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A congressional committee drew rapid fire Wednesday after killing an amendment to preserve network neutrality.
A coalition that drew together the Gun Owners of America, the Democratic-leaning organization MoveOn, and several of the country's top technology CEOs, blasted the committee with a news statement announcing, "House Ignores Public, Sells Out the Internet."
"Today the House Energy and Commerce Committee struck a blow to Internet freedom," the statement read.
The committee passed the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Efficiency (COPE) Act of 2006 Wednesday, readying it for a full House vote. A portion of the bill would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to enforce network neutrality.
Massachusetts Democrat, Rep. Ed Markey, proposed an amendment that would have made it a federal law to ensure all Internet users have equal speed and access to all legal Web sites. In one week, 250,000 people joined the broad coalition supporting the protections in the "Markey Amendment."
The SavetheInternet.com Coalition said the amendment was needed to protect Internet equality, which they say protects free speech. Members of the coalition vowed to continue rallying public support for their cause as the legislation moved toward a full vote. They blasted telecommunications companies, saying they will attack the very equality that has made the Internet so popular.
Telecommunications companies want the FCC to regulate Internet traffic and have argued for the ability to charge companies more for premium services. They say that they need to increase revenue to upgrade networks and that tiered pricing would place the burden of cost on the companies that most need the improved infrastructure. Opponents say that if some companies get premium service, others will get inferior service. They say that will destroy the even playing field that has given small Web site operators and bloggers the same reach as large companies.
Their opponents include: the AARP, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Free Press, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Vint Cerf, eBay, Yahoo, Amazon, CEOs from Microsoft, Google, Intel, IAC/InterActiveCorp., and religious broadcasters.
Opponents said in letters to Congress that COPE would "warp the Web into a multi-tiered network of bandwidth haves and have-nots."
"Net neutrality ensures that the public can view the smallest blog just as easily as the largest corporate Web site by preventing companies like AT&T from rigging the playing field for only the highest-paying sites and services," Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, said in a prepared statement.
Earlier in the week, the House Committee on the Judiciary debated the issue. Walter McCormick, president and CEO of the U.S. Telecom Association, testified. His group represents more than 1,200 companies.
McCormick said he thinks that the country's anti-trust laws are sufficient to protect consumers and the companies do not want to block, degrade or control access. They simply want to give larger pipes to businesses that need them. McCormick said that under the current system, consumers are shouldering part of the burden for increased capacity, while providers would like to charge the heaviest users.
"What's in debate here is who pays for that enhanced portion of the network," he said.