Net Neutrality Forces Put on a Happy Face

Reporter’s Notebook: Defeated at every turn to put tougher net neutrality provisions in telecom reform bills percolating in the U.S. House and Senate, Democrats this week turned to their last resort: introducing legislation of their own.

Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts last week lost a House Energy and Commerce Committee vote to prohibit broadband providers from charging content and service providers different rates based on bandwidth consumption. But now he has turned his failed amendment into a proposed law.

But as minority legislation, the bill is DOA.

Despite that gloomy picture for net neutrality proponents, the advocacy groups and coalitions backing statutory language to enforce some still-to-be-defined network neutrality definition found hope in the Democrats’ token efforts.

Gigi Sohn, president of the Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, went so far as to say, “Momentum is shifting towards strong, enforceable net neutrality protections.”

Over at Save the Internet, the message of the day was that the Democratic legislation is a “powerful boost to Net Neutrality advocates.”

Markey’s legislation would allow broadband providers to prioritize Internet traffic, but it requires the providers to do so for all data of that type and prohibits charging for the prioritization.

“For instance, if a broadband provider wants to prioritize the transmission of bits representing a VoIP phone call for its own VoIP service, it must do so for all VoIP services so as not to put its competitors at an arbitrary disadvantage,” Markey said in his floor comments.

Cornyn Pushes for More H1-B Visas: While immigrants marched in the streets of America this week, Sen. John Cornyn turned his attention to immigrants in classrooms with high-tech skills.

The Texas Republican’s Securing Knowledge, Innovation and Leadership (SKIL) bill expands the number of visas allowed for high-tech workers educated in the United States who are employed as part of the H1-B visa program.

An H1-B visa is a non-immigrant classification used by foreigners who are sponsored and employed in specialty fields such as technology. The current H1-B ceiling is 65,000 workers per year, following caps as high 195,000 employees in the early 1990s.

Cornyn’s bill raises the H1-B cap and exempts from the annual H-1B cap any professional who has earned a post-graduate degree from an accredited U.S. university.

“A crucial part of our growing economy is our ability to innovate. By investing in science and technology, we can continue to revolutionize our economy,” Cornyn said in a statement. “This bill would help cultivate a system that ensures these talented people — and their jobs — remain here.”

Or, as Bill Gates said last year on a visit to Washington, “The whole idea of the H1-B thing is don’t let too many smart people come into the country. Basically, it doesn’t make sense.”

Common sense, however, has never been a hallmark of Congress.

Updating AT&T Internet Spying Allegations: The Department of Justice (DoJ) last week said it would “assert the military and state secrets privilege” and “intervene to seek dismissal” of the class action suit brought against AT&T by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF suit accuses AT&T of collaborating with the National Security Agency’s “massive and illegal program to wiretap and data mine Americans’ communications.”

The EFF’s evidence is currently under court seal, but the EFF said in April, “The evidence that we are filing supports our claim that AT&T is diverting Internet traffic into the hands of the NSA wholesale in violation of federal wiretapping laws and the Fourth Amendment.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the DoJ wants to quash the public disclosure of the evidence.

“The United States cannot disclose any national security information that may be at issue in this case,” the DoJ stated in a court filing on April 28.

“However, the fact that the United States will assert the state secrets privilege should not be construed as a confirmation or denial of any of the plaintiffs’ allegations, either about AT&T or the alleged surveillance activities.”

A hearing on the issue is scheduled for May 17.

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