Stevens Bill Readies for Thursday Vote

The third draft of Ted Stevens Communications, Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 was unveiled on Monday as it prepares for a committee vote on Thursday.

The second draft was 151 pages; the new one stands at 159.

The House already has passed the controversial Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act as Congress attempts to rewrite the 1996 Telecommunications Act; Stevens bill is largely viewed as the one that will define most reforms. Before a final proposal reaches the House and Senate floors, committees on both sides will have to reconcile the requirements contained in each bill. A lack of support for net neutrality oversight could impede momentum, as Democrats, especially, rally for consumer protections.

The Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees telecom legislation, on Monday held a briefing on the changes to the Stevens bill, but it was an in-person, unbroadcast meeting for press located in the Beltway. No summaries or press releases were available from the committee; an unidentified spokesperson said further briefing coverage was time-prohibited, as they were readying for Thursdays markup and vote.

Other media reports noted changes to the bill that included clarification that AT&T Inc.s IPTV product would not be exempt video franchising requirements; and that Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the Commerce Committees ranking minority member, blasted the new draft as unfriendly toward consumers. Inouyes office did not immediately return a call requesting clarification on the areas to which the senator objects.

The San Francisco Chronicle further reported the Stevens bill now contains a nod to net neutrality. The so-called Internet Consumer Bill of Rights provision would keep phone and cable companies from blocking users access to certain Web sites, and would give the FCC power to police user complaints and levy fines if there are problems, according to the Chronicle.

The bills previous two versions only said the FCC must monitor the Internet market and file annual reports on possible violations.

The provision largely is seen as a move to sway committee members who are unsure about voting for the Stevens bill because of a well-publicized lack of net neutrality assurances, a controversial issue that has brought together a disparate set of consumer and activist groups such as the Christian Coalition and Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, have co-authored an amendment to the Stevens bill that would mandate net neutrality, and the Chronicle cited an unnamed Senate staffer as explaining the Internet Bill of Rights likely would undercut Dorgan and Snowes effort.

Any amendments to the Stevens bill must be filed no later than today.

Senate Commerce Committee

For more information on net neutrality, click over to the Net Neutrality & Fair Use e-book, sponsored by Network Insight. The publication includes a rundown on current legislation, a Q&A with Network Insights CEO Chris Pond and more!

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