Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Michigan Residents Take Shot at AT&T Lame Duck

Having failed in efforts to pass federal legislation against Net Neutrality, powerful phone companies are now determined to take away Internet freedom at the state level. As reported in today's Los Angeles Times, the SavetheInternet.com Coalition is organizing state-by-state to fight this effort.

Michigan is one of the first states in the Coalition's ongoing campaign to save the Internet from restrictive control by phone companies.

At a rally today inside the State Capitol a broad more than 50 local members of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition joined local Michigan groups to speak out against a “lame duck” vote on the "Michigan Video Franchising Bill" (HB 6456) and demanded that state senators protect the future of the Internet for Michigan residents and businesses.

The event was attended by more than a dozen local media outlets (links to local reports to follow)

The Video Franchising Bill is a revision of Michigan's telecommunications laws being pushed by AT&T. The bill would allow the telecommunications giant to gut consumer protections, cherry-pick which communities receive high-speed broadband and video service, dodge local community access requirements, and ignore Net Neutrality -- the fundamental principle of the free and open Internet.

A committee vote on the bill could happen as early as Wednesday

Click here, to help stop this bill in Michigan.

This is simply a bad bill, written by phone company lobbyists. AT&T tells legislators and the public that it will expand access to the Internet. What they don’t reveal is that unless Net Neutrality protections are added, these corporations will be able to abuse their role as gatekeepers to the Internet — deciding which Web sites open quickly on your computer.

Here's what some had to say about today's rally:

David Pettit. Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM)
“It is critical to our democracy that our two most popular media outlets -- TV and the Internet -- remain diverse and robust marketplaces for ideas. If this bill is allowed to go forward, it will diminish local programming and destroy today’s fair and equal Internet.”

Andrew McLaughlin, Google Sr. Policy Counsel
"Consumers should benefit from full competition. What we're asking for is very simple: protect the consumer by making sure telephone and cable companies don't restrict the services that are available. Google would never have grown beyond a garage project if Internet providers had been able to block or slow access by individuals. It is essential for Michigan to preserve the Internet as an unmatched platform for innovation and job creation."

Mark Cooper, Director of Research at Consumer Federation of America
“This bill would make it easy for big telecom companies to ignore Michigan’s underserved areas and ‘cherry-pick’ only the most profitable customers. To create a level playing field for all consumers, Michigan needs policies that build high-speed broadband and video networks in all communities.”

Laurie Cirivello, Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center
Public access stations - and the local communities that depend on them -- would be hit especially hard by Michigan’s proposed video franchising legislation. “Provisions in this bill could silence the voices of over 400 community organizations that use public access in Grand Rapids alone.”

Other participants in today’s press conference included the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) Michigan Chapter and the Michigan Chapter of the Alliance for Community Media.

Following the press conference, the local groups and SavetheInternet.com Coalition members delivered more than 18,000 petitions supporting Net Neutrality and urged their state senators to vote against the Michigan Video Franchising Bill.

Monday, November 20, 2006

On Net Neutrality: Congress Wakes Up to a Watchful Public

Capitol Hill
In the coming weeks, major communications companies and their high-spending lobbyists will do everything they can to dismiss the Nov. 7 political result and re-assert their control over the business of policymaking.

But what happened that Tuesday has much deeper ramifications for phone and cable efforts to set the agenda.

In 2006, political corruption tipped over into public view.

It wasn't just the glaring exposure of dirty-dealings by Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay and their cronies -- but of the depths to which greed has become a part of the system. Abramoff was just one fellow traveler along a money trail that led from K Street to Capitol Hill and back again.

The revolving door of congressional staffers-cum-industry lobbyists is a part the same corruption of our democracy that has become loathsome to voters.

K Street
The phone and cable lobby is a major player in this scheme. In the past 10 years, telecommunications, broadcasting and cable companies have spent more than half a billion dollars on campaign contributions, political action committees, PR firms and high-spending lobbyists to push through self interested policies.

These regulations – offering massive tax breaks, relaxed ownership rules, and unfettered control of the public airwaves -- all came at the public's expense.

On the issue of Net Neutrality, companies like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth and Comcast outspent public interest advocates on a scale of 500 to one – pushing Congress to remove the longstanding nondiscrimination rules that enabled the Internet to become the greatest vehicle for free speech and economic innovation.

To do away with these freedoms, the phone and cable lobby will continue to paint issues like Net Neutrality as "unnecessary government regulations" and dismiss the groundswell of public support for this issue as the handiwork of a few "liberal groups."

The public tolerance for this type of "Astroturfing" was tested in 2006. More than 75 percent of respondents to a September CBS/New York Time poll thought that most members of Congress "are more interested in serving special interest groups" than "serving the people they represent."

As much as anything, last week's vote sent a message to Congress to stop currying favor with moneyed interests and return to governing in the public interest.

Near the top of this new agenda will be restoring Net Neutrality. Many in Congress came to this realization after receiving more than a million letters from concerned citizens urging them to maintain a free and open Internet.

