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June 28, 2006

Net Neutrality Amendment Fails in Senate Commerce Committee Vote



By Patrick Barnard
TMCnet Assignment Editor


The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has reportedly rejected a proposed net neutrality amendment to the Communications, Consumer’s Choice and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, a broad and far-reaching telecommunications reform bill now under the committee’s consideration.

The amendment, offered by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D- N.D.), would have barred network operators from establishing paid tiers of service on the Internet and also would have prohibited them from discriminating against content or services from non-paying users of their networks.

The panel tied, 11 to 11, in its vote on the amendment, and, according to a Reuters report, Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said it failed.

One of the main purposes for the Communications, Consumer’s Choice and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, which was drafted and introduced by Sen. Stevens, is to allow cable and phone companies to set up national franchises for the delivery of digital video content over the Internet. If the bill is approved in the Senate, it will have to be reconciled with a similar telecommunications reform bill, the Communications, Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act, which was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this month.

In a statement released shortly after the Senate Commerce Committee’s vote, the civic action group MoveOn.org, which has been lobbying for net neutrality legislation in both the House and the Senate, said the 11-11 tie was a small victory for supporters of a free and open Internet.

“In a stark contrast from the initial 23-8 House subcommittee vote against Net Neutrality in April, today’s 11-11 tie vote in the Senate Commerce Committee proved that millions of everyday Internet users have seized the momentum in the battle to preserve Internet freedom,” the statement reads. “As the fight to preserve Net Neutrality continues in the Senate, big-moneyed companies like AT&T (News - Alert) are losing steam in their quest to erect tollbooths on the Internet and gain more control over what Americans see and do online.”

“The little guy has seized the momentum in this fight to preserve Internet freedom,” said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, in the statement. “Companies like AT&T thought they’d easily get Congress to allow tollbooths on the Internet by spending millions in TV ads, lobbying, and campaign contributions. But millions of Internet users are fighting back together to preserve Net Neutrality, and we’re holding politicians accountable on this issue.”

Despite their failed amendment, Sens. Snowe and Dorgan recently introduced a stand alone net neutrality bill, called the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, which also seeks to prohibit network operators from establishing paid tiers of service and from discriminating against content. The Snowe-Dorgan bill, which is still under consideration as a stand alone bill, is supported by a variety of Internet companies, consumer groups, civic action groups and other lobbying groups, including MoveOn.org, the Christian Coalition, Free Press ... even Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. It also has the unconditional support the SavetheInternet.com coalition – a grassroots coalition led by Free Press which has been outspoken about the need for net neutrality legislation.

According to the statement from MoveOn.org, more than 1 million petition signatures in favor of net neutrality legislation have been delivered to the Senate thus far, “and thousands of phone calls have gone into the Senate every day in support of net neutrality.”

The statement includes a familiar list of Republican Senators on the committee who have received campaign contributions from the big telecommunications companies, including AT&T and Verizon (News - Alert) - including the amounts of the contributions to each Senator. Similar lists have been circulating on the Internet for weeks in an apparent attempt to paint a picture of corruption in Congress – the point being that the Republican Senators who have accepted campaign funds from the big telcos will not be inclined to support any net neutrality provisions because it goes against the grain of what the big telcos are hoping for, which is little or no government regulation of the Internet.
The Senate Commerce Committee's vote on the proposed amendment followed mainly along party lines, with 10 Democrats voting in favor of the amendment, along with Sen. Snowe, and the 11 Republican committee members voting against it. Such has been the case for most of the net neutrality provisions considered so far during this year's short legislative session.

According to the list, the Republican committee members in total accepted nearly $1 million in telecom contributions during the current election cycle.

Linda Blankenship, national prayer coordinator for the Christian Coalition of America, which is a member of SaveTheInternet.com coalition, also released a letter urging supporters of net neutrality to contact the committee members between now and tomorrow, when the committee is expected to cast its vote on the Communications, Consumer’s Choice and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006.

“The Snowe/Dorgan Net Neutrality Bill is so important for our thousands of grassroots and State Chairmen who have their own websites,” Blankenship wrote. “If this bill does not pass, consumers will have to pay an additional fee to have a website. The cable and telephone companies will be dividing the Internet into a ‘fast track’ and a ‘slow track.’ Our grassroots, who cannot afford the additional fees, will have to be on the slow track, which will mean that many of our websites will be passed by because the general public will not have the patience to go on the ‘slow track.’”

“Also, if a board member on an ISP {telephone or Cable Company} does not like Christian Coalition of America emails, they can and will block our emails from going over their server,” she continued. “This bill will seriously harm us from getting our message out. We cannot let big business (Cable and Telephone Companies) control the Internet and the content. We need to stand up so we will not be forced to pay additional fees to get our message out to the thousands of Christians around the country.”

Blankenship’s letter includes the phone numbers for the legislative offices for each member of the committee, and urges supporters of net neutrality to make one last effort to have the bill amended.

“When you call these Senators, tell them you are from the Christian Coalition and to support Internet Freedom, the Snowe/Dorgan Net Neutrality Bill,” she wrote. “Please be praying at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow for this important vote.”

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Patrick Barnard is Associate Editor for TMCnet and a columnist covering the telecom industry. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard’s columnist page.

 

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