Senator Introduces Bill to Strengthen Internet Rules

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, on Tuesday introduced legislation that marks a further blow to Verizon Communications Inc. and other broadband providers that want the U.S. government to take a more hands-off approach to the regulation of Internet services.

The Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011 imposes further requirements on broadband providers than the controversial net neutrality rules the FCC adopted last month.  

Among other provisions, the bill codifies into law six Net neutrality principles the FCC articulated in 2009 and requires broadband providers to provide standalone Internet access at reasonable rates, terms and conditions. 

The legislation also bars broadband providers from requiring providers of applications, content or services to pay for prioritized delivery of their Internet Protocol packets. Such a provision responds to concerns that broadband carriers like AT&T Inc. and Verizon would give certain Internet traffic priority at the expense of other content and services. In its recent Open Internet” order, the FCC raised concerns over so-called pay-for-priority agreements” and indicated such agreements would violate a rule that bans broadband providers from unreasonably discriminating on their networks.

Cantwells legislation further provides protections for consumers, such as giving broadband subscribers permission to file a complaint at either the FCC or in a federal district court if they believe their provider has violated Net neutrality obligations.

The reason a seemingly technical issue such as Net neutrality has become such a politicized fight is that the financial stakes are so high,” said Cantwell, who serves on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, in a statement. If we let telecom oligarchs control access to the Internet, consumers will lose.”

Congress is deeply divided on whether the FCC should regulate Internet-based services. 

Earlier this month, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced a bill that would strip the FCC of its authority to regulate the Internet. According to her press office, more than 60 of her colleagues supported The Internet Freedom Act, including the majority of Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill states that Internet regulation is Congress’ sole prerogative.

In December, the FCC voted 3-2 to prohibit broadband carriers from blocking lawful content or discriminating against applications or services. The rules also require broadband carriers to make certain public disclosures regarding their network management practices, performance and commercial terms.

Last week, Verizon challenged the FCCs rules in a notice of appeal filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Verizon alleges the FCC exceeded its authority under federal law and is asking the court to set aside the rules.            `

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