US lawmakers introduce net neutrality bill

The bill would prohibit providers from blocking or slowing web content

Two US lawmakers have introduced a net neutrality bill that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or impairing web content, but providers have largely refrained from commenting on the legislation.

Representatives Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act on Friday. The bill says it's the duty of all internet service providers to "not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use an internet access service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any lawful content, application, or service through the Internet."

In addition, the legislation would prohibit broadband providers from charging internet content, service or application providers to enable their products, beyond the normal end-user charges for internet service. The bill would prohibit broadband providers from selling service that prioritizes some Internet traffic over other content, and it would require providers to offer Internet service to "any person upon reasonable request."

USTelecom, a trade group representing broadband providers, called the legislation "disappointing".

"The nation's broadband service providers are committed to an open and free internet," Walter McCormick Jr, president and CEO of USTelecom, said in a statement. "While we are still reviewing the language, it is readily apparent that this legislation would not preserve internet freedom, but would instead lead to a government-managed internet. It will create broad uncertainty and destabilise the investment that is currently creating jobs, spurring innovation, and lowering prices for consumers."

USTelecom declined to comment further on why it opposes the legislation, as did a spokeswoman from Comcast, one of the nation's largest broadband providers. Representatives of Verizon and AT&T didn't immediately respond to a request for comments.

A handful of digital rights groups applauded the legislation. The bill "promotes and preserves a fair and open Internet that will protect every American voice online," said Amina Fazlullah, media and telecommunications reform counsel at US PIRG, an advocacy group focused on consumer rights. "This crucial piece of legislation will ensure that citizens will be able to access the Internet free of discriminatory interference from telecommunications companies."

The US must have access to a "fair and open internet" in order to be competitive in a global information economy, Fazlullah added.

The openness of the Internet has been at risk since June 2005, when the US Supreme Court ruled that cable operators do not have to open their high-speed lines to competitors, Markey said in a statement.

"The internet is a success today because it was open to everyone with an idea," Markey added. "This bill will protect consumers and content providers because it will restore the guarantee that one does not have to ask permission to innovate."

Markey introduced similar legislation in 2008, but that bill wasn't voted out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he is one of the senior members.

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