by Tom Lasseter
Published on Friday, June 9, 2006 by the BBC /
Some fear the decision will mean net providers start deciding on behalf of customers which websites and services they can visit and use.
The vote is a defeat for Google, eBay and Amazon which wanted the net neutrality principle protected by law.
All three mounted vigorous lobbying campaigns prior to the vote in the House of Representatives.
The rejection of the principle of net neutrality came during a debate on the wide-ranging Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (Cope Act).
Among other things, this aims to make it easier for telecoms firms to offer video services around
Representative Fred Upton, head of the House telecommunications subcommittee, said competition could mean people save $30 to $40 each month on their net access fees.
An amendment to the Act tried to add clauses that would demand net service firms treat equally all the data passing through their cables.
The amendment was thought to be needed after the FCC ripped up its rules that guaranteed net neutrality.
During the debate House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, said that without the amendment "telecommunications and cable companies will be able to create toll lanes on the information superhighway".
"This strikes at the heart of the free and equal nature of the internet," she added.
Critics of the amendment said it would bring in unnecessary government regulation.
Prior to the vote net firms worried about the effect of the amendment on their business lobbied hard in favour of the amendment. They fear their sites will become hard to reach or that they will be forced to pay to guarantee that they can get through to web users.
Meg Whitman, eBay chief executive, e-mailed more than one million members of the auction site asking them to back the idea of net neutrality. Google boss Eric Schmidt called on staff at the search giant to support the idea, and film stars such as Alyssa Milano also backed the amendment.
The ending of net neutrality rules also spurred the creation of activism sites such as Save The Internet and Its Our Net.
Speaking at a conference in late May, web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned that the net faced entering a "dark period" if access suppliers were allowed to choose which traffic to prioritise.
The amendment was defeated by 269 votes to 152 and the Cope Act was passed by 321-101 votes.
The debate over the issue now moves to the US Senate where the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will vote on its version of the act in late June. The debate in that chamber is also likely to centre on issues of net neutrality.
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