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House committee floats broadband bill

By , IDG News Service
September 15, 2005 06:43 PM ET

IDG News Service - The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday released a draft version of a telecommunications reform bill that would define all broadband services as equal for regulatory purposes.

The 77-page draft legislation, released to generate discussion from broadband providers and other stakeholders, would also require broadband providers to allow subscribers access to lawful content, even though some broadband providers have suggested a so-called 'Net neutrality requirement isn't needed.

Representatives of Verizon and SBC in the past have said a 'Net neutrality requirement could prevent them from cutting off service to bandwidth hogs or customers posing a security risk.

The wide-ranging draft bill -- advanced by Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), top-ranking committee Democrat John Dingell (D-Mich.) and other senior committee members -- addresses a number of broadband-related issues that have generated debate in recent months. The draft is "generally deregulatory in thrust, and that is commendable," Randy May, a senior fellow at conservative think tank the Progress and Freedom Foundation, wrote on his Web log Thursday.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, a huge rewrite of telecom rules at the time, didn't anticipate many of the broadband services addressed in the draft bill, Barton said in a statement. "No one could have foreseen the magnitude of the challenges and opportunities that the Internet age has presented," he added. "New services shouldn't be hamstrung by old thinking and outdated regulations. We need a fresh new approach that will encourage Internet providers to expand and improve broadband networks, spur growth in the technology sector and develop cutting-edge services for consumers."

In addition to treating cable modem and DSL service the same under U.S. regulations, the bill would allow for a streamlined video franchising process, primarily benefiting large telecommunications carriers looking to provide video over IP services in competition with cable television.

Customer advocacy group Public Knowledge cheered the draft legislation, including the broadband video and 'Net neutrality provisions. "We were very pleased to see that Chairman Barton recognized the need for preserving the model of an open broadband network by codifying the duty of broadband providers to allow subscribers to have access to the services, equipment and applications they need without interference from network providers," Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

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