RealTime IT News

New Coalition Finds No Hope in COPE

With a key House vote on network neutrality set for Wednesday morning, a new coalition rallied Monday in hopes of derailing the fast track Republican-led initiative.

According to the SaveTheInternet.com Coalition, the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Efficiency Act of 2006 (COPE) does not guarantee network neutrality since telephone and cable companies will be able to charge content providers different rates based on bandwidth consumption.

The Internet has traditionally operated with the network itself serving as a "dumb pipe," treating all bits traveling to consumers equally. Content providers pay a fee to access users through the broadband providers.

COPE, the coalition claims, alters that concept by allowing broadband providers to discriminate against content providers in who has access to slow and fast lanes on the Internet based on their ability to pay.

"It's a radical departure in the way the Internet has always operated," Tim Carr of Free Media said in a teleconference. "It concentrates too much power in the hands of the broadband providers.

Telephone and cable companies control 99 percent of American broadband connections.

Vint Cerf, a pioneer architect of the Internet and Google's Chief Internet Evangelist, said COPE would discourage innovation.

"It used to be you simply got on the Internet and tried out your new ideas," he said. "This bill has no guarantee against [broadband provider] abusers."

House Republicans contend there is "virtually" no evidence that broadband providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have abused their positions as Internet gatekeepers to favor one site over another.

COPE leaves issues related to network neutrality to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) but limits the FCC's authority to mandate new network neutrality rules.

Republicans have dismissed the Democrats' efforts to put the FCC's principles of network neutrality into law as "anticipatory" legislation aimed at adding unneeded regulation.

"The telecoms and cable companies are spending tens of millions of dollars to influence telecom regulation," Carr said. "The issue is now being waged in earnest with consumers on one side and some in Congress who aligned with the largest telecoms."

Carr said the coalition is launching a telephone call in, e-mail and blog campaign aimed at lawmakers.

Gigi Sohn of the Internet public advocacy group Public Knowledge added that Congress should avoid using the cable business model for the Internet.

"Time Warner [cable] favors content it has an interest in. We fear the same model for the Internet," she said.

Political activists as diverse as the liberal MoveOn.org and the conservative Gun Owners of America have joined the SavetheInternet coalition out of concern that COPE will allow broadband providers decide which sites run fast and which run slower.

"The rules must include network neutrality," Craig Fields of Gun Owners of America said. "We're talking about a handful of telecoms who will be holding the lifeblood of the Internet."

MoveOn.org launched its own campaign over the weekend to get its members to contact Congress about the legislation.

"Internet providers like AT&T and Verizon are lobbying Congress hard to gut network neutrality," MoveOn wrote to its members. "Net neutrality prevents AT&T from choosing which websites open most easily for you based on which site pays AT&T more. Amazon.com doesn't have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to work more properly on your computer."

Two weeks ago, the House Internet Subcommittee overwhelmingly defeated an effort by Democrats to add a stronger network neutrality clause to COPE. The full committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday and House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) hopes to have the bill before the full House by summer.