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Net Neutrality Finds Bipartisan Support

Efforts to keep the Internet free of tiered pricing schemes gains steam in Washington.

Network neutrality proponents have found bipartisan support, now that House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner has introduced the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006.

The bill, HR 5417, is co-sponsored by Ranking Member John Conyers of Michigan, and Reps. Zoe Lofgren of California, and Rich Boucher of Virginia, both Democrats. Until Friday afternoon, it was the only one of several net neutrality bills to gain Republican sponsorship.

"A growing alliance in Congress recognizes that network neutrality is not a partisan issue, but one of grave importance to anyone who wishes to see the Internet remain an unrivaled environment for innovation, civic participation and free speech," Craig Aaron, communications director of Free Press, said in a prepared statement.

Telecommunications companies have formed an alliance with 24 partners to oppose net neutrality legislation in a Hands Off The Internet campaign. They want the Federal Communications Commission to regulate Internet service providers and some have argued for the ability to provide tiered access, which would allow high-density users to pay extra for premium services. They argue that the revenue is needed to improve broadband networks and that government should not legislate the growth of the Internet.

Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said his bill would prevent broadband network operators from using their market power to give faster and more efficient access to some content providers at the expense of others. It amends the Clayton Act to preserve the ability of content, applications and service providers to reach consumers with the same speed and quality of service. The bill requires providers to connect with other providers in a reasonable and nondiscriminatory manner and to offer enhanced quality of service free for all content in a particular category, instead of offering it to a single content provider for a fee.

"This legislation is a necessary step to protect consumers and other Internet users from possible anti-competitive and discriminatory conduct by broadband providers," Sensenbrenner said in a prepared statement. "The FCC recently reported that 98 percent of American consumers get their high speed broadband from either a cable company or a DSL provider. This virtual duopoly creates an environment that is ripe for anti-competitive abuses, and for which a clear antitrust remedy is urgently needed."

Lofgren said the bill would prevent large companies from hijacking the information superhighway.

"The Internet has revolutionized the way Americans communicate with one another and do business," he said. "It's just common sense to keep that revolution where it belongs – in the hands of ordinary individuals instead of a handful of big corporations."

Boucher said an Energy and Commerce Committee video franchising measure, which would put the FCC in charge of policing net neutrality, is insufficient.

The bill goes before the full House committee Wednesday.

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