Monday, June 19, 2006

News You Can Use If You Use The Net

If you use the internet, & Demon Princess safely presumes you do, since you're here reading this, the following news affects you. Way down at the bottom right-hand side of this blog is a little orange box ("Save the Internet") that you can use to register your opinion with Congress regarding the following matters.

CNet reported today that legislation that's going to be decided on Thursday doesn't quite tell service providers that they can't coerce consumers, businesses, bloggers & whoever into paying higher prices (that's on top of what you already pay for access in the first place) to get access to the content they want. They've only gone halfway.

"WASHINGTON--The latest Net neutrality provisions in a mammoth Senate communications bill stopped short of giving Internet companies and consumer advocacy groups all the assurances they've requested.

"Unveiled formally at a briefing here for reporters on Monday, new provisions in the latest draft of the sweeping Consumer's Choice and Broadband Deployment Act would allow the Federal Communications Commission to police subscribers' complaints of 'interference' in their Internet activities and to levy fines on violators.

"Specifically, the bill (click here for PDF) would require all Internet service providers to adhere to what the proposal calls an "Internet consumer bill of rights." The nine principles outlined under that heading include: allowing consumers to access and post any lawful content they please; to access and run any Web page, search engine or application that they choose (including voice and video programs); and to connect any legal devices they please to the network. Carve-outs would exist for network management purposes, such as parental control technologies and security software.

"All Internet service providers, if they're not already doing so, would also be obligated to offer broadband access on a standalone, or 'naked,' basis--without also requiring, for example, purchase of telephone or cable subscriptions.

"But critics say the latest draft, scheduled for an initial committee vote on Thursday afternoon, refrained from addressing a major complaint of advocates of network neutrality--that is, the idea that network operators should give equal treatment to all content that travels across their pipes.

"Under the new proposal, 'the Internet still ends up split into Lexus lanes and dirt roads, and an FCC rendered powerless to protect American consumers,' the It's Our Net Coalition, a group in favor of Net neutrality mandates, said in a statement Monday. Backed primarily by, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, the group includes other members such as the Christian Coalition, the Association of Research Libraries and the Consumer Federation of America.

"They'd rather see passage of a bill introduced by North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and seven other Democrats that would flatly prohibit network operators from making deals with content providers and charging premium prices for the privilege of speedier delivery or other special treatment--what they disparagingly call a 'two-tiered' Internet.

"Some form of that proposal will likely be offered as an amendment to the Senate bill at a committee vote scheduled for Thursday afternoon. But its prospects may not be good--a similar, Democratic-backed amendment was soundly defeated in the House, and Senate Republicans have indicated strong opposition to the idea.

"Network operators, for their part, have said repeatedly that they have no intention of blocking or degrading their subscribers' Internet activities and have deemed bills like the Snowe-Dorgan one a solution in search of a problem. Supported mostly by conservative groups, they have defended the business model decried by Net neutrality fans as a way to guarantee better quality of service for high-bandwidth applications and to offset what they describe as vast investments in new fiber.

"Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, had emphasized in earlier remarks that he didn't want to get involved in regulating the way that companies do business--a "battle of the titans," he called it. He said instead that he believed it was important to offer protections for consumers, and his bill is designed to reflect those views, committee aides said Monday.

"The new language followed ongoing negotiations between Stevens and Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat. Inouye and other Democrats had criticized the original version of the sweeping broadband bill, which simply instructed the FCC to scrutinize the state of broadband competition and to report back to Congress on its findings, for not going far enough.

"The latest draft retains that provision in addition to the others. Inouye said in a statement Monday that he still wasn't satisfied with the latest draft's provisions, saying they 'utterly fail to protect consumers and preserve an open Internet.'

"The Senate's latest approach is similar to a version approved earlier this month in the House of Representatives' communications bill. Rather than legislating a detailed "consumer bill of rights," the House addresses the Net neutrality issue by giving the FCC the power to fine violators of its broadband access principles from last summer (click here for PDF). Neither bill would allow the FCC to create new rules--an idea that has also come under attack by Net neutrality fans.

"The Senate version isn't immune from new complications. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently indicated it might offer a new legislative proposal that would police violations of Net neutrality under antitrust law. A similar approach offered on the House side was approved initially by the House Judiciary Committee but has stalled since then, failing to gain acceptance of an amendment to the larger House communications bill."
Mark Stoller, on the My Direct Democracy website, posits this entirely plausible scenario if your providers have their way with this bill & provides a list of phone numbers whereby you can register your opinion on it before Thursday:

"Ok, it's March, 2008. You go to your computer and open your Verizon-supertier browser, and everything comes at you with blazing speed...Pretty cool.

"Then you remember your best friend set up a new blog about her band and asked you to check it out. It's kind of irritating, because she set it up on the slow tier... and type in the web address. It takes thirty seconds to load. Ugh.

"The site's fine, and there are some cute pictures of her band performing in a dive bar. You click on a song, and the browser begins loading the first minute of the song. After twenty seconds, you curse the fact that she didn't pay to be on Verizon's internet, and you close the browser.

"You're even thinking of canceling your slow-tier internet account, since shelling out the $45/month for that plus the $29/month for Verizon super-tier isn't worth it.
Welcome to a non-neutral internet.
"The net neutrality fight is coming to the Senate this week, with the Commerce Committee set to mark up the bill on Thursday. If you live in one of these states, call your Senator. We need strong net neutrality provisions in any telecom reform bill, and those that came out in the second draft over the weekend are not acceptable.

Chairman Ted Stevens (AK), (202) 224-3004
John McCain (AZ), (202) 224-2235
Conrad Burns (MT), Main: 202-224-2644
Trent Lott (MS), (202) 224-6253
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), 202-224-5922
Gordon H. Smith (OR), 202.224.3753
John Ensign (NV), (202) 224-6244
George Allen (VA), (202) 224-4024
John E. Sununu (NH), (202) 224-2841
Jim DeMint (SC), 202-224-6121
David Vitter (LA),(202) 224-4623
Co-Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (HI), 202-224-3934
John D. Rockefeller (WV), (202) 224-6472
John F. Kerry (MA), (202) 224-2742
Barbara Boxer (CA), (202) 224-3553
Bill Nelson (FL), 202-224-5274
Maria Cantwell (WA), 202-224-3441
Frank R. Lautenberg (NJ), (202) 224-3224
E. Benjamin Nelson (NE), (202) 224-6551
Mark Pryor (AR), (202) 224-2353


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