US telecommunications and cable companies have scored a big victory in Congress by defeating proposals for strict price controls on the high-speed networks that will form the next generation of internet connectivity.

In a vote late Thursday, the House of Representatives resoundingly defeated an amendment that would have prevented AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other broadband providers from charging more for priority access to the networks.

The amendment, which failed by a vote of 269-152, was part of a telecoms bill that passed by a lopsided margin. It included several provisions sought by the phone companies, including making it easier and cheaper for them to offer video services to compete with cable.

The debate over “net neutrality” – the principle that all content providers should be treated equally on the internet – is far from over, however. The issue pits big telecoms companies against giants of the internet content world, such as Google, Yahoo and Ebay. They will now take their lobbying campaign to the Senate.

But the magnitude of the defeat is a blow to the campaign by internet companies to get tough regulations on internet pricing and discrimination written into law. “The House vote against net neutrality should be a wake-up call to anyone who cares about the future of the internet,” Alan Davidson, Goo-gle’s chief Washington lobbyist, said on Friday, adding that his side expects to fare better in the Senate.

Telecoms companies say that unless they are allowed to charge more to construct a “fast lane” on the internet, they will not be able to build high-speed networks that can handle broadband-hungry services such as videos.

But internet content companies say price differentiation would jeopardise the freedom that has fostered innovation in cyberspace.

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