Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

A US Senate Committee has rejected a clause guaranteeing that all internet traffic can reach surfing customers on an equal footing. The rejection paves the way for telcos to cut deals with web firms for preferential treatment on their networks.

A 'net neutrality' clause proposed for insertion into a telecommunications bill was rejected by the narrowest possible margin by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The clause needed majority support for inclusion in the bill but yesterday's vote was tied at 11 for and 11 against inclusion.

The net neutrality clause could yet make it into the bill, however. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Democrat Senator Ron Wyden issued a 'hold' on the bill, a technical procedure which may stop the bill being discussed in the Senate until, in Wyden's words, "it includes strong net neutrality provisions". It may also be possible to re-introduce a net neutrality clause into the bill at a later date.

The bill is the most wide ranging review of telecoms legislation in the US since the mid 1990s and is designed to allow telcos to deliver TV-like video services over the internet in competition with cable companies.

Those telcos want to be able to prioritise their own digital video services over other traffic, but others see that as a precedent-setting move that could lead to web firms being held to ransom by network-owning telcos.

Net neutrality advocates had a similar measure rejected by the House of Representatives earlier this month in a vote that by and large followed party lines, with Republicans voting against net neutrality.

Though Wednesday's Committee meeting tied on the question of net neutrality, it voted in favour of allowing the telecommunications bill to proceed to a hearing by the whole Senate. A similar clause could be debated by the whole Senate at that stage.

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