Monday, July 24, 2006

Senators Respond to Grassroots Drumbeat

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) spoke before the Senate on Friday to "outline what is at stake" should Congress ignore public opinion and let phone and cable companies gut Net Neutrality.

"If you listen to some of the so-called experts about communications, they would suggest that [Net Neutrality] is so complicated, so arcane, so difficult for anybody to understand, you ought to let the lawyers and the lobbyists sort this out," Wyden told his colleagues.

This is a mistake, Wyden said.

Thus far powerful phone and cable companies have spent more than $100 million on lobbyists, lawyers, "Astroturf" groups and advertising agencies in a drive to dismantle Net Neutrality and mislead Americans.

According to Campaign Media Analysis Group, they have spent nearly $44 million to buy anti-Net Neutrality ads nationwide. A report by Bloomberg News, counts an additional $68 million spent on telco and cable lobbyists in 2006. Add to this tally the millons in campaign contributions made by anti-Neutrality companies like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth, Cisco, Comcast and Time Warner.

On the other hand, the many groups that constitute the SavetheInternet coalition have spent less than $200,000 in our grassroots campaign to support Net Neutrality.

That means that for every $1 spent by the grassroots to defend Net Neutrality, the phone and cable companies have spent more than $500 to drown it. Still, public sentiment is tipping against their scheme to turn the “pipes” into private toll-ways.

No amount of PR gloss will obscure one basic truth, according to Wyden. "The people of this country -- and the hundreds and hundreds of organizations that want to keep the Internet discrimination free -- are no longer going to accept a notion that a handful of insiders in Washington, DC, can have these debates about the future of the communications systems... and that the people of this country will have to take what these so-called experts decide."

People of every political persuasion have joined with the 800 groups that make up the SavetheInternet coalition. More than a million of them have signed petitions and called and sent letters to Congress in support of Net Neutrality.

Thousands of bloggers have taken up the cause — many of them posting free ads to counteract the expensive misinformation campaign launched by phone companies. Others have organized in their communities -- printing out fliers and handing them out at high school soccer matches, in electronics shops, outside college dorms and in front of grocery stores.

Wyden is among a growing group of senators who have heard the grassroots drumbeat. They are now supporting Net Neutrality legislation that would prevent phone and cable companies from discriminating against online choice.

For a sense of the passions that drive this debate, listen to some of their statements before Congress:
Sen. Wyden closed his speech on Friday saying he was dismayed that phone and cable companies wanted to bring discrimination back to the Internet. "I do not want to see the American consumer face the double barrel discrimination on the net of reduced choices in content, diminished services, and the additional prospect of higher prices," Wyden said.

The Oregon Senator is committed to maintain his "hold" against Stevens' telecommunications rewrite "until it ensures true Net neutrality and an Internet free of discrimination," he said.

As more Senators side with Wyden and the public, it's become increasingly likely that no amount of phone and cable company money will force Sen. Stevens' bad bill through Congress without better public protections.

But the fight to preserve Internet freedom from predatory phone and cable giants is far from over. As members of Congress return to their home districts this August, it's up to Americans in every state to let them know that Net Neutrality is an issue that resonates more loudly beyond the beltway.

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