June 29, 2006, 12:00 AM

Network neutrality stays alive in the Senate

A Senate committee vote that ended in a tie is a far cry from the overwhelming defeat in the House. Now proponents and critics rally to face an uncertain path moving forward.

The Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday reached an 11-11 tie vote on the Snowe-Dorgan Internet Freedom Preservation Act, which seeks to preserve what has come to be known as “Net Neutrality.” This vote sharply contrasts April’s House subcommittee vote of 23-8 against Net Neutrality.

Even though the vote on the bi-partisan bill submitted by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) only came to a tie, backers of the initiative, intended to protect the independence of the Internet from major telecommunications companies, are happy because they believe the shift in opinion from the House to the Senate shows the battle has just begun.

“The little guy has seized the momentum in this fight to preserve Internet freedom,” says Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, one of the movement’s primary proponents. “Companies like AT&T; thought they’d easily get Congress to allow tollbooths on the Internet by spending millions in TV ads, lobbying and campaign contributions. But millions of Internet users are fighting back together to preserve Net Neutrality, and we’re holding politicians accountable on this issue.”

Net Neutrality refers to Internet users having complete, unhindered access to all content on the web-the custom from the beginnings of the Internet through today. Web content and commerce sites fear Internet service providers may begin charging online businesses and organizations for quicker, easier access to their sites by the ISPs’ subscribers. The debate was spurred by a recent Federal Communications Commission edict to eliminate the “common law” Net Neutrality.

An odd coalition has banded together to ensure Net Neutrality is passed into law. The strange bedfellows of SavetheInternet.com include MoveOn.org, Craigslist, numerous consumer groups and the Christian Coalition, which recently sent a letter asking for support from all of the group’s prayer partners.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a video services bill, the Communications Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006, but removed the controversial Net Neutrality clause. “Net Neutrality remains a critical underpinning of the Internet,” a group of Internet companies including Amazon.com and IAC/InterActiveCorp said at the time in a combined statement. “Without it, the unparalleled success of the Internet is threatened.”

But the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an industry group that supports the telecommunications companies, said a network neutrality law would restrict consumer choice while reducing the financial incentives for telcos to invest in Internet infrastructure. “A market in which Internet service providers aren’t allowed to prioritize the content traveling over their networks is one with less innovation and fewer benefits for everyone involved,” the group said.


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