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Net neutrality proposal revived in House

A twice-defeated Democratic proposal to write Net neutrality principles into law is making a comeback.

Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey on Tuesday took to the U.S. House of Representatives floor to introduce a bill called the Network Neutrality Act of 2006 (click here for PDF). His measure is similar to a Senate proposal, which was introduced in March but has seen no action yet.

Net neutrality is the idea that broadband network operators should not be allowed to prioritize certain types of traffic--such as streaming video--over others. Ever since the chiefs of broadband giants admitted plans to do just that, the issue has attracted attention, but not consensus, in the political arena.

"Broadband network owners should not be able to determine who can and who cannot offer services over broadband networks or over the Internet," Markey said upon introducing the bill, voicing sentiments shared by a broad coalition of Internet companies--including Microsoft, Google, and a consumer-oriented campaign allied under the mantra "Save the Internet."

The 11-page standalone bill largely mirrors an amendment offered twice by Markey and three Democratic co-sponsors when the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted on its proposed rewrite of the nation's telecommunications laws last month.

The bill would require broadband providers not to "block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with" their users' ability to connect lawful devices to their networks and access the content of their choosing, with carveouts for network security management.

It would also prohibit network operators from prioritizing certain content unless they offered similar priority to all content in that category. For instance, if a broadband giant offers a dedicated pipe for video, it would have to make it available to all video providers--and without a "surcharge."

Network operators like AT&T and Verizon have said they deserve the right to charge extra for the privilege of sidestepping the public Internet in order to manage their networks and to offset the vast investments they're making in building out more advanced networks.

If the earlier votes are any indicator, the measure's prospects for becoming law in a Republican-controlled Congress aren't good. Right now, neither the House telecommunications bill, which is expected to receive a full floor vote soon, nor a sweeping new Senate version contain language as regulatory as Markey's.