The Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE Act) passed a House vote yesterday, but without the proposed ‘Net neutrality amendment. The amendment, introduced by Edward Markey (D-MA) and backed by various celebrities and online businesses, was slapped down by 269 votes to 152, and the bill then passed by landslide numbers: 321-101. From the voting coverage and support from groups like WIPP, it looks like this was a largely bipartisan affair with support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Despite support from campaigns by eBay and Google leaders, the proposed network neutrality legislation failed to overcome the combined lobbyist powers of telco and cable companies, both of which prefer to keep government regulation of their networks to a minimum. The heated arguments over this measure dominated the debate before votes were cast, and neutrality will likely be a hot topic again when the bill is introduced to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee later this month.
Without [the Markey] amendment, said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, “telecommunications and cable companies will be able to create toll lanes on the information superhighway. This strikes at the heart of the free and equal nature of the Internet.”
“This legislation can increase competition not only for cable services, but also unleash a race for who can supply the fastest, most sophisticated broadband connections that will provide video, voice and data services,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas.
Barton is talking about the watered-down version of ‘Net neutrality that did pass muster and is part of the bill put in front of the Senate committee. That version looks to protect consumer access to online services with an FCC mandate to hand out up to US$500,000 fines for restricting network access, but will not stop network operators from tiering up their services into preferred and less-privileged traffic. The bill also denies the FCC the right to write and enforce its own neutrality rules. I fail to see how that stimulates broadband adoption—in fact, it looks like this version of the amendment does the opposite.
The larger bill does sound like a good idea in general, though. Cable franchising rules will be simplified, with just a 30-day waiting period for new cable TV franchises and a central franchising administration, as opposed to negotiating new licenses with cities and municipalities over months or even years. It should make it easier for companies like BellSouth and Verizon to roll out fiber TV services, giving us consumers more choice in the TV market. Maybe then we’ll see some a la carte services or better video-on-demand packages, as there will be some incentive for cable and phone companies to compete with better offerings.
City governments and the like don’t approve of the change because they will have less control over the TV franchising process, cable companies like Comcast don’t want it because it means more competition for them, and in its current version, the bill faces opposition from online services and general proponents of individual freedom. As a result, some analysts think that the measure will be stuck in Senate proceedings for quite some time. For now, I’ll take the good with the bad, but would certainly prefer to see real network neutrality enforced. It’s time for Verizon and Time Warner Cable to get their hands out of our pockets.
Further reading:Mark Cuban wants tiered services……and so do the phone companies.Amazon prefers network neutrality protection, though……and there may be some Senate support, too.