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Senate telecom bill offers tepid net neutrality provision

The telecom battles are heating up in Congress with legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that differs from House legislation in a number of key areas.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor on

The telecom battles are heating up in Congress with legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that differs from House legislation in a number of key areas, the Washington Post reports.

On the issue of net neutrality, the Senate bill is astoundingly weak - merely requiring the FCC to conduct an annual study and make recommendations about how information is flowing over the Internet. "Its stance was weaker than the House bill, which itself did not go far enough for net neutrality proponents," Post reporter Arshad Mohammed notes.

Another issue is universal service. Stevens' bill would require all telecommunications providers -- including cable and VoIP providers -- to pay into the fund. The House measure doesn't address the issue.

Finally, the telcos want a bill that would allow them to offer video services without having to conduct laborious negotiations with every municipality. Under Steven's bill, cities would be under a strict "shot clock," which would require them to respond to requests within 30 days. Failure to respond equals an automatic appoval with strict guidelines on fees and terms. The House bill, by contrast, creates a national franchising system, whereby the telcos don't even need to go to individual governments.

While he co-sponsored the Stevens bill, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), the committee's ranking minority member, said he had "numerous, substantive objections" to the legislation.

"We cannot ignore concerns about the potential for discrimination by network operators, but the draft appears to do just that by failing to create enforceable protections that will ensure network neutrality," Inouye said in a statement.

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