The committee approved the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006, which focuses mostly on requirements that telephone companies will face as they attempt to compete with cable companies in the residential video market.
The bill contains a net neutrality provision that gives the Federal Communications Commission the authority to enforce a set of principles that the agency adopted last fall in a Statement of Policy on Internet Openness. The FCC could adjudicate complaints brought to it on a case-by-case basis, but it would be prohibited from issuing regulations to prevent discrimination.
The bills main sponsor, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said that the measure "seeks to strike the right balance between ensuring that the public Internet remains an open, vibrant marketplace and ensuring that Congress does not hand the FCC a blank check to regulate Internet services."
Opponents say that the bill will not preserve an open Internet because the FCC principles do not adequately address network discrimination, and they do not prevent ISPs (Internet service providers) from charging fees that would be prohibitive for startup companies.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who attempted, unsuccessfully, to amend the bill to prohibit two-tiered pricing, said the measure "will stifle openness, endanger our global competitiveness, and warp the Web into a tiered Internet of bandwidth haves and have-nots."
"It is the introduction of creeping Internet protectionism into the free and open World Wide Web," Markey said. Markey and several co-sponsors of the amendment said they will continue to fight for it before the House votes.
A widely diverse coalition of large content providers, including Google, Amazon.com, eBay and Microsoft, and nonprofit organizations, free speech groups and consumer advocates—the SaveTheInternet.com Coalition—vowed to continue fighting for stronger protections.
"The [committee vote] ignores a groundswell of popular support for Internet freedom," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, one of the coalition members. "We hope that the full House will resist the big telecom companies and reject the bill."
The House is expected to take up the bill in early May, but the net neutrality provisions momentum may be slowed by several variables, including a turf battle in the House. Both Republican and Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee April 25 made it clear that they consider net neutrality to be within their jurisdiction. In addition, the Senate is moving cautiously. Several telecom reform bills are under consideration in the Senate, but none contains detailed neutrality provisions.