Letter to Senate Commerce Committee in Support of Snowe-Dorgan Net Neutrality Amendment

June 20, 2006

Common Cause Letter to the Senate Commerce Committee,

In Support of the Snowe-Dorgan Net Neutrality Amendment

The Honorable Ted Stevens

United States Senate

Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Stevens:

Common Cause strongly urges you to support S. 2917, The Internet Freedom Preservation Act, sponsored by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND). The legislation is expected to be offered as an amendment to S. 2686, which will be voted on by the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday.

The Snowe-Dorgan amendment will preserve and protect "net neutrality" - our longstanding right to access any information and use any lawful application on the Internet, without interference from any Internet service provider.

Common Cause and its 300,000 members and supporters care deeply about net neutrality because the Internet has become an engine not just for economic growth, but also for citizen engagement. Millions of Americans use the Internet to talk to one another, to seek out groups that advocate for issues they care about, to learn about political candidates and to engage in their democracy. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 63 million Americans used the Internet to learn about the 2004 elections and seven million accessed candidate websites. Four million used the Internet to contribute to a political candidate.

This engagement in our democracy was possible because the Internet has always been an open and accessible vehicle, encouraging not only citizen activism, but also the entrepreneurs who gave us email, instant messaging, Google, Amazon, eBay and so much more. All this was possible because the Internet "pipes" were open to all on a first-come, first-served basis. Access to those pipes was never free, but it was nondiscriminatory.

That's what the Snowe-Dorgan amendment will preserve: nondiscrimination on the Internet.

While the latest version of the Stevens bill (S. 2686, the Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act) pays lip service to net neutrality, it ultimately fails to protect citizens' access to information on the Internet because it does not address the problem of discrimination among content on the Internet.

The Snowe-Dorgan amendment would permit those corporations that built the Internet pipes to be able to charge more for high-speed service. But the amendment would prevent these companies from charging more for access to certain content, and giving discounts on other content - charging more to deliver a film from Warner Brothers than one from ABC, for example. It would continue to protect the principle of nondiscrimination that has served the Internet so well since its inception.

Because net neutrality has protected freedom and innovation on the Internet, we have seen explosive growth and substantial investment in this area in recent years. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the number of residential broadband lines increased by 62 percent between June 2004 and June 2005, a time when net neutrality protections were in place.[1] There's no reason to believe that these investments in broadband deployment would dry up if Congress votes simply to extend the net neutrality conditions that fostered that growth.

Recent television and print ads sponsored by industry trade associations and front groups have argued that net neutrality is "anti-consumer." But every true consumer organization, including Consumers Union (the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports), supports net neutrality legislation like the Snowe-Dorgan bill. Groups as diverse as the Christian Coalition, MoveOn.org and the American Library Association have joined together in calling for net neutrality.

The only way we can ensure that American families continue to benefit from an open and accessible Internet is by preventing Internet service providers from transforming what should be a vehicle for democratic discourse and creativity, into a cash cow. If cable and telephone companies, which are the only providers of high-speed Internet access for more than 95 percent of American consumers, are allowed to begin charging fees to content providers, many voices will be left out in the cold.

Thousands of nonprofit groups, candidates for office, bloggers, and small businesses will not be able to continue to use the Internet to communicate with anyone who travels on the information superhighway. Innovators and entrepreneurs now working to build the next Google, Amazon or Yahoo, will be stopped dead in their tracks by fees to access a market that they will not be able to afford to reach. And those web applications that will have to pay to reach an audience will not pay to reach rural markets; they will concentrate on wealthy urban markets where they can best maximize their profits.

For all these reasons, we urge you to protect the Internet from the discriminatory practices that telephone and cable companies have announced they will engage in. The Snowe-Dorgan approach simply extends net neutrality protections that have long been in place on the Internet, and we encourage you to support this amendment.


Chellie Pingree

President and CEO

Common Cause

cc: Members of the Senate Commerce Committee

[1] Federal Communications Commission, "High-Speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of June 30, 2005," released April 2006.

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