Sensenbrenner Offers 'Neutrality’ Bill

5/19/2006 8:04 PM Eastern

Washington— House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced a bill last Thursday that would apply antitrust sanctions against cable and other broadband-access providers that discriminate against Web-based providers of content, services and applications.

“This legislation is a necessary step to protect consumers and other Internet users from possible anti-competitive and discriminatory conduct by broadband providers,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement unveiling his version of network neutrality regulation.

A bill passed by the Energy and Commerce Committee in late April addressed the net neutrality issue, but proponents of regulation consider the bill’s approach a tepid response to potential anticompetitive conduct by network owners.

Sensenbrenner’s statement said he came forward with his bill because the Energy and Commerce bill (H.R. 5252) fell “well short of ensuring that broadband network providers do not abuse their market power.”

Amazon.com, eBay, Google Inc., IAC/InterActiveCorp, Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. issued a statement in support of the Judiciary bill (H.R. 5417).

“Congress is wise to act in a way that takes into consideration the best interests of millions of Internet consumers and protects the innovative global market economy that thrives under the current open Internet model,” the Internet giants said.

Sensenbrenner offered the bill with bipartisan support from his panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

The bill would amend the Clayton Act to require broadband access providers to interconnect their facilities on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms; operate their networks in a nondiscriminatory manner so that unaffiliated content, service and applications have an equal opportunity to reach consumers; and refrain from interfering with consumer access to lawful content, services and applications.

Under the Clayton Act, passed in 1914, injured parties may sue in federal court to obtain an injunction, recover treble damages, and collect attorneys fees.

The bill that passed Energy and Commerce (with backing by chairman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican) had been expected on the House floor in early May, but differences with the Judiciary approach delayed action. A House source said the Barton bill would not come up for a full House vote this week.

The House will be out the week of May 29 for the Memorial Day recess.