Efforts to legislate net neutrality were shot down today, with the House Commerce Committee rejecting a rider clause to the pending “Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Efficiency (COPE) Act of 2006”, and voting 42-12 to pass the COPE act absent the net neutrality clause.
The net neutrality clause would have prohibited Internet service providers from either charging extra for certain types of Internet traffic (such as those which consume a lot of bandwidth) or for traffic to competing sites, and from slowing down or blocking such connections.
Those in favour of a net neutrality law fear that the absence of such a law would allow large Internet service providers to penalize competitors by charging them a premium to reach the ISP’s customers – or to stifle competition by charging their own customers to be able to access competing sites.
Proponents of a net neutrality law also claim that without such a law the Internet as we know it is in jeopardy, as big business picks and chooses which sort of traffic it will allow, and the Internet as a boon for innovation and small business will disappeart.
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Of course, this overlooks the fact that ISPs have been able to do this all along, and so far the Internet is still standing. It also overlooks the fact that the Internet was initially developed by the government and not intended for commercial use at all, so to claim it needs to be ‘saved’ for small business and entrepreneurs is a bit disingenuous.
Those who oppose a net neutrality law, aside from the obvious big business lobbying interests, primarily feel that anything likely to happen in the face of no regulation is nowhere nearly as bad, for everyone, as what would happen if the government tried to get involved in an area which they patently don’t understand.
Regardless of on which side of the argument you sit on this one, fear not, it’s not going away. Opines Alfred Mamlet, head of the technology department at Steptoe & Johnson, a leading regulatory and industry law firm in D.C., “The House committee’s defeat of strong net neutrality provisions is just a preliminary shot in the net neutrality wars. While the full House may pass the COPE Act soon, it is unlikely that the bill will be adopted by the Senate before the congressional session ends. Net neutrality issues will continue to top the telecom agenda on Capitol Hill and at the FCC in 2007 and beyond.”
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