- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

12:58 p.m.

On one side are Internet heavyweights including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and EBay Inc. On the other are their network providers, Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T; Corp.

The issue is “network neutrality.” The Internet companies say neutrality should be protected by law, while the telephone and cable companies that build the networks say they should be able to charge the behemoths more for using their pipes to offer competing video and other services.

The debate heads to the Senate today when the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee begins its markup of the Communications, Consumers’ Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006. The bill does not contain net neutrality provisions, but it could if legislation proposed by Sens. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, and Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, is approved.

The Internet Freedom Preservation Act would “ensure that all content, applications and services are treated equally and fairly on the Internet by prohibiting broadband network operators from blocking, degrading or prioritizing service on their networks.” The senators said the Federal Communications Commission’s rules “neglected to adopt meaningful and enforceable safeguards.”

The Snowe-Dorgan bill has been endorsed by a variety of consumer groups, including the Christian Coalition and MoveOn.org, that normally do not see eye to eye.

The House earlier this month passed the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act of 2006, which allows telephone companies such as Verizon and AT&T; to offer television service nationally without receiving approval from local communities, but it does not include neutrality protections. The Senate bill includes similar franchising language.

A net neutrality amendment sponsored by Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, in the House would have allowed Internet service providers to give certain traffic, such as bandwidth-heavy video services, priority as long as it did so uniformly and not at the expense of a competitor’s offering. The amendment was defeated 269-152.

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