A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee has rejected a proposal to strengthen provisions in a telecommunications reform bill that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or impairing competing Web content and applications.
The Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday rejected an amendment to strengthen so-called net neutrality provisions in a telecom reform bill largely focused on creating a national video franchising system for Internet television services.
[Talkback: is this the beginning of the end for a free Internet? ]
The amendment, offered by Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, would have prohibited broadband carriers from impairing or blocking competing Web content and services. The Markey amendment also would have required the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop procedures for expedited investigations of complaints against broadband carriers.
Instead, the telecom reform bill approved by the subcommittee would allow the FCC to investigate blocking abuses after the fact, and it would prohibit the FCC from creating new net neutrality rules.
The bill next moves to the full Energy and Commerce Committee. The defeat of the net neutrality amendment in subcommittee makes it unlikely that a stronger net neutrality bill will make it into the final House telecom reform bill. But Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has introduced a stand-alone net neutrality bill, and two other senators are considering a second bill.
Backers of strong net neutrality regulation say it's needed because some broadband providers have explored a new pricing plan that would speed up service to Web-based companies willing to pay an extra fee. A "two-tiered" Internet would hinder small companies offering innovative services from competing with those who can afford to pay the extra fee, say some consumer groups.
The telecom reform bill, offered by committee Chairman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, is a broad-ranging attempt to update the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It would allow traditional telecommunications carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Communications to skip local franchising agreements as they roll out Internet-based television service in competition with cable TV.
Barton, on Tuesday, said the bill will help U.S. broadband providers "unleash" the fastest, most sophisticated broadband networks in the world.
Broadband carrier AT&T, in a statement, praised the subcommittee action without addressing the net neutrality provisions. The leadership by the bill's sponsors "will benefit communities not only by bringing video choice, but through the broader deployment of high-speed broadband service by companies like AT&T that plan billion-dollar network upgrades," AT&T said in its statement.
Advocacy groups Public Knowledge and the Center for Digital Democracy criticized the subcommittee for not adopting the net neutrality amendment.
"The subcommittee missed an opportunity to maintain the free and open Internet that we have come to value over the years," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge. "The amendment ... would have set fair and reasonable boundaries on the conduct of telephone and cable companies which now will have control over the Internet, while guaranteeing the rights of consumers."