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Democrats revive another Net neutrality proposal

Bill would rewrite antitrust law to prohibit network operators from "prioritizing" Internet content or services. Unlike other efforts, this one actually started to go somewhere during the last Congress.

The only Net neutrality proposal to encounter some measure of success in the U.S. Congress is back again for another try.

As foreshadowed at a March hearing, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) on Thursday reintroduced the Internet Freedom and Non-discrimination Act, which passed by a 20-13 vote in the same committee in 2006. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) is co-sponsoring the bill, but so far, it is not clear whether any Republicans have signed on.

Just like last time, the bill would rewrite U.S. antitrust law to prohibit network operators like AT&T and Comcast from blocking, impairing, or discriminating against "lawful" Internet content, applications, and services or charging extra fees for "prioritization or enhanced quality of service."

"The Internet was designed without centralized control, without gatekeepers for content and services," Conyers said in a statement. "If we allow companies with monopoly or duopoly power to control how the Internet operates, network providers could have the power to choose what content is available."

The five-page measure would provide exceptions for things like "reasonable and nondiscriminatory" network management necessary to keep the network running smoothly and compliance with other laws and court orders.

The bill's introduction comes on the heels of a hearing earlier this week about a Net neutrality proposal in a competing House panel, the Energy and Commerce Committee, which traditionally engaged in turf battles with the Judiciary Committee over certain matters.

Net neutrality, of course, is the idea that network operators shouldn't be allowed to prioritize information that rides on their pipes. Advocates of legislation--including Google,, eBay, and a variety of consumer advocacy groups--argue rules are necessary to keep the Internet free, open, and democratic, so that small start-ups can be on a level playing field with more established companies. Network operators, by contrast, say new rules will stifle investments in new broadband networks and deprive them of the flexibility they need to keep their services running smoothly.