May 12, 2006, 12:00 AM

The battle continues over network neutrality

Network neutrality, the concept of having unrestricted access to the Internet by content providers as well as consumers, is gaining support in Washington, despite the recent defeat of a network neutrality provision in a current telecommunications bill.

Network neutrality, the concept of having unrestricted access to the Internet by content providers as well as consumers, is gaining support in Washington, despite the recent defeat of a network neutrality provision in H.R. 5252, a telecommunications bill currently before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says Bill McClellan, director of government affairs for the Electronic Retailing Association.

Proponents of network neutrality want federal legislation that would prevent telecommunications companies from charging for premium high-bandwidth Internet services, an option some telcos have said would help them pay for improvements to the Internet`s infrastructure. But the ERA and others contend that such a fee-based system would stifle the future growth of e-commerce (See "Tug of War," Internet Retailer, May 2006).

Following are some of the latest developments:

  • The House Judiciary Committee has asked for permission from the Speaker of the House to review H.R. 5252, the "Communications Opportunity, Promotions and Enhancement Act of 2006," before it goes to a full House vote. The Judiciary Committee said it wants to review the bill`s implications for network neutrality and will submit its own bill regarding the issue if not granted permission to review H.R. 5252.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee has expressed interest in reviewing a telecommunications bill submitted by Sen. Ted Stevens (R, Alaska) for its implications on network neutrality. Among their concerns are how well the bill addresses Internet rights-of-way and anti-trust issues.
  • Senators Olympia Snowe (R, Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D, N.D.) have produced a working draft of legislation, the "Internet Neutrality Act," which is expected to be formally introduced within days. "The nation`s high-technology industry, which accounts for hundreds of billions in annual sales revenues and contributes tremendously to our nation`s gross domestic product, depends upon unfettered access to offer services and run applications over the Internet," the draft of the Snowe-Dorgan measure says.

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