Net Neutrality: Senators Look to Stave Off Internet Inequity

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With a new, Democrat-controlled Congress in session, two Senators are hoping that their "net neutrality" bill will now gain some traction. Earlier this month, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, legislation that looks to ensure that companies using the Internet to connect to consumers can compete on a level playing field.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND)

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)

Dorgan's and Snowe's bill would bar broadband service providers from discriminating against Internet content, applications, or services by offering preferential treatment. According to Top Tech News, there is a concern among many users and businesses that some phone and cable companies would create tiered pricing that would favor some web traffic or sites over others. The TTN article noted that many users are worried that network operators will reserve the fastest connections for their own services or for companies that are paying premiums, "slowing down competitors by comparison and possibly even pushing some small companies out of the market entirely."

A number of broadband providers have discussed plans to start acting as gatekeepers on the web, where they would be capable of deciding which content can get through to consumers, and which content providers could get special deals, faster speeds, and better access to consumers, the Senators noted.

Such discrimination would "fundamentally change the way the Internet has operated and threatens to derail the democratic nature of the Internet," Dorgan said in a press statement. "The Internet became a robust engine of economic development by enabling anyone with a good idea to connect to consumers and compete on a level playing field. The marketplace picked winners and losers, not some central gatekeeper. That freedom -- the very core of what makes the Internet what it is today -- must be preserved."

The two lawmakers said their bill has the support of Internet businesses, both small and large, consumer groups, labor and education groups, religious organizations, and many others. Under the bill, broadband service providers must operate the network in a nondiscriminatory manner, but would remain free to manage the network to protect the security of the network or offer different levels of broadband connection to users. They must also offer consumers the option of purchasing a "stand alone" broadband connection that is not bundled with cable, phone, or Voice Over Internet Phone (VoIP) service.

In the previous Republican-controlled Congress, Dorgan and Snowe had offered similar legislation, which they noted had generated nearly one million letters and e-mails of support. However, Senate leaders did not allow the bill to come to a vote, the Senators explained. Proponents of the bill are hoping that a Democratic Senate will be more responsive to the legislation, TTN said.

A spokesperson for Sen. Dorgan told BTW that the bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, which will have legislative jurisdiction over the bill. Both Dorgan and Snowe are members of the Committee. "The tide has turned in the debate between those who seek to maintain equality and those who would benefit from the creation of a toll road on the Internet super highway," Snowe stressed in a statement.

In addition to Dorgan and Snowe, cosponsors of the bill include Senators John Kerry (D-MA); Barbara Boxer (D-CA); Tom Harkin (D-IA); Patrick Leahy (D-VT); Hillary Clinton (D-NY); and Barack Obama (D-IL).