The battle over Net neutrality has shifted from a Senate panel, where a bill to force Internet service providers to maintain a level playing field was rejected, to the full Senate, where an even bigger battle may be brewing.
The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted 11-11 on an amendment that would have barred telephone and cable companies from charging others for delivering high-bandwidth services over the Internet. The tie meant the Net neutrality measure would not be a part of a sweeping telecommunications reform bill that was approved by the panel.
But rather than mark the end, the committee's action merely shifted the focus of the divisive issue to the full Senate. The fact that the committee tied on the amendment is considered an indication that the Senate may also be split and that conditions ripe for a dogfight.
"There will be an epic battle in the Senate over Net neutrality," said Adam Green, a spokesman for MoveOn.org Civic Action, which is part of a coalition fighting for the amendment.
Some neutral observers see the potential for a political brawl. David Kaut, a telecom analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, told the Washington Post that the tie vote suggests a hardening of opposition by Senate Democrats unless a bill includes Net neutrality safeguards.
At issue is a telecom reform bill approved by the committee without the Net neutrality amendment. The fate of that bill is expected to hinge on the outcome of the Net neutrality debate. When Congress returns from its recess in September, there will be little time to pass bills before the session ends and lawmakers head back to their home turf for the November elections.
Already, there are indications that some Democrats may seek a filibuster if a Net neutrality measure doesn't get in the telecom bill. Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has reportedly said he doesn't believe he has the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster.