Stevens Telecom Bill Fails Democracy and Consumers

Statement by Common Cause President Chellie Pingree

The Communications, Consumer Choice and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) fails to protect and preserve network neutrality. The bill does nothing to stop network operators from discriminating against lawful Internet content or establishing fees or “tollbooths” on the Information Superhighway. Rather, the bill merely requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue an annual report documenting the special-interest deals that the telecom companies cut with large businesses. The bill threatens innovation and free speech on the Internet by allowing Internet service providers to consign entrepreneurs, nonprofits and political candidates to the “slow lane” of Internet access, while giving preferential treatment to big businesses who can afford to pay high fees. (Although Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) agreed to co-sponsor the bill, he has made clear that “this is the draft of the Majority Staff” and that he has “numerous, substantive objections to the bill in its current form.”)

The Stevens bill also threatens community broadband, which offers high-speed, low-cost Internet access to citizens using public resources. The legislation effectively gives telecom companies veto power over community broadband projects. Companies like Verizon and AT&T have a history of opposing community broadband in order to stifle competition and protect their own profit margins. Common Cause believes the Internet serves as a gateway to information and a forum that Americans need to participate in our democracy, and that community broadband is a way to bring Internet access to more citizens, particularly in rural and low-income areas not currently served by large providers.

Unless these issues can be addressed through the amendment process, Common Cause will oppose the Stevens telecom bill. This legislation, like the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE) sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) in the House, reflects the priorities of the cable and telephone companies, not the public interest. Common Cause is urging members of the House to vote against the COPE bill, because of its failures to protect Internet freedom, its lack of local consumer protections, and its inadequate build-out requirements.

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