Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would ban cable operators, phone companies and other providers of broadband Internet access from engaging in discriminatory management of their networks to the commercial disadvantage of Web-based providers of content and applications.
The Dorgan-Snowe bill resumes the so-called network-neutrality debate from last summer -- a period when major telecommunications legislation collapsed in the Senate over whether it was necessary to protect Internet giants like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and eBay and their customers from potentially discriminatory conduct, such as the intentional blocking or slowdown of unaffiliated services that hadn't paid to use additional network capacity.
Such discrimination would “fundamentally change the way the Internet has operated and threatens to derail the democratic nature of the Internet,” Dorgan said in a prepared statement with Snowe.
"Today's reintroduction of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act marks another step toward ensuring that the fate of the Internet lies in the hands of its users and not the hands of a few gatekeepers," Snowe said.
AT&T executive vice president of federal relations Tim McKone said the bill would deter, rather than promote, the deployment of high-speed-data networks.
"We continue to believe that net-neutrality regulations are unwarranted and remain hopeful that lawmakers will pivot their efforts toward support of a national priority to deploy more advanced broadband to more Americans more quickly," McKone said.
“We continue to believe that regulation of the Internet is unnecessary and will only stifle the investment, innovation and creativity that has been the hallmark of today's dynamic broadband marketplace,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association vice president of communications Brian Dietz said in a prepared statement.
In late December, the Federal Communications Commission approved AT&T's $85.5 billion merger with BellSouth after the company volunteered to comply with net-neutrality mandates for the next two years.
Dorgan and Snowe said the bill would require broadband providers to "operate the network in a nondiscriminatory manner, but [they] would remain free to manage the network to protect the security of the network or to offer different levels of broadband connection to users."
In another provision, the bill would mandate that consumers have the right to purchase a "stand-alone broadband connection that is not bundled with cable, phone or voice-over-Internet-protocol service."
Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) -- who are expected to battle for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination -- signed on as original co-sponsors of the bill.