Congress has declined an opportunity to shackle US telecoms companies with restrictions on the services they offer. The Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE) act passed in the House yesterday by without the non-discrimination provisions campaigners wanted.
An amendment sponsored by Rep.Edward Markey (Mass,D) to ensure that broadband providers "do not block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with the ability of any person to use a broadband connection to access, use, send, receive or offer lawful content, applications or services of the Internet" was defeated by 269 votes to 151, the split falling down party lines.
Telecoms giants AT&T and Verizon want to deliver video services over IP alongside broadband down their fibre connections, and say they need to be able to discriminate high priority video on an IP infrastructure that's technically inappropriate for delivering multimedia. Campaigners say that if there's a fast lane, there must be a slow lane. Verizon responds that there's enough bandwidth in the 20Mbit/s connections to keep everyone happy, and that they'd be foolish to try descrimination.
So, depending on who you choose to believe, the vote marks either the beginning of the end for the internet as we know it, or the defeat of a Phantom Menace.
"Unless the Senate steps in, today's vote marks the beginning of the end of the Internet as an engine of new competition, entrepreneurship and innovation," Consumers Union Senior Policy Analyst Jeannine Kenney said in a canned statement.
The telcos' own Internet Freedom Coalition called "Net Neutrality" a solution in search of a problem.
"Despite the spin from pro-net neutrality advocates, it is highly unlikely in this free market environment that any provider would dare discriminate, or would benefit from the discrimination pro-regulation forces fear. Net Neutrality remains a solution in search of a problem, and until such problems manifest themselves, regulations are simply an illusion based on fear."
The debate shifts to the senate, where the net neutrality proposal the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006" lies awaiting Senators' consideration. ®