Whereas before, the phone companies had been confident that Congress would simply sign-off on industry-written legislation. Now -- as the 109th Congress comes to a close -- no member can vote with the telecom cartel without feeling the full heat of public scrutiny.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Net Freedom Fighters to Take Charge in Congress

Efforts to save the free and open Internet are a political win according to Nov. 7 election results. And the outlook for better, more public-spirited Internet legislation is now quite good.

Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) -- both strong supporters of Net Neutrality -- are set to take command of telecommunications policy when their party reclaims majority power in the House in January.

According to a report today in Broadcasting & Cable, Dingell said that he will take a new crack at a telecom reform bill, and that it would "clearly" have to better address Net Neutrality and the public interest in general. "Our duty is not just to the Bells, but to good public policy and to protecting the public interest," he told reporters.

Dingell is expected to be seated as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, the panel that oversees phone, cable operators and Internet companies.

Markey in Charge
Markey will take the helm of the key Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee. He has been an outspoken champion for Net Neutrality. New telecommunications legislation by Dingell and Markey in 2007 would likely include Net Neutrality mandates from the outset.

The victory vindicates soon-to-be-majority leader Nancy Pelosi, who decided over the summer to elevate Net Neutrality in the Democratic Party platform -- a risky move after many a Washington prognosticator declared it a dead issue. Not so.

In the Senate all pro-Net Neutrality Senators won decisive victories in their states. This list includes members of both parties:
>> Sen. Akaka won in Hawaii with 61%
>> Sen. Bingaman won in New Mexico with 70%
>> Sen. Cantwell won in Washington with 58%
>> Sen. Clinton won in New York with 67%
>> Sen. Feinstein won in California with 60%
>> Sen. Kennedy won in Massachussetts with 69%
>> Sen. Menendez won in New Jersey with 53%
>> Sen. Nelson won in Flordia with 60%
>> Sen. Nelson won in Nebraska with 64%
>> Sen. Snowe won in Maine with 73%

They will be joined by newcomers Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Sherrod Brown, (D-Ohio), Jim Webb (likely-D-Virginia) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) who have also come out in support of Net Neutrality.

Over the year, more and more politicians came to realize that the public was paying attention to this issue. The blogosphere caught fire and helped shift the momentum in Washington on this issue.

Whereas before, the big telephone companies and their coin-operated lobbyists were confident that Congress would simply roll over and do their bidding, today, no member of Congress can vote with the telecom cartel without full public scrutiny.

The major telecommunications bill pending in the Senate is a massive giveaway to the phone and cable companies, and should be blocked during the lame duck Congress. It’s time to start from scratch in 2007, and begin having a genuine public debate about what the future of the media and the Internet should look like.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Senators Ready Assault on Open Internet

Stevens and his bill
If national polls are right, the upcoming midterm election could bring a dramatic shift of power on Capitol Hill. But that may not save us from a last-minute assault on Net Neutrality by members of the outgoing Congress.

The issue of Net Neutrality has become the most contentious piece of a massive telecommunications bill pending in the Senate. Net Neutrality is the longstanding principle that keeps phone and cable companies from discriminating against the content traveling over their wires.

At issue is whether giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon should treat all packets of Web information the same or whether they would be allowed to charge extra fees to guarantee that certain Web sites run faster than others.

These discriminatory tolls would have a chilling effect on the egalitarian Internet, by tilting the net's historically level playing field to favor those companies that pay the most.

It's a predatory scheme has little to do with the free market, It's more like a mafia shake down writes Columbia Professor Timothy Wu. “While it’s one way to earn cash, it’s just too close to the Tony Soprano vision of networking: Use your position to make threats and extract payments.”

In 2006, the nation's largest phone and cable companies have spent more than $100 million on D.C. lobbyists, think tanks, ads and campaign contributions to strip Net Neutrality from the latest rewrite of the Telecommunications Act (H.R. 5252). But this legislation stalled in the Senate after more than a million people contacted Congress opposing its lack of safeguards.

Today, a grassroots movement that barely existed at the beginning the year is on the verge of toppling one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. But all that could change in the lame duck session.

Confronted with his failure to gain popular support for his telecom bill, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens is determined to force the bill to the floor after votes are counted on Nov. 7 — and before the next Congress convenes.
If Stevens’ succeeds it would be an affront to the millions of Americans who have spoken out in favor of Net Neutrality — and against plans by AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to seize control of the Internet.
The Savetheinternet.com Coalition is keeping a special eye on this lame duck session. But we need your help. You can: Stevens and outgoing Senate Leader Bill Frist didn’t bring this bad bill to a vote before the elections because it was political dynamite. After Nov. 7, though, many are ready to deliver on promises to their high-spending friends in the telecom lobby. Americans need to stay on alert against any such lame duck maneuver.

It’s time for Congress to tear up this bad telecom bill and start over in 2007 with new legislation that protects Net Neutrality and the free and open Internet.