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Google threatens 'net neutrality' violators with antitrust actions absent congressional bar

[JURIST] Google is prepared to file antitrust complaints against Internet broadband providers if Congress fails to pass effective net neutrality legislation, Google Vice President Vinton Cerf [official profile] has told a press conference in Bulgaria. Cerf suggested that the claims could be based on service providers exploiting their control over their infrastructure to interfere with services provided by competitors. After Google filed a grievance with the Department of Justice (DOJ) [antitrust materials], the DOJ would have to consider whether to file a complaint against offending broadband providers, likely under the Sherman Antitrust Act [text; DOJ antitrust statutes].

The push for net neutrality met a setback last week as the US Senate Commerce Committee [official website], in an 11-11 tie vote, failed to add a tough "net neutrality" amendment to a major telecommunications reform bill. As currently written, the Communications, Consumers' Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 [text; S 2686 summary] has a net neutrality provision authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to investigate "developments in Internet traffic processing, routing, peering, transport, and interconnection" and "how such developments impact the free flow of information over the public Internet and the consumer experience using the public Internet," and report findings to Congress. The stronger, failed amendment was an express provision preventing cable and telephone companies from taking payments in exchange for assigning priority to Internet traffic through their broadband cables. The tie vote on the stronger net neutrality amendment was split down party lines, with amendment co-sponsor Olympia Snowe (R-ME) the sole Republican to support the measure.

The House Judiciary Committee has approved [JURIST report] the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 [HR 5417 text], sponsored by committee chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), that would apply federal antitrust law to alleged neutrality violations. Several other net neutrality bills are also currently before the Commerce Committee. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has previously said that the FCC is authorized under current law to regulate breaches of net neutrality [JURIST report]. Computer Business Review has more.

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