Network neutrality legislation

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Network neutrality is the practice of network operators moving data without regard to who provided it. Without network neutrality, network operators (including Internet Service Providers that provide Internet service to consumers) could give preference to the websites and services of corporations that enter into financial agreements with them and slow down data from sources that do not have such agreements.

While network neutrality has been the standard practice of network operators (as of 2007), there is no law that requires it. It erupted as an issue in 2006 when a grassroots response led by the Coalition opposed telecom legislation that either did not address or did away with network neutrality. In 2007 there is at least one bill to enshrine neutrality in law and on July 22nd, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced a participatory project to suggest ideas for and revisions to a national broadband policy bill. The FCC also opened the question of whether it should enforce network neutrality in 2007.

Current status

This article has information on related action opportunities for citizens in the related campaigns section.

Even though the Internet Freedom Preservation Act has died[1] twice in committee in the Senate[2][3] and once in the House[4] as a companion bill the issue is far from dead. President Obama is a Net neutrality backer and was a cosponsor of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act both times it was introduced in the Senate. [5][6] Recently President Obama has taken another step towards addressing the issue of Net neutrality. On March 3rd President Obama nominated Julius Genachowski as the new chair of the FCC. [7] Genachowski was President Obama’s chief technology advisor during his presidential campaign and aided in creating a technology platform that supports Net neutrality rules. [8] In addition, the Energy and Commerce Committee has attached net neutrality and open access mandates to the almost $3 billion in grants and loans for the new network build-outs to make broadband accessible for underserved and rural areas. [9]

In mid-2007 there was one major bill to enshrine network neutrality into law, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007. The bill, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007, has not received any action since being referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Jan. 9, 2007. The committee is chaired by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

In March the Federal Communications Commission solicited public comments on whether it should regulate network neutrality with a deadline of July 16.

On July 22, 2007, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced a participatory project on to allow citizens to make suggestions for a national broadband policy bill he was writing. [10]

Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007

The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007 (S.215) was introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) on January 9, 2007. The bill had the sole purpose of entering network neutrality into law. [11] <USbillinfo congress="110" bill="S.215" /> The bill has picked up 9 co-sponsors, including Democrat presidential hopefuls Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). The full list of co-sponsors is:

All co-sponsors of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007 (S.215) [12]

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which is chaired by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), on the day it was introduced. In the previous session of Congress (2005-2006), Inouye had co-sponsored the anti-network neutrality Communications, Consumers’ Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 (S.2686) with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Since arriving in Inouye's committee, no action has been taken on the bill. [13]

Arguments for and against network neutrality

Arguments for network neutrality

The Coalition has organized a massive grassroots campaign in support of network neutrality. The group has argued that the United States' abandonment of net neutrality is the root cause for why the country has gone from being the global Internet leader to falling behind dozens of other nations in providing fast and affordable access to citizens. It's website explains:

  • Compared to citizens in other developed nations, Americans now pay 10 to 20 times as much for far slower Internet services.
  • Due to duopoly control of markets (96 percent of residential broadband services are either cable or DSL), a full 37 percent of ZIP codes have one or fewer choices of a wired broadband provider.
  • Phone and cable’s anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices have stifled innovation in both wired and wireless Internet applications, leaving U.S. services generations behind those available in other developed nations.[14]

Beyond hindering the United States' abilities as a global Internet leader, Save the Internet also argues that network neutrality is a right. One blogger commented, "This wholesale privatizing of our commons is in violation of the Constitution and our rights to free speech. Yes we are entering a new paradigm in technology, wired and wireless communication is new to the 20th Century, but our rights to access information, voices and content on a level playing field are the cornerstone of Democracy."[15]

According to Save the Internet, support for network neutrality must be prepared to face the nation's largest telephone and cable companies, including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner, who all oppose net neutrality. These groups already dominate 98% of the broadband market, meaning that consumers have few or no alternatives to turn to if they dislike the way their provider is filtering content. The Coalition argues that these companies want the power to control what data is provided to consumers and how fast that data can be provided, allowing them to promote their own services while crushing competitors. Its website states, "these companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services — or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls — and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road."[16]

Also in favor of network neutrality are good-government and consumer organizations such as Common Cause, Public Knowledge, Free Press and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. [17]

Opposition to network neutrality

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Background and issues

Net neutrality origins

The Coalition tracks net neutrality's origins back to the inception of the internet. They have commented:

"Pioneers like Vinton Cerf and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, always intended the Internet to be a neutral network. And 'non-discrimination' provisions like Net Neutrality have governed the nation's communications networks since the 1930s."

