There are several bills in Congress that are shaping the future of corporate and government control over the Internet. The blogosphere has been buzzing with related headlines over the past two weeks. Before signing any Internet petitions, though, at least take a few moments to find out about this legislation being voted on as early as next week.
Both the Senate and the House have been working since September to revamp the 1996 Telecommunications Act so that it reflects the rise of the Internet to near-utility status and the government's compelling interest in promoting high-speed Internet access (particularly VoIP and video services). The SavetheInternet.com Coalition (which doubled its membership last week) has several helpful, albeit sensationalistic, resources (including up-to-date information about your Senator/Congressperson's vote), but even their FAQs page lacks some of the essential details about the bills being discussed in Congress. Official documentation is sparse across the net, but all the bills should eventually be on the Library of Congress website.
House of Representatives
The "Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006" (COPE Act; H.R. 5252) allows telcos to manage Internet access. This has already passed on the committee level (bad news for net neutrality advocates). During this April 26 Committee on Energy and Commerce meeting, members voted twice: once for Rep. Ed Markey's (D-MA) amendment containing enforceable net neutrality provisions, and again for the overall COPE Act. After the amendment was defeated, several members also voted for the act without net neutrality protections. "This outcome was expected," said MAP President Andrew Schwartzman, "but we are somewhat surprised - and encouraged - by the progress that net neutrality advocates have made in the last few weeks." Defeat in the Energy and Commerce panel has prompted Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to consider pursuing network-neutrality legislation in the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the country's antitrust laws. Markey responded yesterday by introducing the "Network Neutrality Act of 2006" (H.R. 5273).
Withdrawn was an amendment to help law enforcement track online child pornographers; Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) said there were some germane issues, but promised to get it in the bill before it is voted on in the House. There was another hearing today on this online pornography issue proposed (PDF) by Diana DeGette (D-CO). The Committee on Energy and Commerce website is updated daily and is worth browsing for related issues (SS#s and digital content technology, for example).
Similar to the new Network Neutrality Act, the Senate should be voting on the "Internet Non-discrimination Act of 2006" (S. 2360) in May or June. It deals directly with net neutrality as opposed to the COPE Act which focuses mostly on requirements that telcos will face as they attempt to compete with cable companies in the residential video market.
On Tuesday, Commerce Committee Chairman, Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced the "Communications, Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006" (S. 2686). This brings the "broadcast flag" mandate (FCC 03-273; PDF file) back to the table. The Electronic Frontier Foundation helped defeat this mandate last May. The new bill was co-authored by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), co-chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. It would authorize the FCC to establish a broadcast flag to allow TV stations to protect digital content from Internet piracy.
- Antitrust Law Aimed at Net Neutrality (Newsvine, April 29)
- Toll Lane Ahead for Internet Traffic? (Newsvine, May 1)
- Broadcast Flag Reintroduced in Stevens Bows Sweeping Telecom Bill (Newsvine, May 1)
- Why You Should Care About Network Neutrality (Slate, May 1)
- Wikipedia: broadcast flag, network neutrality, Telecommunications Act of 1996
- Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee: public interest, non profit and industry groups working on Internet-related policy issues
- Federal Communications Commission: independent U.S. government agency regulating interstate and international communications
- Free Press: media reform through outreach, activism, lobbying and networking