May 1, 2006 4:40 PM PDT

Net neutrality missing from sweeping telecom bill

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The dozens of contentious topics that Stevens chose to address are likely to complicate negotiations this time around as well.

Net neutrality, for instance, has become a rallying cry recently for Internet and software firms and liberal advocacy groups (and even one or two conservative ones) that say strict FCC regulations are necessary to protect the Internet. Net neutrality refers to the idea of the federal government preventing broadband providers from favoring some Web sites or video streams' connection speeds over others.

Large telephone and cable companies have argued against the need to put such principles into law, saying they're not interested in blocking sites or services but deserve the right to charge extra for such a "fast lane" to make their investments in bandwidth-hogging services and new technologies economically viable. Broadband providers have spent billions of dollars to run fiber or faster links to American homes and businesses.

Another contentious topic is whether municipal governments should be competing with private companies by running their own broadband networks. This bill would authorize it--and zap state laws, including one in Pennsylvania that have restricted such activity. (A bill introduced in the House last year takes the opposite approach and bans all such municipal networks.)

Ted Stevens Ted Stevens

Under Stevens' proposal, called the Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act, municipalities would face some restrictions designed to prevent discrimination by public-sector enterprises against private-sector ones. Governments would be forced, for instance, to post public notice of any projects they planned to undertake and to have an open bidding process if they planned to bring on any private corporations as partners. That provision borrows from a broadly pro-business broadband bill introduced last summer by Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican.

Raising broadband taxes
Also, if Stevens' legislation passes, a broader swath of Americans would be taxed for the Universal Service Fund, a controversy-plagued, multibillion-dollar pool of money that's currently used to subsidize telecommunications services in rural and other high-cost areas, schools and libraries.

Critics--including Stevens, a self-avowed USF proponent--have charged that the fund has steadily been dwindling because traditional services, such as long-distance, are taking in less money, while unanticipated voice technologies, such as voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, are not expressly required to pay up. (A number of the larger VoIP providers, including Vonage, have said they already pay into the fund.)

The Stevens-Inouye proposal would require all companies providing a "communications service" to pay into the fund, which most likely would translate into another line item on customer bills. The bill defines "communications service" as a telecommunications service, a broadband service offering transmission speeds of at least 200 kilobits per second in one direction, and an IP-enabled voice service that connects to the public-switch telephone network. That means services like the voice-chat feature on AOL Instant Messenger would not be subject to the tax.

It would be up to the FCC to decide how to levy the fees. It could choose, for instance, to charge an USF fee to each phone number or IP address or to continue the current model, in which companies contribute a fixed portion of their revenues to the fund.

Like a proposal introduced last week by Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, a Republican on Steven's committee, the new bill would also create a separate "broadband service for unserved areas" account within the USF that would allow up to $500 million of support each year for such ventures.

"The overarching theme of the bill we introduce today is deployment of broadband nationwide," Stevens said in a statement upon introducing the bill.

The approach, however, does not enjoy unanimous support. Free-market thinkers and their sympathizers, including Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, tend to argue that because of evidence that broadband prices are on the decline, the fund should be capped or even phased out entirely.

The bill also revisits freeing up bands on the broadcast television spectrum for various purposes, including more affordable broadband deployments. It sets forth requirements for a consumer education campaign related to the digital television transition, which Congress approved late last year. That measure requires broadcasters to vacate the analog spectrum by Feb. 17, 2009, so that it can be turned over to public safety workers and auctioned off for new wireless services.

Like a number of its predecessors, the bill also proposes allowing unused channels, or "white spaces," on the broadcast television bands to be snapped up for unlicensed wireless ventures.

Consumer advocates say the properties of that chunk of the radio spectrum would enable cheaper and easier setup of broadband networks. The broadcasting lobby has railed against the idea, fearing interference with their stations' reception. The new bill would require the FCC to vet such concerns and to set rules aimed at staving off such conflicts.

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Vote Stevens out
Telecom lapdog.
Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Vote Stevens out
Dont hold your breath, he brings in alot of money in pork projects to his constituents. He's been number one on the citzens against government waste list for most pork for 5 years in a row.
Posted by kaufmanmoore (42 comments )
Link Flag
Go to now: Dems and GOP alike...
If you'd like some background information on network neutrality, visit here: - then surf over to <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> and make your voice heard.
Posted by directorblue (148 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Go to now: Dems & GOP alike...
Background material on the danger of killing off the current state of network neutrality here:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Then go visit <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> and help take action!
Posted by directorblue (148 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I thought the Government was "For the People"?
This smells like soft money persuading some positions to push
issues that are of no concern to the people and only concern the
Telecommunications industry.

There is a NEED to ADDRESS NET NEUTRALITY and nothing else
at this point in time. There are issues that needed to be
addressed across the internet so we can see a diminish in
exposes on Child Pornography and Internet Predators.

Of course Capitol Hill should know a little something about
Internet Predators. Maybe it's time to do something about it.

One more question..The people don't stop paying your checks
on Capitol Hill, so where do you find it necessary to stop
working for the "People"?

Net Neutrality needs to be ADDRESSED NOW, not in "years to
come". "Years to Come" will bring a more intolerable internet to
manage as technologies continue to grow. Maybe it's time to
throw away the adage that Government is "10 years behind in
technology". Let's make 2006 the year "Government caches up
to technology"!

Justin Gund
Posted by OneWithTech (196 comments )
Reply Link Flag
protecting who?
There is so much focus right now on protecting media revenue and finding ways to tax the internet, when the real focus should be on making the internet SECURE to use in the first place. The economic damage from identity theft, email breach and data loss is in the millions every year. If the government wants to act on the behalf of businesses that do business on the internet, then put some energy into aleviating the current security crisis:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by 209979377489953107664053243186 (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oy, PERFORM Act and the broadcast flag?
All wrapped up in this nasty little bill WITHOUT net neutrality? And some of you people ARE STILL going to vote republican? Come on, what will it take to realise what that gets you. Oy. but besides voting, people need to express their isenfranchisement over bills like this and the data retention, etc. by getting out there and doing anything to express your vies. March, protest, sit-ins, call your congress critters until their ears bleed, fax, write, e-mail, send any signal you can that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Hell, at this rate if this and the data retention bills get passed, that's it, I'm done with the net, and the only ones harmed are The big corps, they won't get my money for my ISP subscription, for my Xbox subscription, for my Playstation subscription, for all the websites I subscibe to, ALL these companies will LOSE mine and other who will stand with me money if they DO NOT fight this bill and the data retention bill.
Posted by MisterFlibble (207 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If they do this quick enough I won't have to upgrade to the digital
set because if I can't time shift (and I won't pay to time shift), then
I won't be watching anything anyway.

Gosh, the guv'ment is going to save me money... uh huh
Posted by CE10 (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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