House rejects Net neutrality rules

2006-06-09

Richard Moore

Original source URL:
http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9588_22-6081882.html

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         This story was printed from ZDNet News,
         located at http://news.zdnet.com

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House rejects Net neutrality rules
By Declan McCullagh

The U.S. House of Representatives definitively rejected the concept 
of Net neutrality on Thursday, dealing a bitter blow to Internet 
companies like Amazon.com, eBay and Google that had engaged in a 
last-minute lobbying campaign to support it.

By a 269-152 vote that fell largely along party lines, the House 
Republican leadership mustered enough votes to reject a 
Democrat-backed amendment that would have enshrined stiff Net 
neutrality regulations into federal law and prevented broadband 
providers from treating some Internet sites differently from others.

Of the 421 House members who participated in the vote that took place 
around 6:30 p.m. PT, the vast majority of Net neutrality supporters 
were Democrats. Republicans represented most of the opposition.

The vote on the amendment (click for PDF) came after nearly a full 
day of debate on the topic, which prominent Democrats predicted would 
come to represent a turning point in the history of the Internet.

"The future Sergey Brins, the future Marc Andreessens, of Netscape 
and Google...are going to have to pay taxes" to broadband providers, 
said Rep. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat behind the Net 
neutrality amendment. This vote will change "the Internet for the 
rest of eternity," he warned.

At issue is a lengthy measure called the Communications Opportunity, 
Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE- 
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:h.r.5522:) Act, which a 
House committee approved in April. Its Republican backers, along with 
broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T, say it has sufficient 
Net neutrality protections for consumers, and more extensive rules 
would discourage investment in wiring American homes with 
higher-speed connections.

The concept of network neutrality, which generally means that all 
Internet sites must be treated equally, has drawn a list of 
high-profile backers, from actress Alyssa Milano to Vint Cerf, one of 
the technical pioneers of the Internet. It's also led to a political 
rift between big Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo that 
back it--and telecom companies that oppose what they view as onerous 
new federal regulations.

As the final House vote drew closer, lobbyists and CEOs from both 
sides began stepping up the pressure. eBay CEO Meg Whitman e-mailed 
more than a million members, urging them to support the concept, and 
Google CEO Eric Schmidt on Wednesday called on his company's users to 
follow suit.

Defenders of the COPE Act, largely Republicans, dismissed worries 
about Net neutrality as fear mongering.

"I want a vibrant Internet just like they do," said Rep. Lamar Smith, 
a Texas Republican. "Our disagreement is about how to achieve that. 
They say let the government dictate it...I urge my colleagues to 
reject government regulation of the Internet."

The debate over Net neutrality had become more complicated after 
earlier versions of the COPE Act appeared to alter antitrust laws--in 
a way that would have deprived the House Judiciary Committee of some 
of its influence.

But in a last-minute compromise designed to placate key Republicans, 
the House leadership permitted an amendment (click for PDF) from 
Smith that would preserve the House Judiciary Committee's 
influence--without adding extensive Net neutrality mandates. That 
amendment to COPE was approved.

While the debate over Net neutrality started over whether broadband 
providers could block certain Web sites, it has moved on to whether 
they should be permitted to create a "fast lane" that could be 
reserved for video or other specialized content.

Prohibiting that is "not a road we want to go down, but that's what 
the Markey amendment would do," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a 
Tennessee Republican. "The next thing is going to be having a 
secretary of Internet Access (in the federal government)."
-- 

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