Dems Go Virtual to Promote New Agenda

As the 110th Congress performed its first-day rituals Thursday, California Rep. George Miller temporarily left his first life on the floor of the U.S. House to conduct a Second Life press conference.

“I’m the canary in the coal mine,” Miller said. “Second Life is the next frontier and hopefully other members will use it to expand the [public’s] interest and participation in Congress.”

Using the popular virtual world site as a forum to promote the new majority Democrats’ “100 Hours” of legislation, Miller called for a bill with strong network neutrality provisions.

“We made our position known [on network neutrality] in the last Congress,” Miller said, recalling Democrats’ failed efforts to convince the then-majority Republicans to require broadband providers such as AT&T and Comcast to treat all Internet traffic in a nondiscriminatory price manner.

The Democrats’ network neutrality amendment to a telecom reform bill failed in the House and never came up for a vote in the Senate. Lawmakers failed to pass any legislation involving network neutrality.

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the $85 billion AT&T-BellSouth merger with a two-year agreement that AT&T wouldn’t prioritize Internet traffic over its wireline DSL platform.

“If it weren’t for [Democrats] we wouldn’t have won the temporary victory with the AT&T-BellSouth merger,” Miller said. “The question is are these forms of communication going to be fully available to everyone?”

Democrats are expected to introduce new network neutrality bills in the next few weeks.

Miller, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, also threw his support behind legislation that would require Congress to post on the Internet any bill at least 72 hours before a vote. The Internet posting would also have to include any “earmarks,” the controversial funding method for lawmakers’ favorite projects, attached to the legislation.

Introduced last year by Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), the legislation would amend the rules of the House to update and strengthen the existing three-day rule for votes, which was routinely ignored in the 109th Congress.

Unlike the current three-day rule, the 72 Online rule would apply even in the final week of a congressional session, when the worst abuses of approving legislation and earmarks often occur.

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