Senate Committee Shoots Down Net Neutrality, States Wireless Rights

The Communications, Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 will go to the Senate floor without provisions for net neutrality or protection of states rights for defending wireless consumers.

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday wrapped up two days of hearings on the dozens of amendments to the proposed bill. Among its most controversial aspects were amendments to impose net neutrality requirements and preempt states rights concerning consumer protections for wireless subscribers. The panel voted 11-11 a tie vote means the amendment failed against the net neutrality measure. Earlier, they voted to eliminate state oversight of consumer protections for wireless customers.

Even though the amendments failed in committee, supporters will be allowed to fight for them when the bill reaches the Senate floor.

Thats exactly what the National Association of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners (NARUC) plans to do about the wireless preemption measure.

“The wireless industry knows that the only level of government that has been effective in protecting consumers in this arena is state government, said NARUC Telecommunications Committee Chairman Tony Clark. With this action, they are attempting to take the best, and in some cases, only referee off the field. It is easy to understand their self-interest. It is harder to understand why the committee would agree to it.”

State attorneys general, governors and other local officials had pressed Senate Commerce Committee members to reject the amendment lobbied for by the wireless association, CTIA. CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent, on the other hand, said the committee made the right decision.

It’s a simple equation: A consistent and light regulatory touch creates a stable environment and when that’s provided for the hypercompetitive wireless industry, great things happen for consumers, he said.

Meanwhile, supporters of net neutrality were dealt a hefty blow when the amendment to prohibit ISPs from prioritizing or discriminating against content or services was shot down. Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Bryon Dorgan, D-N.D., had introduced the provision. Committee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, had argued there was no reason to regulate net neutrality, calling it a nonexistent problem. Snowe, on the other hand, tried to show the provision would have protected the Internet Americans have come to know.

As it stands, the Senate bill would allow the FCC to levy fines of up to $500,000 per violation, but it would not let the agency establish net neutrality regulations.

Earl Comstock, president and CEO of carrier association COMPTEL, said the vote on net neutrality highlighted much of the committees concern about the anticompetitive impacts of the bill.

If the bill is considered on the floor of the Senate, it is clear that strong and enforceable net neutrality safeguards will need to be added to enable final passage of the bill, he said.

After the committee recessed, Snowe said she was very disappointed by the vote on net neutrality.

Todays decision does not serve the interest of the nation, the consumers of today, or the Internet users of the future, and I am hopeful the mistake made here today can be undone before the full Senate, she said.

The Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 originally was introduced to provide an overall framework for easing the entry of phone companies into the subscription television market. It would replace the city-by-city franchising system with a nationwide one. Verizon Communications Inc. lauded the passage of the bill out of committee. The carrier, which has been rolling out its FiOS Internet TV services in parts of the nation, has pushed for a nationwide franchising system, saying it will lead to lower prices and more choices for consumers. Nationwide franchising also would eliminate the costly and lengthy process of obtaining separate licenses.

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!

Click here to download.

Verizon Communications Inc.
U.S. Senate

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