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News April 28, 2006
Jason Miller Thursday Apr 27, 2006

Net Neutrality Amendment Shot Down

Telecommunications giants scored a victory over Net Neutrality advocates in the U.S. legislature yesterday as the proposed "Markey Amendment," a provision to prevent Internet providers from creating access chokepoints was voted down in the House of Representatives.
Editor's Note: Did the House Energy and Commerce Committee sell out the Internet? Or do you think Net Neutrality supporters are overreacting? Share your thoughts on this very important issue in WebProWorld.
The amendment's defeat has caused a firestorm of accusations against the telecom industry and the legislators siding with them in the debate. A diverse and growing opposition believes that Congress members like Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-ILL), who pushed for the amendment's defeat, are acting not in favor of their constituency but in favor of the big-money telecom industry.

Telecoms, like AT&T and Verizon, want to create a two-tiered Internet where customers and content providers can be charged for premium content delivery at higher speeds and quality than other content. The harshest critics believe that ability will give ISPs the ability to block, slow, or degrade content unfavorable to them, including access to websites and email.

The Markey Amendment, proposed for addition to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE), was created to protect what proponents call "Network Neutrality," a philosophy that the Internet should remain free and open to encourage innovation, startup business, and free speech. Called the "Internet's First Amendment," this concept is supported by Internet and technology giants like Google and Microsoft.

The amendment expressly warned the telecom industry " not to block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with the ability of any person to use a broadband connection to access, use, send, receive, or offer lawful content, applications, or services over the Internet." It was voted down by a vote of 34-22 in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The COPE Act will now move to the full House for a vote, and then to the Senate if passed. The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to propose its own Net Neutrality legislation in the coming weeks.

"The House vote today ignores a groundswell of popular support for Internet freedom,” said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press. “We hope that the full House will resist the big telecom companies and reject the bill. But we look to the Senate to restore meaningful protections for net neutrality and ensure that the Internet remains open to unlimited economic innovation, civic involvement and free speech.”

Free Press recently spearheaded a campaign through the website, a nonpartisan initiative that attracted over 250,000 petition signatures and over 500 weblog authors in just a few days. While the initiative is not apolitical, it is diverse along party lines with membership ranging from libertarian Gun Owners of America, to the Consumers Union, to doesn't view it as a total loss, however. The attention the coalition has generated seems to have made a large impact on the voting. Before the initiative launched, Net Neutrality provisions were shot down 23-8 in the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

"The telcos have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and many years lobbying for their position; we launched four days ago, and have closed a lot of ground," reads the website.

“The Commerce Committee is headed in the opposite direction of where the American public wants to go,” said Columbia Law Professor Timothy Wu, a pro-market advocate and one of the intellectual architects of the Net Neutrality principle. “Most people favor an open and neutral Internet and don’t want Internet gatekeepers taxing and tollboothing innovation.”

Barton and Rush Under Scrutiny

Congressmen Barton and Rush have been put under the microscope by opponents lately for their financial relationships with the telecommunications industry. Both vocal opponents of Net Neutrality provisions in the Commerce Committee, Barton and Rush led the charge in defeating the Markey Amendment.

Many find it no small coincidence that out of Barton's top three campaign contributors, the second and third largest ones are SBC Communications (now AT&T) and Comcast Corporation. Tied for 12th among contributions is the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

The Chicago Sun-Times points out that Bobby Rush, the only Democrat to sponsor the bill, recently "received a $1 million grant from the charitable arm of SBC/AT&T" for a community organization Rush is associated with called the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation.

To see which committee members voted against the Markey Amendment click here.

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

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