Senate Committee Vote Set on Telecom Bill

Senate Commerce Committee leadership is scheduled to vote on its telecom reform legislation, despite a hefty schism over network neutrality.

A revised draft of S.2686, the Consumer's Choice and Broadband Deployment act of 2006, is scheduled for markup June 22 at 2 p.m. The bill covers the Universal Service Fund, video franchising, emergency comms interoperability, programming access, broadcast flags (audio and video), unlicensed devices and several other items.

The most contentious item within the bill is Title IX-Internet Neutrality, more commonly referred to as "network neutrality."

The concept of network neutrality says fees charged by broadband network providers-- telephone and cable companies, or more realistically, Verizon and Comcast (with a smattering of other cable companies)--to big content providers like Amazon or Google, should be regulated. Otherwise, the pipe owners could feasibly drive the content owners out of business and step into the gap.

Opponents say it isn't a problem now, so why create a law? They say that up to now, the Internet has not been regulated, and that the FCC already has principles of "Internet Freedom," which carry a hefty fine for violations.

Proponents say that since there are only two sources of broadband provision, the field of competition is small enough to require regulation. They also say that the Internet was indeed regulated until last year, when the FCC designated it an information, and not a telephone service. The latter designation carries greater universal access requirements and is more heavily regulated.

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Brian Dorgan (D-N.D.) are vocal proponents of putting strong network neutrality in the Senate telecom bill, as is Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), co-chairman of the commerce committee. The majority of Republicans on the committee, including Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), oppose the notion, but Stevens is eager to get his bill to the floor. Snowe and Dorgan indicated they would continue to work with the chairman on a compromise, but they were adamant about giving the FCC the regulatory authority to enforce network neutrality.