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 “Leaving outdated laws on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.”

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