Friday, July 07, 2006

Stevens' Telco Bill Teeters Under Public Scrutiny

Stevens and his bill
The Seattle Times, again, joined numerous U.S. dailies to call upon Congress to prevent companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from restricting content, erecting new online toll booths and charging more money for access to the Internet's fast lane.

"The U.S. Senate still has a chance to ensure that the Internet remains universally accessible and a powerful tool for consumers and businesses," the Times editorial board wrote. "This will only happen if lawmakers ensure computer network neutrality."

The Internet will become an “anti-democratic device” if the Senate acts this summer to pass a telecom bill without enforceable Net Neutrality language.

Senators were split on a Net Neutrality amendment offered in committee last week. That tie vote has sown considerable doubt that Senator Ted Stevens' industry friendly telecommunications bill will make it to the floor -- with more people inside and out of Washington calling for an overhaul of the contentious legislation to better reflect the public interest.

More than a million Americans have urged their representatives to "keep tollbooths, gatekeepers, and discrimination off the Internet." Thousands more are calling their Senators to urge better protection for Internet Freedom. The leading minds of the Internet -- a list that includes founding fathers Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf and legal expert Larry Lessig -- are urging Congress to reconsider this bill.

In the meantime, bloggers have been widely critical of Senator Stevens' legislation following his dubious definition of the "internets" last week.

Senators are now gathering behind Oregon Senator Ron Wyden's "hold" on Stevens' legislation. Others are calling for new and stronger Net Neutrality language before the bill can proceed to a full vote.

But these democratic roadblocks may not stop determined telcos, which are spending millions of dollars each week (including funding dishonest ads and a "robocall" campaign) to rush Stevens' juggernaut into law.Here's the Seattle Times' today:
Lobbyists from big telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T are spending like compulsive shoppers on eBay to get their message out. The campaign has painted neutrality as a government restriction that would stifle competition.

That's hardly the case.
The Internet has fostered numerous innovations because everything from a family's Web page to Verizon's site are treated the same through the broadband that feeds computers. What happens to services such as iTunes if the telecoms provide a rival music site? Potentially, iTunes could be slowed down while a home-grown proprietary rival gets preferential treatment.

How does that serve the consumer? Lawmakers need to insert language that perpetuates the Internet as a breeding ground for divergent voices and services, even if that means taking a whack at a new telecom bill next session.

This is the second time the Times has come out in favor of Net Neutrality. In May, the paper's editors wrote that for Congress to allow a few companies to toll Web traffic "would be chilling, and primed for abuse."

Other major national dailies — including the New York Times (twice), San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and Houston Chronicle — have supported enforceable Net Neutrality legislation.

The Senate would do us all a disservice by rushing through Stevens' legislation before there's a full public debate on better protections for Internet freedom.

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