Sensenbrenner introduces Internet neutrality legislation

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) last week introduced legislation that would prevent cable and telco service providers from charging Internet sites higher fees for speedier delivery of their content.

The bill would make it illegal under antitrust law for network operators to impose such fees or to fail to provide their services on “reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.”

The legislation came as supporters of Internet “neutrality”— as the issue is called — petitioned lawmakers in Washington to maintain a democratic Internet. Among those calling for networks to remain free of charges premium services were the Grammy-nominated musician Moby, along with Sen. Byron Dorgan, (D-ND), Rep. Ed Markey, (D-MA), and a host of others.

Sensenbrenner's proposal has bi-partisan support. John Conyers (D-MI), who serves as the committee's co-chairman, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rick Boucher (D-VA) co-sponsored the measure.

Internet neutrality became an unintended focus last week during the first round of the Senate Commerce Committee's sweeping attempt to rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The hearing was supposed to focus on components of the bill dealing with video franchising and the Universal Service Fund, with a separate hearing on Internet neutrality scheduled for May 25. But that changed with the increasingly volatile neutrality topic.

The subject gained attention because earlier bills included provisions benefiting AT&T and Verizon Communications but failed to prevent Internet service providers from charging Yahoo, Google, and other multimedia sites for speedier delivery.

The bill came as Sensenbrenner lost a bid to bring a bill approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee up for a vote in his own committee. He will still have the power to amend the legislation before it comes up for a floor vote, MarketWatch reported.

In the meantime, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, (R-AK), said he will revise a recently unveiled draft bill that takes a hands-off approach to the Internet neutrality issue. The panel will vote on the revised bill June 20.