May 26, 2006 – Progressive consumer and media advocates are hailing a decision by the US House Judiciary Committee to use anti-trust laws against any Internet provider that favors content from some sources over others when passing information on to users.
The Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 will now move to the full House for consideration.
The movement to preserve so-called "net neutrality" has ramped up in recent months as lawmakers consider various proposals addressing the possibility that some companies could use their control over the Internet infrastructure to manipulate the speeds at which customers see various types of content. A broad array of grassroots and public-interest groups has been warning that, without regulation, companies like Time Warner, Verizon and AT&T could use their positions as direct service providers to slow or freeze out content from commercial or ideological competitors.
The issue has divided the corporate world. Companies like Verizon and AT&T that directly provide internet connections to consumers have lobbied hard against the Judiciary Committee bill. But firms such as Google and Yahoo that rely on other infrastructure providers to transmit their content and advertising to consumers support the Act.
In the House, a different calculus is playing out as various committees fight for control over Internet regulation. Given the corporate stakes in the issue, the power to affect policy on "net neutrality" could prove politically and economically lucrative for representatives with a piece of the action. According to Reuters, many of the Judiciary Committee members who voted in favor of the Internet Freedom Act yesterday cited concern that a competing proposal from the House Energy and Commerce Committee would usurp their authority over the issue.
The Commerce Committee proposal would mandate the FCC to hold companies to a set of general principles related to Internet competition and consumer access developed by the Commission last year. But the principles do not require "net neutrality" as defined by consumer advocates, and the billâ€™s language forbids the FCC from creating stronger rules.