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House Turns Deaf Ear To Net Neutrality

Jason Lee Miller
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-06-09

Despite the flurry of phone calls, emails, videos and pleas from a wide base of passionate pro-Net Neutrality constituents, representing hundreds of thousands of people from all political persuasions and hundreds of consumer groups, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives crushed an amendment to safeguard an equal opportunity Internet.

After just 20 minutes of debate on the House floor, Rep. Ed Markey's proposed amendment to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE), which subsequently passed without Net Neutrality provisions, was rejected by a vote of 269-152. While the voting appears to be largely partisan, with only 11 Republicans voting in favor of the amendment and a surprising 58 Democrats voting against, Net Neutrality, in its short time in the public eye, is an apolitical issue.

But Congressional leadership was largely unconvinced by an idea embraced by a diverse list of organizations that would typically be swinging the political pendulum at each others' faces. Think MoveOn and the Christian Coalition. Think the American Civil Liberties Union and the Gun Owners of America. Think Parents Television Council and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Add their support to the very founders of the medium as Vinton Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee stand beside unlikely cohorts Moby and Alyssa Milano.

Even with a constituency like that, whose sudden unity should sound with exponential resonance within the ears of those who represent them, the US House of Representatives ignored it by siding with telecommunications and cable duopolistic entities. The ears of a dinosaur are difficult to reach, but his carrion is easy enough to see - it leaves droplets of green behind it.

"Passage of major telecom legislation without enforceable Net Neutrality is a low point in the history of US policymaking," said Robert W. McChesney, founder of Free Press, which spearheaded the SaveTheInternet.org coalition.

"The telephone-cable Internet duopoly providers deluged Congress with an army of lobbyists, countless millions spent on misleading PR spin and outright lies, and a single-minded determination to put their bottom line ahead of the democratic principles of an open, neutral Internet."

TechDirt's Michael Masnick, disagrees that the Network Neutrality concept is a utopian or democratic concept, but rather an issue surrounding true competition:

The point of network neutrality isn't some Utopian "everyone must be equal" concept -- but a real concern for a lack of competition in the broadband space. The telcos were given a ton of money in subsidies and incentives to build out a wired, natural monopoly network. The government gave them rights of way which no one else can get. In exchange, they had to open their networks up to others to provide services. In other countries, this has resulted in robust competition and better services -- which was the point.

Whether the issue is antitrust, freedom of speech, democracy, or the influence of PAC money in Congress, many feel that the House has no true understanding of Net Neutrality - which is gentler, a salve for audacious wounds, than thinking it does understand and ignored it anyway.

The COPE Act will pass to the Senate, where the issue faces the same hurdles it did in the House. A few senators, most notably Hillary Clinton, have spoken in favor of Net Neutrality, but when telecommunications reform was recently written up by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), there was no mention of it.

The mainstream media, especially television and talk radio, which will discuss something as benign as Brangelina's baby or something as polarizing as immigration reform, have been conspicuously silent on the matter, which may account for why the public seems largely unaware of it, as well as the apparent deafness of our representatives.


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

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