Senate Franchise Reform Bill Moves Forward

After vigorous debate on network neutrality, followed by a close vote to exclude such a provision from the final bill, the Senate Commerce and Energy Committee approved a telecommunications reform bill 15-7 yesterday. The bill has yet to be placed on the Senate calendar. The bill, S. 2686, substantially revised from its first draft, creates a national video franchising process that will let telephone companies enter local markets fasterââ?¬â??accelerating the spread of cable and broadband competition. Prior to the vote, the committee tied 11-11 on a network neutrality provision that would have prevented Internet service providers from offering content and applications providers any fee-based quality of service tiers. The provision was therefore dropped. It was another defeat for network neutrality, a regulatory scheme heavily favored by Google, Yahoo, eBay and, who maintain hundreds of thousands of servers on the Web and plan to aggregate content, commerce, advertising and other bandwidth-intensive services. Network neutrality may emerge again in a floor fight. In the House, Rep. Edward Markey (D., Mass.) introduced an amendment to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act of 2006, but the measure was defeated in a voice vote. COPE went on to pass the House. If the Senate bill passes the two will go to joint conference. Sen. Ron Wydon (D., Ore.), a network neutrality supporter (whose home state just saw a major infusion of Google investment capital) promises to filibuster a net neutrality amendment. Patrick Ross of the Progress & Freedom Foundation takes some of Wydon to task on some of his notions about the Internet here.