WASHINGTON – The U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved legislation aimed at preventing high-speed Internet network providers from discriminating against unaffiliated services, content and applications.
Content providers like Google Inc. (GOOG), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) have expressed concerns that they would be forced to pay Internet service providers extra to ensure consumers can access their content.
The measure, approved by a vote of 20-13, would amend U.S. antitrust law. It would also counter a rival bill from another House committee that wants to encourage network providers to preserve consumers' ability to freely surf the Internet instead of adopting stricter rules.
"The lack of competition in the broadband marketplace presents a clear incentive for providers to leverage dominant market power over the broadband bottleneck to pre-select, favor or prioritize Internet content over their networks," said Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.
Network providers like AT&T Inc. (T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) are fighting any requirements. They argue there is no threat or instance of consumers being blocked from Internet sites or having their service degraded.
"We are optimistic that the majority in Congress will see this legislation as an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist," said Tim McKone, AT&T executive vice president for federal relations.
The Judiciary panel has been tangling with the House Energy and Commerce Committee over jurisdiction on the Internet issue, dubbed "Net neutrality." Many lawmakers were on the fence but voted for the Judiciary bill to preserve their control over antitrust laws.
"We like the principle of net neutrality [but] I think this is still a growing, vibrant, key industry that we don't want to take steps that will chill that growth and development," said Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat.
The Commerce Committee has already sent to the House floor a measure that includes provisions that would codify principles the Federal Communications Commission adopted last year that encourages Internet service providers to ensure consumers can go where they want to on the open Internet.
It was unclear how the House leadership would resolve the differences between the committees.