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Senator: Net neutrality push ain't over yet

Democrat Byron Dorgan, a leading advocate for imposing antidiscrimination rules on Internet service providers, says law's passage remains "important for our country's interests."

WASHINGTON--One of the leading U.S. Senate proponents of Net neutrality laws said Monday that he's not giving up on enacting the divisive antidiscrimination rules.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.)

To a standing ovation, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) urged attendees at the Future of Music Policy Summit here to "fight back and say this is something that's important for our country's interests."

Led primarily by Democrats, the push to enact a law prohibiting broadband providers from charging content providers extra fees for priority placement or faster delivery failed last year in both chambers of a Republican-controlled Congress. Since then, no significant action has occurred on the legislative front, and recently, both the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice argued no new laws are needed.

In a familiar refrain, Dorgan defended the bill he reintroduced with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) earlier this year as necessary to prevent Internet "gatekeepers" and "toll booths." He said he's well aware there are plenty of naysayers out there but hasn't heard any good arguments against imposing such regulations.

"Some people say, well, but it's a competitive marketplace, if one of the big interests tries to charge for its pipes..the customer will go elsewhere, it's a competitive world," Dorgan said. "Well, I'll tell you what, you're studying different economics than I am if you think this is competitive."

Neither Dorgan nor other congressional staffers present at Monday's event, however, wagered any predictions about when the bill might see movement in Congress.

"I think it's still very much alive," Jessica Rosenworcel, senior communications counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee, said during a panel discussion in the morning. That committee's chairman, Sen. Daniel Inouye, backed Net neutrality rules in the last Congress.

Rosenworcel said the discussion within her committee lately has shifted more toward encouraging greater broadband penetration in a general sense. While the issue of Net neutrality is still "important," she said there's a strong need to survey the nation to see which areas do and do not offer broadband access, and at what speeds, before politicians rush to enact any new laws related to broadband. A bill called the Broadband Data Improvement Act, approved by the commerce committee in July, seeks to do that.

It should be noted that no foes of Net neutrality laws participated in a morning panel about Congress's music-policy agenda. Telephone and cable companies, network hardware makers and free-market groups have staunchly opposed such laws, arguing, among other things, that there has been no concrete proof of a widespread discrimination problem. Republican members of Congress have generally sympathized with those arguments.