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Net Neutrality Gets Bridge To Nowhere

Jason Lee Miller
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-05-03

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Ready. Set. Flinch. The same senator who fought for the $223 million bridge to Nowhere, Alaska is in charge of rewriting United States telecommunications laws in the Senate. In a working draft of an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has confused just about everybody.

A crash course in Congressional Logic 101: It's not okay for government, by way of FCC regulation, to interfere with the free economic structure enjoyed by telecommunications giants AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. It is okay for government, by way of FCC regulation, to interfere with the free economic structure enjoyed by broadcasters and consumers, as long as it involves the Recording Industry Association of America, but not necessarily the Motion Picture Association of America.

Confused? Let's do the longer version.

Network neutrality advocates were disappointed to see a lack of provisions for the principle's protection under the 135-page amendment supplied by Sen. Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. This is the second blow in a week to Network neutrality, supported by Internet giants like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, after the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted down the proposed "Markey Amendment" to the COPE Act.

We remember Sen. Stevens from the famous "Bridge to Nowhere," a pork project that earmarked nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to build a bridge from Ketchikan, Alaska (population 8,900) to the remote island of Gravina, Alaska (population 50).

And before further details on the peculiarity of his amendment, which bans devices that digitally record audio and television broadcasts, we should take a quick note of Stevens' top campaign contributors. They include:

1. News Corp.
3. Verizon
5. Viacom
6. AT&T
7. Walt Disney
9. General Electric (NBC)
19. Sprint Nextel

Under the amendment, the FCC would be commissioned to outlaw digital over-the-air radio and digital satellite receivers that allow users to record broadcasts. New receivers would be required to treat broadcasts marked with an audio broadcast flag as copy-protected.

That makes the RIAA very happy. From News.com:

Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America, called it "a necessary and appropriate focus on an issue critical to record labels, songwriters, publishers, artists and many others in the music community." The RIAA is worried about newer receivers, such as the Sirius S50, that it says let Americans assemble a personal music library without paying for it.

The same goes for digital TV tuners, like ElGato's EyeTV 500, that record and save over-the-air broadcasts and save them without copy protection. Stevens does include measures in the bill already protected under Fair Use, such as viewing recorded broadcasts at home and making short excerpts of copyrighted material available over the Internet.

As we already know, the MPAA doesn't like one blasted thing about Fair Use. Again from News.com:

Those sections are likely to draw opposition from the Motion Picture Association of America and its allies; one source close to Hollywood told CNET News.com on Monday that "the movie industry has real problems with the broadcast flag language as it appears in the bill."

Just for a recap, Sen. Stevens, whose largest contributors are telecommunications and broadcasting companies, wrote legislation favorable to telecommunications and broadcasting companies and unfavorable to the general consumer, small businesses, and Internet companies while providing "new protections" of rights citizens already have.

Maybe if we trade him back the bridge, he'll let this one go.

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About the Author:
Jason L. Miller is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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