the bill and the divergence from the video franchise bill...reduce the likelihood of any legislation passing this year."