Senate Panel to Vote on Net Neutrality

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The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to vote Wednesday afternoon on whether to impose strict nondiscrimination requirements on broadband-access providers, including cable and phone companies, in a critical test of political support for network neutrality and major telecommunications legislation in an election year.

The key votes will occur on an amendment sponsored by Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who are trying to protect Google, Yahoo!, eBay and Microsoft from potentially anti-competitive actions by cable and phone companies that dominate the broadband-access market and, thus, the critical link between consumers and the Internet.

If the amendment fails, net-neutrality supporters could use their clout to kill a broad telecommunications bill (S. 2686) that Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who is opposed to heavy-handed net-neutrality language, is fervently hoping will reach the White House this year.

“A lot of people think we should wait until next year,” Stevens said Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve got two years in this bill. I think this bill is absolutely necessary to make the changes.”

A political ruckus over net neutrality could deter Senate GOP leaders from occupying Senate floor time on a telecommunications bill that would crowd out debates on issues designed to define partisan rifts heading into the November midterm elections.

“[Senate leaders] have no great interest in it as long as this kind of debate continues. We’re not going to take a month on the floor on this bill,” Stevens said.

To move his bill, Stevens will need 60 votes to quell a filibuster. Right now, he said, he does not have the votes.

“If we can get 60 votes, we’ll get it up and we’ll get it out,” Stevens added.

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