Senate Judiciary Weighs In On Net Neutrality - Broadcasting & Cable

Senate Judiciary Weighs In On Net Neutrality

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Taking a page from House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (D-Wis.), the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday held a hearing on the antitrust implications of the Senate video franchise/communications reform bill scheduled for a markup June 22.

To make the point even clearer, it invited Sensenbrenner to be a witness.

Like Sensenbrenner, the Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania was also concerned about jurisdictional issues.

He asked whether the Senate telecom bill's charging of the FCC to monitor Internet competition in the marketplace didn't represent an encroachment on the antitrust jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department.

FTC Commissioner William Kovacic, who was one of the witnesses at the hearing, said that he would hope the bill would make clear that did not take any antitrust authority away from either.

Sensenbrenner said he was in the "unique" position of "trying to save the country from the impulsiveness of the House." But his serious message was to urge the committee to insure that the Senate bill puts real teeth in anti-trust law as it applies to internet access.

The House franchise reform bill did not consider Sensenbrenner's network neutrality amendment, instead adopting another that simply restated the antitrust language of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. That essentially clarified that nothing in the bill superseded antitrust authority over anticompetitive behavior.

Saying that there was a lack of competition in the broadband market, Sensenbrenner argued that simply lifting the language did not truly address the potential for anticompetitive conduct. He said that, instead, it simply gave companies a road map for circumvention of net neutrality, particularly since the courts had weakened antitrust law relating to telecom in the years since that 1996 Act.

David Cohen, EVP, of Comcast, called net neutrality the "worst new idea in Washington," calling it regulating the Internet under the cloak of network neutrality.

He said there is robust competition for broadband service and recited the now familiar phrase; "If it aint broke, don't fix it."

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