Bill Bars Web Traffic Discrimination
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS



WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Democratic lawmaker on Wednesday proposed legislation to stop network providers from playing traffic cop on the Internet.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet, introduced the bill to promote the principle, known as ''Net neutrality,'' of treating all Internet traffic equally.

Markey, who introduced similar legislation in 2006, said the bill doesn't regulate the Internet, only makes sure the rules of online engagement are fair. His spokeswoman said he wanted to defuse critics' arguments that the bill amounts to regulation, which she called inaccurate.

''It does, however, suggest that the principles which have guided the Internet's development and expansion are highly worthy of retention, and it seeks to enshrine such principles in the law as guide stars for U.S. broadband policy,'' Markey said of The Internet Freedom Preservation Act

Phone and cable companies say they want the freedom to charge content providers for access to the Internet's fast lane. Any legislation affirming Net neutrality, they argue, would harm investment and innovation in the Internet.

The Hands Off the Internet coalition, whose members include AT&T, Qwest Communications International Inc. and others, said Markey's bill leaves regulatory fingerprints, regardless of what he calls it.

Supporters of the bill, including Google and public interest groups, contend it just protects consumers without hamstringing development or driving up costs.

The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., requires the Federal Communications Commission to assess whether broadband providers are ''blocking, thwarting or unreasonably interfering'' with consumers' rights to access, send, receive or offer content, applications and services over networks.

The FCC would also be required to determine whether providers charge extra for certain services and if it's lawful.

The bill also requires the agency to hold at least eight summits around the country to get input from various groups about Internet service competition and services.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment on pending legislation.

The bill was drafted in response to reports that some companies, including Comcast Corp., are unfairly stifling communications over the Internet.

Markey spokeswoman Jessica Schafer said the agency already has the authority to enforce such practices.

She cited the agency's investigation of Philadelphia-based Comcast, the country's second-largest Internet provider. On Tuesday, Comcast told the FCC in formal comments that hampering some file-sharing by its subscribers was a justifiable way to keep Web traffic flowing for everyone.

Consumer groups, lawmakers and other critics have complained that Comcast violated Net neutrality. The company declined to comment on Markey's bill.

Schafer also said a North Carolina telephone company, Madison River Communications LLC, paid $15,000 to the FCC in 2005 to settle allegations it blocked phone lines that customers used to make calls over the Internet. Under the settlement, the company could not block Internet calls in the future, but did not admit to violating any rules.

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press