On the list of hot topics in Congress this year -- housing crisis, credit crunch, war -- you probably won't find Net neutrality.
But there is legislation pending on who controls the Internet -- legislation that in the long run could be very important to the consumer and the economy.
Net neutrality is the concept that Internet Service Providers -- Verizon, Comcast, AOL, etc. -- do not have the right to favor one Web site or service over another by blocking, slowing or speeding up traffic to certain sites.
Why might ISPs want to do this? Well, Verizon, which operates a telephone network, might want to make Skype, a competitor that offers free Internet telephony, work a little slower or be harder to reach.
Does Verizon do this? All ISPs say they do not.
But that was brought into question when Comcast was found to be blocking access to BitTorrent, a service used to download large files (and also to pirate movies). Comcast said it did this to protect its users from customers who hogged up a lot of bandwidth, thus slowing the network down for everyone.
Recently the Federal Communications Commission told Comcast to stop the blocking, but did not levy a fine or other penalty.
The "slap on the wrist" given to Comcast has propelled Net neutrality legislation into the forefront again.
Net neutrality bills have lingered in Congress for years, dying at the end of every session.
There are powerful forces on both sides. Internet providers don't want the government's fingers in their pot. They especially don't want to be forbidden in the future from charging certain sites a premium for having their content delivered faster than other sites, something they don't do now.
But companies such as Google want ISPs to be barred from interfering with their operations on the Net. And they claim Net neutrality encourages innovation because the little guys are treated the same as the big fish.
There are several Net neutrality bills in Congress, although it doesn't look like any will be acted on in the remainder of this session. (In a presidential election year, will much of anything important be enacted?)
A House bill sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey, D.-Mass., and Rep. Charles Pickering, R.-Miss., would write into legislation the Net neutrality rules the FCC stated in the Comcast case and would put the FCC in charge of neutrality abuses.
A bill in the Senate sponsored by Democrat Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine takes the same approach.
Another House bill, sponsored by John Conyers, D.-Mich., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., would allow the Justice Department to bring antitrust actions against an ISP found to be violating Net neutrality.
Although TechMan generally is opposed to government regulation of the Internet, in this case it may be necessary, although involving antitrust law may be too unwieldy.
Insuring that the Internet remains a level playing field is vital to all of us.
To track these and other bills in Congress, go to thomas.loc.gov.