Network Neutrality Debate Postponed

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The fate of the Senate's video franchise/telecom reform bill grew cloudier Thursday as votes on a raft of amendments were put off until next week and Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) reportedly questioned whether he had the votes to block a filibuster on the floor.

Thursday's markup of a bill that would streamline the video franchising process was expected to go deep into the day but ended after only a couple of hours. Stevens had also suggested it might re-start Friday morning, but with no floor votes scheduled for Friday and some Senators' travel plans already made, according to a staffer, he postponed further action on the bill until Tuesday, June 27.

The most contentious of close to 100 amendments that may be considered is one toughening network neutrality rules. Big computer companies want specific regulations preventing networks from blocking sites or favoring their own content or that of content providers who pay up for preferred service.

Networks argue that they will not block sites or provide preferential treatment, except, in the case of the latter, where they provide extras like content management and security that will cost them more and are necessary to provide bandwidth-rich content like IPTV. Without having the flexibility to manage their networks and get a return on investment, they say, it will discourage the capital markets from investing in the network rollouts that will make faster and more widely available Internet service possible.

Stevens has included a network neutrality Bill of Rights that allows the FCC to punish violators of network neutrality principles, but does not give it the authority to write regulations proscribing particular practices.

Like his House counterpart, Energy & Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) Stevens argues that nobody can yet define what network neutrality means, so it is premature to try to legislate it.

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