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Another Approach to Net Neutrality

chicago dyke's picture

So I just finished reading this little summary Matt had on the bill containing the "kill Net Neutrality" language we've all been screaming about. Matt says:

So yesterday the Senate Commerce Committee had a markup of the Stevens bill. There are 214 amendments to get through, and they didn't really get through many of them. The Committee didn't vote on the net neutrality issue, or the big bill itself. The Senators will pick this up again on Tuesday.

Hear that, kids! There's still time to make some phone calls! Git busy!

The Stevens bill is being rushed through the process; it's an extremely complicated piece of legislation with far reaching changes that extend beyond net neutrality. Typically, telecom bills take several Congressional cycles, because it's hard stuff to understand. The bill just doesn't need to get done this year, and the whispers that it won't get done are getting louder. In an election year, a lot of Senators don't want to have to vote on some of the more controversial provisions. The telecom lobbyists are leaning hard to push this through, and Ted Stevens, ever the appropriator and deal-cutter, wants this badly, so we'll see what happens.

So that's where we are on the political front.

Which isn't exactly what I want to hear, but it isn't wholly bad news either. Curious about the bill, I went to the Commerce Committee site. Disappointingly, there is not a report from our fine, opposing Democrats. I guess they can't be bothered to inform their constituents about their interpretation or insider information about what the bill may contain. So I'm stuck with Steven's words, which of course I'm having a hard time trusting. Here's a passage:

The original municipal broadband title has now been replaced with a compromise developed by Senators Lautenberg, McCain, and Ensign that more closely reflects their original bill. It now has the endorsement of the National League of Cities, the Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties and other local groups.

Mmmhmm. Wanting a little clarification on this, I found this site:

As you may recall, COPE (the House Bill on franchising and Network Neutrality) contained one good provision — it prohibitted states from banning municipal networks. At Committee mark up, the full Committee overwhelmingly defeated proposed amendments to kill this provision, or even to grandfather existing state muni-bans. Seems like consensus, right.

The Hon. Senator from Alaska, who apparently loves markets with such fervor that he will destroy them in order to protect them, has made a critical change in the language between his “Community Broadband Act” (Title V of the overall bill) and the language used in COPE. The Stevens Community Broadband Act of 2006 (not to be confused with the far superior Community Broadband Act of 2005 introduced by Senators McCain and Lautenberg starts by repeating the language of COPE (which used the same language as the McCain-Lautenberg Bill), but this good language only applies if the government partners with a private entity. In other words, local and state governments should feel free to hire private companies as in Philadelphia and San Francisco, but governments that actually want to serve their citizens, like St. Cloud, Florida, Kutztown, PA, New Orleans, LA, etc. etc. are out of luck

To protect the fragile telcos and cable cos, which face collapse unless protected against this socialist assault, Stevens has thoughtfully included a new section to his “Community Broadband Act” not found in the McCain-Lautenberg “Community Broadband Act” (or COPE). This new section, entitled “Protection Against Undue Government Competition With Private Sector,” requires a state or local government that wants to directly own and operate a broadband network to subject itself to a private sector veto by puting the project out for bid first (the “Pennsylvania Plan”).

Now, this doesn't have to do directly with Net Neutrality per se, but it does help me understand the Happy language Stevens is using, and how I might best interpret it. I'm thinking it's All Bad. I'm not feeling sanguine at all about whatever this means:

Various provisions in the bill have been endorsed by nearly every segment of the communications industry: the US Telephone Association, the National Cable Telecommunications Association, the Cellular Association, the Satellite Association, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, all of the rural telephone associations, and the National Association of Broadcasters. A wide variety of high-tech groups support provisions in the bill including the VON Coalition, the Electronics Industry Alliance, the Computing Technology Industry Council, the Information Technology Industry Council, and many others.

which is from the Committee website. Cause, you know- big Telcos are my friend, I'm sure.

Here's what depressed me most:

Blind and disability groups have also given their enthusiastic approval. Groups such as Jessie Jackson’s Rainbow Push Organization, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a variety of Christian and education groups are also supporting the measure.

I'm sure there's something in this all these organizations like, I can't tell what, but I hope it's worth it to them to sell out the very people most likely to stand with them and get out their message on other issues, the progressive blogosphere. Rest assured I'll be calling some of them soon.

If there's hope, it's here:

Despite all the support and all the work, the bill can still be improved. It is my hope that we will continue to seek compromise on the tough issues still before us. Many have filed amendments that we feel may enhance the bill further.

I propose that we go through the bill title by title. After we complete the amendments in a particular title, I will move to close that title and move on to the next one. We will keep going until every Member has had a chance to present amendments.

I'll agree with Matt that if this happens, it's good for our side. The reason has to do with this being an election year, and the fact that this is truly a monster of a bill: it's got everything from firefighter concerns to rural internet access monies to stuff for the blind. Let's make some Senators really in fear of someone cutting them off at the kneecaps closer to the elections when the hoary details relating to other parts of the bill become more public.

Here's my thought: let's try to look at it more closely, and see if we can find some allies. Let's try to find other aspects of the bill that more people (read: not Net Geeks) would care about, beyond the Suckitude the bill proposes to apply to the Free Internets. Surely there is a great deal in this bill we could pick apart and expose (I mean, it's a mostly Republican/Big Lobby piece of legislation, after all) and make the pols up for election uncomfortable as this moves it way thru committee.

We need friends in this, that much is clear. Let's try to find some. Looks like the slooooow pace of gummit is going to help us, for once. Let's not blow that opportunity.

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