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Congress Argues Net Neutrality
The network neutrality tango is in full swing. Congress members on both sides of the political aisle and in both houses are introducing legislation and debating the merits of regulating how telecommunications providers can treat content on their public networks.
Everybody seems to agree on one thing: Carriers shouldn't be allowed to block or degrade online services or content. Beyond that, forces are gathering on all sides, with a bristly debate over whether carriers should be able to offer differentiated services to content providers that can afford them, a concept known as tiering. There's even a question as to whether it's a good idea to put the authority to regulate provision of Internet content in the hands of Congress.
A wide-ranging telecommunications bill by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex., that includes network neutrality provisions moves to mark-up tomorrow in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton's bill would give the FCC power to act to uphold principles of network neutrality, but not the authority to make rules.
The FCC is united against blocking services, but more divided on tiering. "If providers with bottleneck control can erect tolls, that inverts the entire democratic network of the Internet," FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said yesterday at the Freedom to Connect conference in Silver Spring, Md. "It makes the pipe intelligent and the end user dumb." However, Copps' vision clashes with that of current Chairman Kevin Martin, who has publicly said carriers should be free to offer tiered services.
Some in Congress don't feel Barton's bill goes far enough, saying a tiered system of differentiated services wouldn't be covered and would ultimately hurt entrepreneurs and consumers. "Today there are Google-wannabes in a garage getting started," Rep. Richard Boucher, D-Va., told conference attendees. "How is [a] Google wannabe going to pay a fee to get into every potential provider's home? They're not going to be able to become established in the slow lane, with Google and others in the fast lane." Boucher and three other Democratic members of Congress plan to introduce an amendment to the Barton bill to outlaw the tiered model. To pass the amendment, it will need Republican support, which Boucher says it has.
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