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House plans vote on Net neutrality

Democrats lost a vote on Net neutrality in a committee. Now they're trying again in a House floor vote this week.

Net neutrality fans lost a bid this spring to convince a U.S. House of Representatives committee that all Internet sites must be treated equally. Now they're trying again.

The House is planning a floor vote on a major telecommunications bill on Wednesday, and Democrats are trying to offer an amendment backed by large Internet companies that would impose stiff Net neutrality regulations on telecommunications providers.

An amendment (click for PDF) drafted by Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, would prohibit broadband providers from offering a two-tier Internet service with "content, applications and services" that receive favored treatment.

Net neutrality's crowded field

Bill numberLead sponsor(s)What It ProposesStatus
S.2360Wyden (D)No two-tier InternetStill in Senate committee
S.2917Snowe (R) and Dorgan (D)No two-tier InternetJust introduced
HR5417Sensenbrenner (R) and Conyers (D)Antitrust extended to Net neutralityAwaiting House floor vote
HR5273Markey (D)No two-tier InternetStill in House committee *
HR5252Barton (R) and Rush (D)FCC can police complaintsAwaiting House floor vote
S.2686Stevens (R) and Inouye (D)FCC will do a studySenate committee vote expected in June

* Republicans have defeated similar language twice as an amendment to a telecommunications bill

Source: CNET research

After Markey's amendment failed by a 22-34 margin during a committee vote in April, Net neutrality supporters have redoubled their efforts to lobby Congress. Google co-founder Sergey Brin this week; musician Moby and Democratic presidential hopeful Mark Warner have recorded videos distributed on; and eBay CEO Meg Whitman e-mailed more than a million members urging them to contact their representatives and tell them to support Net neutrality.

For their part, telecommunications companies like Verizon Communications, AT&T and Comcast are trying a lower-key lobbying approach but are just as emphatic in arguing that no new regulations are needed. They point out that the Federal Communications Commission already has the power to punish companies that block certain Web sites, and say flexibility in operating their networks is crucial to justifying investing billions of dollars in higher-speed access.

The House Rules Committee is meeting at 12:30 p.m. PDT on Wednesday to decide which amendments will be permitted during this week's floor vote on the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act. Markey's amendment will be discussed. Another possibility is another bill with stiff Net neutrality regulations approved by the House Judiciary Committee on May 25.

In an unusual twist, many committee members voted for it not because of concerns about Net neutrality, but instead because of a jurisdictional turf battle over antitrust. If those antitrust concerns are addressed, one industry representative following the issue suggested, then committee members' interest in the COPE Act would fade.

The concept of Network neutrality, which generally means that all Internet sites must be treated equally, has drawn a list of high-profile backers, from actress Alyssa Milano to Vint Cerf, one of the technical pioneers of the Internet. It has also led to a political rift between big Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo that back it--and telecom companies that argue federal legislation will curb their ability to manage their own networks.

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who serves as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he might rewrite his own telecommunications legislation to make it more Net neutrality-friendly. Right now it's missing any such regulations.

The House Republican leadership said in a statement that the debate over the COPE Act could begin on Thursday and continue through Friday.