Deal on Net Neutrality in US Senate is Elusive

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee so far has been unable to reach a compromise on Internet network neutrality, a week before the panel is supposed to vote on it as part of a broader communications reform bill, Senate aides said on Monday.

Internet content companies like Google Inc. want lawmakers to bar high-speed Internet broadband providers like Verizon Communications from charging more to guarantee access and service quality, an issue dubbed "Net neutrality."

Broadband providers have countered that they have no intention of blocking consumers' access to public Internet sites, but do want to offer private Internet-based services that have faster download speeds for uses such as movies.

Sen. Ted Stevens, the committee chairman and an Alaska Republican proposed on May 1 studying the issue. The top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Daniel Inouye (news, bio, voting record) of Hawaii, and others have pressed for more extensive protections.

One possible compromise on Net neutrality could be adopting language approved last week by the U.S. House of Representatives bill, according to one committee aide. It gave the Federal Communications Commission the authority to enforce principles the agency backed last year.

Those principles called on broadband providers to provide consumers unfettered access to Internet content and permit them to use whatever legal applications and services that are available.

"I think that's the one issue where we still have some work to do," Lisa Sutherland, chief of staff to Stevens, told reporters. "We're going to work as hard as we can this week on Net neutrality."

"Whatever the committee does on Net neutrality I assume it will be re-litigated on the floor," she said.

The provisions are part of a larger bill aimed at overhauling U.S. communications laws, including making it easier for Verizon and AT&T Inc., traditionally telephone companies, to enter the subscription television business.

The Senate committee issued a revised version of the legislation on Monday and is scheduled to begin considering and voting on any amendments to the bill on June 20.

"The majority has made some noteworthy revisions but there's still substantial room for improvements, particularly in areas like Net neutrality," said Andy Davis, a spokesman for the Democrats on the committee.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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