A U.S. House panel Thursday voted to bar high-speed Internet providers from charging companies such as Google Inc. for priority access to their networks.
The "net neutrality" bill, approved in a 20-13 vote, would prevent phone and cable companies such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from using their dominance in the broadband market to control online content, Judiciary Committee members said.
"When this market power is utilized to violate the nondiscriminatory features that drive Internet innovation and consumer choice, an antitrust remedy is clearly needed," said F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who heads the committee and is the bill's chief sponsor.
Whether a law is needed to ensure that content providers receive equal treatment from network operators is one of the most divisive issues faced by lawmakers as they rewrite the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Telephone and cable companies have invested billions of dollars in their networks and may seek to charge content providers to recoup some costs. They have pledged not to block subscribers' access to legal content or services.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Google and Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. are among those pushing lawmakers to ensure they can transmit content such as video at the same speeds as similar items from broadband providers without incurring additional fees.
The Judiciary Committee bill calls for tougher rules than one approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month.