According to the coalition, the campaign for net neutrality started up after a 2005 decision by the FCC. They stated " a consequence of a 2005 decision by the Federal Communications Commission, Net Neutrality — the foundation of the free and open Internet — was put in jeopardy. Now cable and phone company lobbyists are pushing to block legislation that would reinstate Net Neutrality."

Have telecom companies violated network neutrality yet in the U.S.?

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External resources:

Network neutrality violations outside of the U.S.

Some governments outside the United States, most notably China, restrict access to Internet content deemed inappropriate or not in agreement with government policy. Restrictions can be in the form of restricting Internet content, all the way up to restricting the access to the Internet itself. Since Internet usage can be monitored more easily in the public cyber cafés, private access points to the Internet may be discouraged. Techniques may be utilized that limit access to domains, web pages, or search words and phrases. There has been instances where ISPs may be required to sign a pledge to apply certain filters or restrict usage of the Internet. Filtering and restricting Internet access is not without challenges, but it is well established that it does occur. Several studies have been conducted to document this phenomenon. [18]

Net neutrality and broadband availability

On June 27, 2007, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report called the "Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy" where it dismissed the importance of immediate net neutrality restrictions. Though the report has no legal ramifications, it indicates that the FTC may not be a supporter of net neutrality in the future. The FTC commented that it had yet to see any abuses by the telecom companies, and it was seeing more, not less, competition in broadband markets. Nevertheless, the FTC said it would continue watching the issue, and focus on answers to the following questions:

  1. How much demand will there be from content and applications providers for data prioritization?
  2. Will effective data prioritization, throughout the many networks comprising the Internet, be feasible?
  3. Would allowing broadband providers to practice data prioritization necessarily result in the degradation of non-prioritized data delivery?
  4. When will the capacity limitations of the networks comprising the Internet result in unmanageable or unacceptable levels of congestion?
  5. If that point is reached, what will be the most efficient response thereto: data prioritization, capacity increases, a combination of these, or some as yet unknown technological innovation?[19]
Main article: Broadband availability

Recent history (past legislation)

The COPE Act

<USbillinfo congress="109" bill="H.R.5252" />

The Communications Opportunities Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act became the main vehicle for the network neutrality battle in 2006. On April 26, 2006, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce debated the Act and several amendments. The most relevant of these with regard to net neutrality was sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.). He introduced an amendment which would have specifically given the Federal Communications Commission the authority to prohibit discrimination and enforce network neutrality. The amendment was co-sponsored by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Jay Inslee (D-Wash.).[20] The amendment was defeated, 34-22. [21] The committee eventually approved the Act by a vote of 44-12 and sent it to the House floor.

April 26, 2006 vote on the Markey network neutrality amendment
Voting for network neutrality Voting against network neutrality


The bill was introduced on the floor of the House on May 1. It was not speedily acted upon, however. At least one sponsor of the COPE Act imagined that it would be necessary to hash out the final details of the network neutrality legislation behind closed doors: on May 2, Rep. Upton (R-Mich.) said that the Senate just needed to pass "anything to get us into conference [committee meetings]." In conference committee meetings, which are generally closed to the public, he argued House and Senate negotiators could reach an agreement on the legislation that would be subject only to an up-or-down vote for final passage in both chambers.

On May 10, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, came out in favor of a network neutrality provision in the bill and angered telecom companies and some fellow Democrats by urging her caucus to fall in line behind her. Roll Call also quoted "insiders" as saying that the retaliatory damage telecoms could inflict on Democrats was low because they had already maxed out their campaign contributions to the legal limits until after the 2006 election.[23]

On June 8, the COPE Act finally came to a vote in the full House. With no amendments dealing with net neutrality, it passed by a vote of 321-101. <USvoteinfo year="2006" chamber="house" rollcall="241" />


