House net neutrality bill faces shot clock
Congress now appears less likely to pass a bill on net neutrality during this session, according to sources close to ongoing negotiations by House members.
Talks, led by Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), continued Tuesday but lawmakers remained at odds on key provisions. Those details include questions over how broadband access rules should apply to wireless networks. But there appeared to be some agreement for basic rules that would forbid a wireless service provider from blocking a competing application such as voiceover Internet calls.
Lawmakers had also grown closer to the idea of giving the Federal Communications Commission three years of authority to enforce principles already in place that forbid blocking and slowing of applications and Web sites. The bill would not give the FCC authority to create broadband policies. But there were still protests about those provisions by public interest groups and Internet service providers who had been consulted by lawmakers, according to the sources.
That has some people close to the talks doubting a bill will be agreed upon this week, which is viewed as the last chance to introduce legislation and get it to vote before the end of the session in two weeks. Even if it were to pass the House, a bill on the contentious issue of net neutrality would face obstacles in the Senate and more trouble after the mid-term elections.
“We continue to believe it will be difficult to thread such a narrow needle in such a short period of time,” said Rebecca Arbogast, head of technology policy research at Stifel Nicolaus investment firm. “There is some possibility that the House and Senate could resume the efforts in the lame duck session, but the momentum may be lost and the atmosphere shifted if there are sweeping Republican mid-term gains.”
Lawmakers have taken up the issue as the FCC delayed movement on its own policy proposal for how Internet service providers treat content and applications on their networks.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski introduced a proposal for broadband access rules one year ago, saying consumers and Internet startups should have the same opportunities to access content and conduct business on the Web as those who operate networks.
He said wireless networks should generally be included in rules. Last month, Genachowski delayed his policy push to take more public feedback on whether wireless networks should be included in rules and whether ISPs should be able to charge for priority access on networks.
Free Press, a public interest group, criticized Genachowski for reneging on promises made last year and when President Obama pitched for net neutrality during his election campaign.
Free Press released a report Tuesday examining Genachowski’s quotes on net neutrality, showing that the chairman appears to now contradict earlier statements:
“Even though each form of Internet access has unique technical characteristics, they are all different roads to the same place,” Genachowski said, according to a report released by Free Press. “It is essential that the Internet itself remain open, however users reach it.”
Derek Turner, policy director at Free Press, said Genachowski’s delay has undermined his earlier promises.
“The net neutrality debate has been ongoing for many years and adequate information exists … to give the FCC guidance on writing even-handed rules of the road,” Turner wrote.
| September 21, 2010; 4:53 PM ET
Categories: FCC, Net Neutrality
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