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
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
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
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.