The House Judiciary Committee this afternoon voted 20-13 to approve legislation (HR 5417) that would allow preserve Net Neutrality through antitrust lawsuits against telephone and cable companies.
Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenne Jr. (R-WI) and ranking member John Conyers (D-MI) added language to allow network operators to make it clear network operators could offer controls to protect consumers against objectionable content. That provision came in response to arguments, largely from telephone companies, that (by some stretch of the imagination) network operators would be prohibited from offering those features. As we noted in this space previously, neither AT&T nor Verizon at this point provides their own blocking or screening software –they use those features provided by partners Yahoo! or MSN. And we noted there is a vibrant industry about 10 years old to provide those features.
However, those supporting the bill did so for one of two reasons. First, and most important, they did to prohibit anticompetitive conduct. As Sensenbrenner said early on, the lack of competition in the broadband market is a clear incentive to leverage dominant market power.
Some members supported the bill because, although they were lukewarm on the substance, they didn't like the bill the House Energy and Commerce Committee has passed and wanted to a) object to that one while b) protecting Judiciary Committee prerogatives.
Opponents, mostly from the Republican side, said that it was premature to legislate on the issue, in part because the issue was so complicated. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), said he was concerned about “regulatory burdens with unintended consequences” that could hamper innovation.
It's a little early to tell what will happen in the House now. In the past, when Judiciary and Commerce have passed separate bills, the Rules Committee got the unenviable task of figuring out how to deal with the competing interests.
Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee had a lively hearing on Net Neutrality, which senators are now recognizing as the hot-button issue in the telecom debate. More on that later.