The Senate's more ambitious version of the COPE Act, called S.2686, the Communications, Consumers’ Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, proved to be an even more contentious piece of legislation than the House bill. Several senators mentioned being shut out of the process as the Senate version of the bill was being written by Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and complained to reporters that the process had been closed to them. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). [24] The bill was scheduled to be debated in Stevens' Commerce Committee on June 8 and its backers hoped it would be voted on by the full Senate before the August recess. That did not happen, however. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) placed a hold on the bill, and it stalled in committee.[25] <USbillinfo congress="109" bill="S.2686" /> In late June, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) offered an amendment to the bill that they believed would suitably protect online neutrality, but it failed in a tie vote of 11-11 and general stalemate over the legislation continued.[26] In late October, network neutrality advocates expressed worries that Sen. Stevens would attempt to push his bill to passage during the post-election lame duck congressional session. [27]

Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006

<USbillinfo congress="109" bill="S.2917" />

On May 19, 2006, Sen. Snowe introduced a separate bill, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act S.2917, with several Democratic co-sponsors. The bill's summary states that it:

  • "Amends the Communications Act of 1934 to establish certain Internet neutrality duties for broadband service providers (providers), including not interfering with, or discriminating against, the ability of any person to use broadband service in a lawful manner. Allows providers to engage in activities in furtherance of certain management and business-related practices, such as protecting network security and offering consumer protection services such as parental controls.
  • Prohibits a provider from requiring a subscriber, as a condition on the purchase of broadband service, to purchase any cable service, telecommunications service, or IP-enabled voice service.
  • Requires a report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to specified congressional committees on provider delivery of broadband content, applications, and services." [28]

The bill stalled in Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-Alaska) Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.[29]

The Network Neutrality Act of 2006

<USbillinfo congress="109" bill="H.R.5273" /> Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Network Neutrality Act of 2006 H.R.5273 on May 2, 2006. The bill was cosponsored by Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Rick Boucher (D-Va.) Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Diane Watson (D-Calif.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). Markey said that the bill codified network neutrality but contained "reasonable exceptions to the general rules, such as to route emergency communications or offer consumer protection features, such as spam blocking technology."[30] The bill stalled in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, out of which came Chairman Joe Barton's rival COPE Act.

The Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006

<USbillinfo congress="109" bill="S.2360" /> Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced the Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006 (S.2360) in March 2006. The bill sought to codify network neutrality in law. [31] It was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which is controlled by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), where it stalled.[32] After the House committee vote on April 26, 2006, proponents of network neutrality urged the Senate committee to take up the issue.[33]

Money in politics issues

Campaign contributors against network neutrality

In favor of network neutrality are such content providers as Amazon, eBay, Google, IAC/Interactive, Intel, Microsoft and Yahoo. Against network neutrality are network operators such as AT&T (formerly SBC and AT&T), Comcast, TimeWarner and Verizon.[34]

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, as of June 22, 2007, AT&T, TimeWarner and Verizon are the 2nd, 28th and 33rd top campaign contributors, respectively, since 1989. Only one of the companies identified as being in favor of network neutrality, Microsoft, is in the top 100.[35] Several of the anti-neutrality corporations[36] have formed a group called "Hands Off the Internet" that has used folksy-looking viral ads to make its case.

Sponsors of anti-network neutrality legislation are big recipients of telecom company campaign contributions

In 2006, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas), Charles Pickering (R-Miss.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) sponsored the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act, which contains provisions to address network neutrality.[37] Each are recipients of large amounts campaign contributions from the telephone utilities industry, which includes most of the high-profile network utility opponents (see chart below). Reps. Barton, Pickering and Upton are the 7th, 4th and 8th top House of Representatives recipients, respectively, of campaign contributions from the telephone utilities in the 2005-2006 congressional session. [38] [39] [40]

Campaign contributions from telephone utilities as of May 9, 2006
Recipient Total campaign contributions
since 1989
Contributions since 2005
Joe Barton $256,720 $29,700
Charles Pickering $361,250 $44,000
Bobby Rush $103,082 $8,500
Fred Upton $142,570 $26,250

Rep. Bobby Rush controversy

In April 2005, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a community center founded by COPE Act co-sponsor Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) had received a $1 million grant from network neutrality opponent SBC (now merged with AT&T).[41] See Bobby Rush's Congresspedia profile for more details.

