There was hope last week – after the House soundly rejected an amendment that would have preserved net neutrality – that the Senate would offer more protection for the idea that telecom providers ought not be able to offer a fast lane to content providers willing to pay for privilege. Inseparable from a fast lane, net neutrality advocates say, is a slow lane.
In an op-ed piece recently, Lawrence Lessig and Robert McChenney wrote: "They would be able to sell access to the express lane to deep-pocketed corporations and relegate everyone else to the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road. Worse still, these gatekeepers would determine who gets premium treatment and who doesn't."
Indeed Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) had hinted that a change might be in the offing. News.com reported Stevens as saying that "he plans to release a revised version of his committee's broad communications bill because 'many members do not believe that the (Net neutrality) provision in the existing bill goes far enough.' "
That's not happening – at least not yet, reports the Washington Post.
A fresh draft of telecom legislation released by the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday leaves its net neutrality language untouched, simply requiring the Federal Communications Commission to study the issue annually and to report back if it sees any problems.
The Senate legislation is a companion to the House bill that passed without Rep. Ed Markey's neutrality amendment.
Stevens is open to consumer protections but is loath to interfere with commercial deals among phone and cable companies and the content providers, a committee staffer said.
"If they [consumers] want Google, we want them to be able to access Google. I think that's Senator Stevens's view -- that people should be able to pick whatever content, whatever applications, whatever software . . . that they want," Stevens staff director Lisa Sutherland told reporters, saying a compromise had yet to be reached with the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (Hawaii). "A compromise requires two to tango, so we are not done tangoing yet," she added.