There are no clear legal restrictions against practices impeding net neutrality. In 2005 and 2006, corporations supporting both sides of the issue spent large amounts of money lobbying Congress. In 2006, representatives from several major U.S. corporations and the federal government publicly addressed U.S. Internet services in terms of the nature of free market forces, the public interest, the physical and software infrastructure of the Internet, and new high-bandwidth technologies. Five attempts to pass bills in Congress containing some net neutrality provisions have been made and failed. The debate started in the U.S. and has extended internationally with distinct differences of the debate in Europe or Asia.
Arguments associated with net neutrality regulations came into prominence in mid-2002, offered by the “High Tech Broadband Coalition”, a group comprising the Business Software Alliance; the Consumer Electronics Association; the Information Technology Industry Council; the National Association of Manufacturers; the Semiconductor Industry Association; and the Telecommunications Industry Association, some of which were developers for Amazon.com, Google, and Microsoft. The full concept of “net neutrality” was developed by regulators and legal academics, most prominently law professors Tim Wu, Lawrence Lessig and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell often while speaking at the Annual Digital Broadband Migration conference or writing within the pages of the Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law both of the University of Colorado School of Law.
By late 2005, net neutrality regulations were included in several Congressional draft bills, as a part of ongoing proposals to reform the Telecommunications Act of 1996} requiring Internet providers to allow consumers access to any application, content, or service. However, important exceptions have permitted providers to discriminate for security purposes, or to offer specialized services like “broadband video” service.
In April 2006, a large coalition of public interest, consumer rights and free speech advocacy groups and thousands of bloggers—such as Free Press, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, American Library Association, Christian Coalition of America, Consumers Union, Common Cause and MoveOn.org—launched the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, a broad-based initiative working to “ensure that Congress passes no telecommunications legislation without meaningful and enforceable network neutrality protections.” Within two months of its establishment, it delivered over 1,000,000 signatures to Congress in favor of net neutrality policies and by the end of 2006, it had collected more than 1.5 million signatures.
The two proposed versions of “neutrality” legislation to date would prohibit: the “tiering” of broadband through sale of voice- or video-oriented “Quality of Service” packages; and content- or service-sensitive blocking or censorship on the part of broadband carriers. These bills have been sponsored by Representatives Markey, Sensenbrenner, et al., and Senators Snowe, Dorgan, and Wyden.
In 2006 Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California), one of the Democrats who voted for the 2006 Sensenbrenner-Conyers bill, said: “I think the bill is a blunt instrument, and yet I think it does send a message that it's important to attain jurisdiction for the Justice Department and for antitrust issues.”
No new bills regulating net neutrality were introduced in the 111th Congress; In 2009 House Representative Markey (D) reintroduced a net neutrality bill. It excludes reasonable network management from regulation, but because it doesn't contain technical specifications to describe “reasonable network management” schemes, it remains unclear what degree of autonomy network operators would have in managing traffic.
Net neutrality bills are referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, whose Committee Chair until 2014, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has expressed caution about introducing unnecessary legislation that could tamper with market forces.1)