This Thursday, you will be casting a vote on legislation that will dramatically affect every family in your district. We strongly urge you to vote for H.R. 5417, the Internet Freedom and Non-Discrimination Act. This bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner and ranking minority member Rep. John Conyers, along with Reps. Rick Boucher and Zoe Lofgren, will guarantee our right to "net neutrality" -- the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose and use any applications they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service provider.
Common Cause has 300,000 members and supporters throughout the country and 37 state chapters. For 30 years we have worked to make government at the local, state and national levels more open, honest and accountable. The Internet has become our new "town square" and given us a powerful platform for increasing citizen engagement in our democracy. But the Internet as we know it is in jeopardy.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) used to protect our rights to access any information we wanted on the Internet. But we lost those protections in August 2005, when the FCC decided to change the way it enforced rules dealing with the Internet. As a consequence, there is now no rule or regulation that will prevent the phone and cable companies from doing what they've said they want to do: charge content providers for the right to be on their Internet pipes, and make special deals with some companies to ensure their sites and services work faster and are easier to find by Internet users.
There is a real risk that telephone and cable companies, which provide access to the Internet for 98 percent of U.S. consumers who go online, will use their market power to transform the Internet into largely a vehicle for selling us things - entertainment, games and goods. And even then, only those goods and commodities from which they can extract the most profit will be most accessible.
It is crucial that the Internet remain a forum for us to talk to one another, to access web sites for information, to read, write and comment on blogs, to engage in political forums, or to donate and learn about candidates. For this reason, groups as diverse as Common Cause, Consumers Union, the Christian Coalition, and Gun Owners of America strongly support net neutrality.
Net neutrality also is vital for our economic vitality. It was a free and open Internet, without barriers to entry, that made it possible for young, unknown entrepreneurs to develop Google, Yahoo, eBay and many other innovative businesses. But without net neutrality, access to the Internet will become too costly for the next generation of innovators.
Your vote in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday can make a difference in the fight to ensure that the Internet encourages democratic discourse and innovation. Common Cause strongly urges your support for H.R. 5417.
Chellie Pingree, President