Reps. Barton and Upton own telephone utility stock

Reps. Joe Barton and Fred Upton have a personal financial conflict of interest in that they both own telephone utility stock. Barton owns $1,001-$15,000 in AT&T (formerly SBC) stock. [42] Upton owns $2,002-$30,000 in AT&T (formerly SBC) stock and $1,001-$15,000 in Verizon stock directly and another $15,001-$50,000 in AT&T (formerly SBC) stock and $1,001-$15,000 in Verizon stock in a personal trust fund he does not have direct control over.[43] Exact figures are impossible to obtain due to inadequacies in government official ethics laws.

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

Related campaigns

The links below are for issue campaigns related to this article and are for educational purposes. The campaigns are not endorsed by the operators of this site and may represent opposing points of view. More information on this section and how to add other campaigns.


  1. “Making Laws Simply Explained,” “CongressLink”, 2006
  2. “S.2917,” “Thomas”, 2009
  3. “S.215,” “Thomas”, 2009
  4. “H.5353,” “Thomas”, 2009
  5. “S.2917 About Cosponsors,” “Thomas”, 2009
  6. “S.215 About Cosponsors,” “Thomas”, 2009
  7. Declan McCullagh, “Obama picks Net neutrality backer as FCC chief,” “cnetnews”, March 3, 2009
  8. Neda Ulaby “Julius Genachowski Obama's Pick To Head FCC,” “npr”, 2009
  9. Rafael Ruffolo, “Obama could impact Canadian net neutrality laws,” “NETWORKWORLD”, 02/05/2009
  10. Dick Durbin, "What should be America's national broadband strategy?", July 22, 2007.
  11. OpenCongress page on S.215. OpenCongress.
  12. OpenCongress page on S.215. OpenCongress.
  13. OpenCongress page on S.215. OpenCongress.
  14. "By Ten to One, Public Urges FCC to Protect Net Neutrality," June 18, 2007.
  15. Charlie Koenen. "Free Speech Must Prevail,"
  16. " FAQ,"
  17. K. Daniel Glover. "Anything But Neutral On 'Net Neutrality'," National Journal. May 8, 2006.
  18. Zittrain, J., Edelman, B. Empirical Analysis of Internet Filtering in China, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School, March 20, 2003.
  19. Ken Fisher. "FTC shoots down Net Neutrality, says it is not needed," Ars Technica. June 27, 2007.
  20. "In Fight to Protect the Internet, House Panel Rejects Net Neutrality," Congressman Ed Markey. April 26, 2006.
  21. Burt Helm. "Tech Giants' Internet Battles," Business Week. April 26, 2006.
  22. " Scorecard," Save the Internet.
  23. Tory Newmyer. "Push by Pelosi Irks Telecoms," Roll Call. May 10, 2006.
  24. "THOMAS page on S.2686 Cosponsors," THOMAS.'
  25. "Wyden blocks Telecom Legislation over ineffective net neutrality provision," Senator Ron Wyden. June 28, 2006.
  26. Kim Hart and Sara Kehaulani Goo, "'Net Neutrality' Amendment Rejected," Washington Post, June 29, 2006.
  27. "Lame Duck Alert: Don’t Let Senators Sell Us Out," Save the Internet. November 1st, 2006.
  28. "THOMAS page on S.2917," THOMAS.
  29. "THOMAS page on S.2917," THOMAS.
  30. "Introduction of the Network Neutrality Act of 2006," Congressman Ed Markey. May 2, 2006.
  31. Russel Shaw. "Senator Wyden describes his ‘net neutrality’ bill- and we have the bill here," ZD Net. March 2, 2006.
  32. "THOMAS page on S.2360," THOMAS.
  33. Burt Helm. "Tech Giants' Internet Battles," Business Week. April 26, 2006.
  34. Burt Helm. "Tech Giants' Internet Battles," Business Week. April 26, 2006.
  35. "Top All-Time Donor Profiles," The Center for Responsive Politics.
  36. "Hands of the Internet Member Organizations," Hands Off the Internet.
  37. " FAQ,"
  38. "Telephone Utilities: Money to Congress," The Center for Responsive Politics.
  39. "Total contributions," The Center for Responsive Politics.
  40. "Contributions since 2005," The Center for Responsive Politics.
  41. [1] Chicago Sun Times.
  42. "Financial Disclosure for Joe Barton," Center for Responsive Politics.
  43. "Financial Disclosure for Fred Upton," Center for Responsive Politics.

External resources

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