New Bill Gives Net Neutrality Some Teeth

Just as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's network-neutrality rules appear to be in jeopardy in the midst of carrier-led lawsuits, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on Tuesday introduced a bill that could protect the Commission's order while giving the rules much sharper teeth.

Cantwell believes the FCC acted within its authority when voting in its set of rules last month, but, at the time, asserted that the order was weak.

Her bill, a mouthful called the "Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011," aims to strengthen the FCC's net-neutrality principles, which include provisions on "reasonable" network management and transparency on how those networks are managed.

Under Cantwell's bill, wired and wireless service providers would be governed by the same restrictions preventing the blocking of legal broadband applications, websites and services. In contrast, the FCC's rules voted in last month are less restrictive on wireless, allowing carriers to block some applications.

Adding language that thrilled network-neutrality advocates such as Free Press , Cantwell's legislation also takes a tough stance on pay-for-priority broadband access.

Still, it does appear to permit service providers (SPs) to use QoS so long as it's being applied to all packets, versus targeting prioritization to specific types of apps or services (like video) and charging extra for that. But there appears to be some wiggle room there, too. SPs can't prioritize on a content, app or service basis "unless the user requests to have such prioritization," the bill reads.

Why this matters
The FCC net-neutrality rules have come under attack by Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS), and more challenges are expected, putting the order in danger of being overturned in the courts.

While Verizon claims the FCC order overstepped the Commission's authority, Cantwell's bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), seeks to shield those rules through the creation of a new section in Title II of the Communications Act that would codify the FCC's net-neutrality principles.

Still, the bill could see tough sledding ahead because House Republicans are looking to abolish the rules altogether.

For more
To bone up on your network-neutrality history, please check out these stories:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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