The House Judiciary Committee Thursday marked up and passed its chairman's "network neutrality" bill 20-13, but it took all the Democrats to do it, with a majority of Republicans voting against it.
That chairman is James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and the bill would use antitrust law to enforce nondiscrimination in the provision of Internet service by networks like phone companies and cable operators. Republicans on the committee warned that it was unnecessarily regulating the Internet.
The bill plants the Judiciary Committee's flag squarely in the network neutrality debate, and adds yet one more obstacle to passage of telecom reform legislation this session. The House Commerce Committee had hoped to keep Judiciary out of the the bill, fearing it would impede its progress. But it turned into a jurisdictional fight, with more than one committee member saying net neutrality fell clearly within Judiciary's antitrust purview and praising Sensenbrenner for defending their turf.
House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) has all but guaranteed some kind of telecom reform by session's end, though that could include a lame duck period after the November elections.
Elsewhere on the network neutrality front, the Senate Commerce Committee heard more testimony on the issue as it considered--in its second of three hearings on telecom reform--a bill, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act (IFPA), that would also prevent discrimination, including charging for enhanced bandwidth or security.
At its heart, the bill turns into statute open internet access principles issued by the FCC earlier this year when it ruled that cable and telco networks did not have to provide access to unaffiliated Internet service providers.
The Senate Commerce Committee version of video franchise reform was relatively silent on network neutrality, simply charging the FCC with studying the issue. That did not sit well with Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and others, including Hillary Clinton (N-N.Y.) and Committee Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye, who introduced the IFPA bill to insure the issue was addressed.
The network neutrality issue--whose backers have adopted "Internet freedom" as the new moniker--has become a major issue threatening to delay, if not derail, action on bills in both the House and Senate that would streamline franchise reform so that the telcos could more easily provide price and service competition to cable and roll out broadband networks, the last being a key Bush administration priority.