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April 26, 2006

Wading into the Issue of Network Neutrality with Jay Inslee

One of the things about taking our democracy seriously is forcing ourselves to understand arcane issues we really don't want to deal with.  "Network neutrality" is such an issue for me and I expect for many of you.  I've been avoiding it for a couple months.  "Somebody else take care of this one, please," I say to myself.  Well, someone else is - the big telecoms, aided and abetted by a bunch of Republicans and a few Democrats. 

You can only imagine how that will work out.  Rather like deregulating cable television or eliminating the estate tax.  Those paid someones who put the time and energy into addressing this issue will be the hirelings of a few companies or individuals who will make a lot of money and then the rest of us who will be paying more for our rather inflexible cable and wireless connections or paying more taxes so that a few very rich families won't have to pay inheritance taxes. 

So, let's wade into this thing.

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee convened to consider a bill called the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE). The seeming focus of COPE is national video franchising for IPTV providers such as Verizon and AT&T.  It is intended to increase competition in the pay television market and has wide support on both sides of the aisle.  However, the bill would also make it possible for phone and cable companies to charge senders outside their network tolls to transmit emails and slow transmission of those emails for those who won't pay.  AT&T and Verizon have already said they will do just that.

Here's how Pachacutec, over at firedoglake, defines the issue:

The Internet began with regulations that blocked providers from favoring access to one site over another.  That’s Internet Freedom, a.k.a., "Net Neutrality."  That means you can access what you want when you want, and anyone can create a web based destination.  Phone companies were set up along similar lines:  they are not allowed to block you from calling any number you choose.  Cable companies are different.  They steer you where they want and charge you what they like for the privilege.

Four Democrats on the House Commerce panel, led by Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey and our own Jay Inslee, are fighting for stronger Internet freedom protections, called network (or net) neutrality. Rep. Markey introduced an amendment to COPE which would have enshrined the FCC's network neutrality principles, which have no force in law, into statutory law.

Pelosi has come out strongly in support of Net Neutrality.  A few Democrats, seemingly highly compensated by the telecom companies, have voted against net neutrality in the past but the netroots, newly awakened to this issue, is persuasive. The amendment was defeated today in committee but by a lot less - a 22-34 vote.  A similar amendment was rejected on April 5 by an 8-23 margin in subcommittee. 

McJoan, over at DailyKos, began a campaign just in the last day or two against four Democrats on the Committee who had previously voted against the amendment.  Today they voted for it.  This is big progress.  And power to us, when we use it. 

There is still hope that the full House will vote the bill down (after some additional voter outcry) or that the Senate will defeat it. 

Here's what Jay Inslee had to say today in committee:

As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I wanted to give an update on legislation being considered today that misses a golden opportunity to protect the principle of a free and democratic Internet.

The commerce panel currently is considering telecommunications-reform legislation that - as currently written - leaves open the possibility that phone companies and cable operators could charge their competitors' Internet tolls and send more slowly the content of those who don't pay.

I'm working with three colleagues on the committee, U.S. Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.), to protect Net neutrality by offering an amendment that would ban - in no uncertain terms - phone and cable companies from charging Web sites for faster data transmission or even blocking their online competitors' content and services.

After all, the basic structure and brilliance of the Internet is its open architecture, and its free and unfettered access to sights of our choosing.  The right to choose what sites to visit, without financial penalty, should remain protected.  Some argue that the toll would be placed on the Web site, rather than the consumer, but we all know those costs ultimately would be passed on to the consumer.

We cannot allow a private tax to be imposed on Internet users who wish to go to certain sites.  We don't allow a toll to be placed on drivers who want to get on the interstate because they haven't reached some deal with the state.  Neither should we allow the imposition of a toll on Internet users based on whether their online destination has paid a fee to the carrier.

We cannot allow telecommunications companies to hijack the Internet.  Rest assured, I'll work to preserve of freedom of choice on the Internet by fighting for a Net-neutrality provision today in committee, and as telecommunications-reform legislation advances in Congress.

There's a lot at stake here and I truly feel safer with Inslee on this committee fighting for what is right.  I will work hard to make certain that Darcy Burner gets to join him and his fellow right-on Democrats next January so that we have allies in the majority to attend to the interests of the majority. 

More importantly, I know that we all need to step up to the plate and learn about the seemingly arcane bills that go through Congress and the state legislature (although I trust our Democratic legislators a lot more than I trust the folks currently in the other Washington).  Because when we don't, our right-on Democrats aren't able to fight as hard for us, and others go weak and figure no one will catch them taking money from the big companies and wealthy individuals and voting the wrong way, as do so many of the Republicans already. 

For an amusing analogy of how the new bill may impact us, see "The Story of Don Telco" over at a diary on DailyKos:   

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 26, 2006 at 10:00 PM in Policy, Strategery | Permalink


Lynn --

Thanks for this -- I did need some more in-depth briefing. COPE, eh?

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Apr 26, 2006 11:25:20 PM

so, now that it's out of committee, and will probably pass a floor vote in the House, which Senate committee will take it up ... Sounds like something down Maria Cantwell's alley ... ?

Posted by: rhw | Apr 27, 2006 2:57:35 PM

I called Senator Cantwell's office a few weeks ago about this, and it seemed as if her people had never heard of "network neutrality." I'm interested in her position as well -- wonder if she's heard of it now?

Posted by: ToddC | May 1, 2006 8:47:30 PM

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