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Coping with COPE

A rundown of bills in Congress challenging and supporting "Net Neurtrality"

In the House ...

Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act of 2006 (HR 5252)

Introduced by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).

Summary (from freepress.net, a net-neutrality advocacy group): "The COPE Act grants national video franchises to telephone and cable companies, promising competition in some areas in exchange for the elimination of franchise agreements with local governments. Also, for the first time, funding for public access programming is enshrined into national law, albeit imperfectly. The bill stops short of protecting a free and open Internet, offering only half-baked network neutrality protections. It tightens up the rules on Internet telephony with a focus on emergency services and interconnection between networks. This bill would overturn state legislation restricting deployment of Community Internet systems. And it would compel phone and cable companies to sell broadband to consumers separately from TV and telephone service. Without fundamental changes, this major gift to the phone companies will negatively impact consumers and citizens."

Status: Passed by House Energy and Commerce Committee, this bill could go to the floor of the House as soon as the week of June 5.

Action: Contact your House Representative. Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

The Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 (HR 5417)

Introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

Summary: This bill uses antitrust law to provide safeguards to network neutrality that were voted out of early versions of the COPE Act. Lofgren's bill requires broadband providers to operate their networks in a non-discriminatory manner, prohibiting phone and cable companies from either favoring or blocking access to the Web sites or online services. The only drawback net neutrality advocates see is that using antitrust laws puts enforcement in the hands of the Justice Department, rather than empowering the Federal Communications Commission. The full text of the bill is at http://tinyurl.com/etovk.

Status: Passed by the House Judiciary Committee on May 25 by a vote of 20-13. The bipartisan support (14 Democrats and six Republicans voted in favor) marked a turnaround in political support for net neutrality. The full House is expected to take up the bill in June; observers predict that when it reaches the House floor, it will not get an up or down vote but be amended to the COPE Act.

Action: Contact your House Representative. Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

In the Senate ...

Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 (S 2686)

Introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Summary: This giant bill reads like a budget, but is in fact a set of telecom policy reforms. According to Free Press, a group advocating net neutrality, "It streamlines the cable franchising process for telephone and cable companies, promising cable competition in some areas in exchange for the elimination of local government negotiating power. Funding for public access programming is enshrined into national law, with significant flaws. The bill opens the door for Internet gatekeepers, offering to study network neutrality rather than creating enforceable protections. This bill would overturn state legislation that restricts deployment of community Internet (with some problematic conditions). Consumer protection rules would be created by the FCC and applied nationwide but enforced by the states. The bill would open up much needed spectrum for wireless broadband in empty television channels. And, unlike the COPE Act, the bill tackles reform of the Universal Service Fund, expanding the base of contributions and applying subsidies to broadband networks. Nonetheless, without some fundamental changes, the net effect of this bill will negatively impact consumers and citizens."

Status: The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has held two hearings on this bill and a third is scheduled on June 13. A markup and vote is slated for June 20. Sens. Dorgan and Snowe, who introduced the Internet Preservation Act (see below), are members of this committee and are expected to make their bill an amendment to this one.

Action: Contact your senators and members of the committee; a list of those members is at tinyurl.com/h9k7h.

Internet Freedom Preservation Act (S 2917)

Introduced by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

Summary: Like the House bill introduced by Lofgren, this bill requires broadband providers to operate their networks in a nondiscriminatory manner, prohibiting phone and cable companies from either favoring or blocking access to Web sites or online services. Unlike the Lofgren bill, enforcement of net neutrality would continue to fall under the jurisdiction of the FCC. A full text of the bill is at http://tinyurl.com/ks8bj.

Status: Referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Action: Contact your senators and members of the committee; a list of those members is at tinyurl.com/h9k7h.