RealTime IT News

Ignoring Net Neutrality, Expanding USF

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Gordon Smith introduced telecom reform legislation this week that completely ignores the issue of network neutrality. It would, however, expand the companies paying into the Universal Service Fund (USF).

Under the Oregon Republican's Broadband for America Act of 2006, the bill would expand contributors to the USF to include any company capable of offering two-way communications.

Telecom companies pass on USF fees to telephone users.

Smith's bill also expedites national video franchises and allows municipalities to offer broadband service in areas where private companies cannot or will not provide service.

In addition, the bill also calls for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to complete rules for the use of "white space" spectrum within six months. White space is the analog spectrum between the designated stations of broadcasters that can be used for wireless service.

"To succeed in a global marketplace American firms need access to affordable broadband networks," Smith said in a statement. "Leaving outdated laws on the books stalls job creation and inhibits the introduction of wireless technology that can be utilized in parts of America today's technology will never reach."

Network Neutrality? Forget about it.

Like many Republican lawmakers, not to mention a few Democrats, Smith thinks any issues of broadband providers abusing their near exclusive control of the consumer broadband market can be handled by the FCC.

Don't look for any Republican white knights in the Senate to charge forward with legislation to guarantee that broadband providers do not discriminate in the use of their new fiber pipes.

"The Senate is working on a very comprehensive [telecom reform] bill that may have as many as 12 different items," said Gigi Sohn of the Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge at a Monday press conference. "Net neutrality provisions will be weak or maybe even dropped."

House Passes Anti-Pretexting Bill: On a 409-0 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday approved legislation criminalizing the fraudulent sale or solicitation of confidential phone records.

The legislation slaps maximum criminal penalties of 10 years and maximum fines of $500,000 for any person who sells, transfers, purchases or receives confidential phone records of a telephone company without the prior consent of the customer.

Selling confidential phone records has become a cottage industry on the Internet. Using a technique widely known as "pretexting," hustlers pose as a phone company customer in order to access the real customer's records. The information is then on the Internet for as little as $100.

"Few things are more personal and potentially more revealing than our phone records," Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said. "A careful study of these records may reveal details of our medical or financial life. It may even disclose our physical location and occupation -- a serious concern for undercover police officers and victims of stalking or domestic violence."

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

Cox Touts XBRL: Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Chris Cox told the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday the SEC is "strongly committed to interactive data."

"The beauty of interactive data is that it will not only make today's 10Ks, proxies and mutual fund prospectuses more useful for investors, but it will also reduce much of the time and expense that companies currently devote to filing SEC reports," Cox, a former House member, told the committee.

The SEC pioneered the use of electronic filing in the 1980s with the use of its Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR) system. Prior to that, the SEC required disclosure documents be filed exclusively on paper.

What Cox calls interactive data is really documents coded in Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL).

"The move to interactive data represents a sorely needed upgrade in the SEC's electronic disclosure regime," Cox said. "It will allow anyone to easily search, extract, compile, compare and analyze financial and qualitative data according to each individual's preferences."

Cox said the SEC is offering incentives for companies to file their documents with XBRL, including expedited review of registration statements and annual reports.

More than 17 companies have begun using XBRL for document filings with the SEC.

"Our aim is to move from long, hard-to-read disclosure documents to easy-to-navigate Web pages that let investors click through to find what they want," Cox said.

"We want to emancipate the data from the page and let it find its way across the Internet and around the world in the form of RSS feeds, AJAX applications and whatever comes next."