Net neutrality, broadband legislation on back burner
Packages unlikely to pass, say some observers
IDG News Service - Congress may take another crack at Net neutrality and related broadband legislation when it returns from a month-long recess next week, but some observers aren't laying odds on either package passing.
In June, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a wide-ranging broadband bill and the House of Representatives passed its own broadband bill. Both bills would streamline the franchising process telecommunications carriers need to go through to offer Internet Protocol-based television in competition with cable TV. However, both the committee and the House rejected attempts to strengthen Net neutrality requirements in the bills.
The battle lines over Net neutrality have, if anything, become more defined since those votes, and some people involved in the broadband debate say the legislation is unlikely to pass in a highly politicized election year.
Supporters of the broadband bill had hoped to get a vote in the full Senate before its August recess, but Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, placed a hold on the bill, threatening to filibuster it unless stronger Net neutrality provisions were added. Wyden wants the Senate to prohibit large broadband providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from blocking or slowing Web content from competitors.
This week, a Wyden spokeswoman said the hold is still on the bill. "We will not lift it until there are strong Net neutrality provisions in the bill," she said.
Neither side has offered a Net neutrality compromise during the August congressional recess, said a spokesman of one organization involved in the debate.
The Net neutrality debate has turned largely into a partisan issue, at least on Capitol Hill. Many Democrats have sided with consumer groups and many large e-commerce companies backing a strong Net neutrality requirement. Many Republicans have backed the large broadband providers and network equipment vendors opposed to a new law.
Congressional leaders have targeted Oct. 6 as the adjournment date for the year. The entire House and one third of the Senate is up for re-election in November, and many observers say it will be difficult to pass controversial legislation during the last days of the congressional session. If the legislation doesn't pass this year, the new Congress would have to start over with a new broadband bill in 2007.
Net neutrality advocates say the future of an open Internet is at risk after the Federal Communications Commission and the Supreme Court last year removed requirements that large broadband providers share their networks with competing Internet service providers.
But opponents argue new regulations aren't needed because there's little evidence of broadband providers blocking Web content. Broadband providers need the flexibility to offer services such as video on separate, clutter-free networks, they say, and they should be free to investigate new pricing models in which they charge Web sites new fees for faster customer access.
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