Net Neutrality Has Setback; War Continues

By Nathan Weinberg

Well, a lot of bad things have happened on the net neutrality front. A bill that was had a lot of last-minute support from the Internet companies failed in the House by a 152-269 vote against. Most of the yes votes were Democrats, most of the no votes from Republicans.

The vote was whether to add an amendment to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) act that would have net neutrality provisions. In saying no to that amendment, the House seperately voted to approve an amendment to preserve the House Judiciary Committees influence over such matters. This means that, if nothing else happens, the Judiciary Committee would preside over net neutrality matters in the future, rather than a law protecting neutrality.

Of course “nothing else happens” isn’t likely to happen. CNet lists five other proposed bills that could affect this issue:

Net neutrality’s crowded field

Bill number Lead sponsor(s) What it proposes Status
S.2360 Wyden (D) No two-tier Internet Still in Senate committee
S.2917 Snowe (R) and Dorgan (D) No two-tier Internet Just introduced
HR5417 Sensenbrenner (R) and Conyers (D) Antitrust extended to Net neutrality Awaiting House floor vote
HR5273 Markey (D) No two-tier Internet Still in House committee *
HR5252 Barton (R) and Rush (D) FCC can police complaints Net neutrality rejected
S.2686 Stevens (R) and Inouye (D) FCC will do a study Senate committee vote expected in June

* Republicans have defeated similar language twice as an amendment to a telecommunications bill

Source: CNET research

This is a long fight, one that the internet companies are realizing is going to be more difficult than they thought. They don’t have the geek base or support to win on their own. Google is placing lobbyists and other key players in Washington, but the telecommunication companies have something like a decade of experience lobbying for this sort of stuff. They’ve won in the past against passionate opposition in cases where they were clearly wrong.

And the telcos aren’t clearly wrong in this case. From a Republican limited government perspective, regulation of the internet is not something the federal government should be doing. Form that perspective, it is better to stay back and see if a company steps out of line, and then use antitrust legislation to handle problems.

(via Search Engine Watch)

I found interesting the San Francisco Chronicle’s article, which seems so carefully worded in support of the telcos:

…proposals that seek to balance the need to preserve the free flow of content over the Internet with the desire to give network builders, especially phone companies, incentives to beef up their wires to the home.

… a bill that would help phone companies deliver television through their wires to compete with cable.

Phone companies want a free hand to charge content vendors for access to the improved networks they’re building in order to pipe TV signals to the home.

Another CNet article says that there are amendments proposed that are designed to offer up net neutrality while at the same time forcing regulation on the companies fighting for it, like Google, Microsoft and eBay. The amendment, proposed by Texas Democrat Charles Gonzalez, has many of the net neutrality regulations from the other proposals, but has them apply both to broadband providers and commercial websites.

If this amendment gains steam, Google could find itself in the difficult position of being able to get neutrality, so long as they agree to government oversight of how they treat content providers. Google could find itself dragged in front of the House to defend its search results or OneBox results from companies that feel discriminated. It is an interesting “poison pill” that would have more ramifications on the internet than losing net neutrality might.

If enacted, Gonzalez’s amendment would mean that the Federal Communications Commission would regulate Internet advertising, paid placement and content deals to ensure they take place in a neutral and nondiscriminatory way. That might prevent Amazon from entering into an exclusive relationship with Toys “R” Us, for instance, and could let Yahoo and Microsoft force Google to accept ads for rivals on its search engines. It also could prevent Google from declining certain types of controversial or negative ads, which is the company’s long-standing practice.

June 9, 2006 by Nathan Weinberg in:

One Response to “Net Neutrality Has Setback; War Continues”

  1. Stu Says:

    I really wish people would quit begging the government to regulate the internet even more, it’ll just be one more thing they’ve screwed up with too much regulation. I know I don’t feel any sympathy for Google, Microsoft, or the vile

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