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Net neutrality to get new life in Congress

Next month, Democrat Edward Markey plans to reintroduce bill that would punish network operators that discriminate against Internet content. Action is expected next year.

Just in time for presidential primary season, a key Democrat who championed Net neutrality laws during the last Congress is finally planning to try again.

Rep. Edward Markey U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of a House of Representatives Internet and telecommunications panel, is readying a new version of his Network Neutrality Act, which was twice defeated by the Republican-controlled Congress during its consideration of a sweeping broadband policy bill last year.

Markey plans to introduce the new effort, which will "closely follow" the old one, during the next two to three weeks, shortly before Congress adjourns for the year, a spokeswoman told CNET on Tuesday. Further action, including hearings, is expected in the new year.

National Journal's Technology Daily reported Markey's plans on Monday.

Net neutrality, of course, is the idea that broadband operators shouldn't be allowed to charge content providers extra fees for premium placement or delivery, nor should they be permitted to prioritize or discriminate against content.

Markey's previous bill would have required, among other things, that a network operator "not discriminate in favor of itself in the allocation, use, or quality of broadband services or interconnection with other broadband networks." "Interference and surcharges" on outside content and applications would be prohibited, as would installation of "network features, functions, or capabilities that thwart or frustrate compliance with the requirements or objectives" of the law. Failure to comply could result in fines or other punishments, including payment of damages to the complaining party.

Consumer groups and major Internet companies like Google and argue it's necessary to enact new regulations barring such activity, while broadband operators like AT&T and Comcast counter that the market will solve any perceived problems. Opponents of new laws also claim there's no evidence that broadband providers are throttling content in devious ways, although the recent brouhaha over Comcast's reportedly aggressive management of BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic has reignited Net neutrality advocates' calls for antidiscrimination rules.

Views on the need for new laws have tended to split along party lines, with Democrats generally supporting them and Republicans opposing them. Even so, virtually no action has occurred in this year's Democratic-controlled Congress--aside from the early-January reintroduction of last year's Senate proposal, which hasn't gone anywhere since--leaving someto ponder whether the debate is dead.

Along with recent pledges from Democratic presidential candidates like Barack Obama to enact Net neutrality laws if elected president, Markey's planned reintroduction indicates the sleeping beast may awaken yet.