Byron, a North Dakota Democrat, and Snowe, a Maine Republican, announced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007, drawing immediate praise from groups that lobbied for the legislation last year. The introduction, through the Senate Commerce Committee, comes less than two weeks after AT&T conceded to network neutrality commitments in its merger with BellSouth.
The bill marks the beginning of this year's debate over network neutrality. It would ensure that broadband service providers do not prioritize some Internet content, applications or services over other content, applications or services.
Some providers have proposed giving priority to content from sources paying higher fees. They have argued that prioritization and tiered pricing would allow them to increase funding for network improvements. Critics have argued that would create disadvantages for individual bloggers, small businesses and regular citizens, whose sites are as easy to access as those run by major corporations.
"The Internet became a robust engine of economic development by enabling anyone with a good idea to connect to consumers and compete on a level playing field," Dorgan said. "The marketplace picked winners and losers, not some central gatekeeper. That freedom " the very core of what makes the Internet what it is today " must be preserved."
Those opposed to neutrality legislation argue that a truly free marketplace would continue to exist on the Internet without legislative restrictions. Critics of network neutrality legislation, who include hardware companies and telecommunications providers, want the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to maintain authority over the Internet's networks.
Snowe said the legislation would help keep the Internet in the hands of users, "not a few gatekeepers."
"The tide has turned in the debate between those who seek to maintain equality and those who would benefit from the creation of a toll road on the Internet super highway," Snowe said. "The reintroduction of this legislation and the FCC's imposition of net neutrality conditions as part of the AT&T-BellSouth merger, are significant victories in the fight to ensure nondiscrimination on the Internet."
The legislation would allow broadband service providers to continue managing the network for security and to offer different levels of broadband connections to users. It also requires providers to offer consumers the option of purchasing a "stand alone" broadband connections that are not bundled with cable, phone or VoIP. Dorgan and Snowe introduced similar legislation last year and drew nearly one million letters and e-mails of support. The bill never made it to the Senate floor for a vote.
Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Barack Obama (D-IL) are co-sponsoring the latest network neutrality bill.
Consumer groups Free Press, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America issued statements praising the bill.
Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said the bill will ensure that competitive, affordable broadband services are a central issue in the 110th Congress.
Jeannine Kenney, Consumers Union senior policy analyst, said the legislation would ensure equal access for consumers.
"The legislation is the first step towards a national policy that will ensure that all consumers, not just the most affluent, have affordable access to high-speed Internet services," she said.