Senate Fight Looms Over Extra Net Fees

Supporters of a federal ban on premium Internet pricing say their defeat in the US House of Representatives is just the beginning of their fight for “network neutrality.”

“I think that this really does serve as an enormous wake-up call to the tech world, and I think that we’ll see a much much stronger showing in the Senate,” said US Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Malden.

The network neutrality issue has become the most disputed aspect of an effort to overhaul the nation’s telecommunications law. Legislation by US Representative Joe Barton , Republican of Texas, is mainly designed to make it easier for telephone companies to enter the cable television business. But a coalition of nonprofit political lobbying groups and major providers of Internet content like Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. also wants to bar Internet providers from charging extra fees to organizations that want to transmit high-quality video and audio data over the Internet.

Large telecom companies like Verizon Communications Inc., Comcast Corp., and AT&T Corp. have said that they will keep offering traditional Internet service and that companies won’t have to pay extra to use it. But the telecom firms say they’re spending billions to create sophisticated data networks and it’s only fair that companies pay extra to use them.

Companies like Microsoft and Google don’t want to pay additional fees to transmit data over the Internet. And political groups on the left and right say they can’t afford to pay such fees. These groups fear this will hamper their ability to communicate their ideas.

On Thursday, the House considered an amendment offered by Markey that would have empowered the Federal Communications Commission to block premium Internet pricing plans. But the Markey amendment was defeated 269-152. The House then passed the Barton bill, 321-101.

“In its rush to satisfy the big telephone companies, the House turned its back on . . . hundreds of thousands of consumers,” said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a lobbying group.

FreedomWorks, a lobbying organization opposed to network neutrality laws, hailed the House vote. But its vice president for research, Wayne Brough, also predicted that the fight would be tougher in the Senate, “because there are more issues in play.”

Aside from network neutrality, some senators are concerned that streamlined regulation of telecom video services might take too much power from local government s. Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, is also pushing to compel providers of voice-over-Internet phone services to pay into the universal service fund that supports rural telecom services . The issues may delay action on the bill until next year, said Brough.