Lawmakers Renew Efforts to Enact Net Neutrality Bill

A second House bill emerges as the time for action slips away.

With scant time left in the 110th Congress and no apparent interest in network neutrality in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., reintroduced May 7 the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act.

The bill would prohibit broadband network providers from charging some companies extra fees to run content at the same speed and quality as the network owner's own content or the content of favored providers.

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The legislation is the same as introduced in the 109th Congress and the only network neutrality bill to date to win a favorable vote either in a committee or floor vote. Co-sponsoring the bill with Conyers is Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.

The bill seeks to add an antitrust provision to the law prohibiting discrimination in handling network traffic. It would require broadband providers such as AT&T or Comcast to interconnect with the facilities of other network providers on a "reasonable and nondiscriminatory basis."

It also requires broadband providers to operate their networks so that all content, applications and services are treated the same and have an equal opportunity to reach consumers.

"Americans have come to expect the Internet to be open to everyone. The Internet was designed without centralized control, without gatekeepers for content and services," Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. "If we allow companies with monopoly or duopoly power to control how the Internet operates, network providers could have the power to choose what content is available."

Lofgren added in the same statement, "We need a meaningful remedy to prevent those who control the infrastructure of the Internet from controlling the content on the Internet. This legislation will help guarantee that the innovative spirit of the Internet is not trampled."

In 2006, Conyers and then committee chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., introduced the same legislation and won a 20-13 committee vote to move the bill forward. It never made it to the House floor for a vote. That same year, Rep. Ed Markey, D.-Mass., unsuccessfully tried to get a network neutrality bill through the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The same effort failed on the House floor.

Similar legislation failed in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in 2006. Sponsors Sen. Byron Dorgan, D.-N.D., and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, reintroduced the legislation in 2007, but the bill has yet to even have a hearing. Markey has also introduced a network neutrality bill that would enshrine the Federal Communications Commission's network neutrality principles as law.

Click here to read more about Markey's net neutrality bill based on FCC principles.

Despite the fact the Conyers' bill has little chance of gaining congressional approval before lawmakers call it quits and focus on the fall national elections, public advocacy groups rushed to praise the legislation.

"The future of the Internet as we know it depends on maintaining the freedom and openness online that we have always enjoyed. Congress must step in to defend the open Internet," Ben Scott, policy director of media reform organization Free Press, said in a statement.

Gigi Sohn, co-founder and president of public interest group Public Knowledge, said the bill "squarely addresses the issue of the enormous market power of the telephone and cable companies as the providers of 98 percent of the broadband service in the country."