December 06, 2006

Wyden blocks Telecom Legislationover ineffective net neutrality provision

Senator wants legislation to include stronger safeguardsfor consumers to prevent discrimination in Internet access and usage

Washington, DC-U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today announced that he has placed a "hold" on major telecommunications legislation recently approved by the Senate Commerce Committee until clear language is included in the legislation that prevents discrimination in Internet access. The legislation as currently written does not provide an effective policy on net neutrality, and instead opens the Internet up to large telecommunications companies and cable providers to charge consumers and small businesses new and discriminatory fees on top of those they already charge for Internet access.

In March, Wyden introduced the first stand-alone net neutrality legislation in Congress, S. 2360, the Internet Non-Discrimination Act. Wyden is also a co-sponsor of a similar measure offered this spring by U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) to preserve net neutrality.

Wyden has long been an advocate of a technology-neutral Internet. He is the author of the Internet tax ban, which the Senate Committee on Finance today voted to make permanent, and was named one of the top ten tech players to watch.

As a matter of policy, Wyden publicly announces any holds or formal objection he lodges with regard to nominees or legislation. The full text of Wyden's statement submitted to the Congressional Record today follows:

For the Congressional Record

Statement by United States Senator Ron Wyden
June 28, 2006

M. President, the major telecommunications legislation reported today by the Senate Commerce Committee is badly flawed. The bill makes a number of major changes in the country's telecommunications law but there is one provision that is nothing more than a license to discriminate. Without a clear policy preserving the neutrality of the Internet and without tough sanctions against those who would discriminate, the Internet will be forever changed for the worse.

This one provision threatens to divide the Internet into technology "haves" and "have nots." This one provision concentrates even more power in the hands of the special interests that own the pipelines to the Internet. This one provision codifies discrimination on the Internet by a handful of large telecommunications and cable providers. This one provision will allow large, special interests to saddle consumers and small businesses alike with new and discriminatory fees over and above what they already pay for Internet access. This one small provision is akin to hurling a giant wrecking ball at the Internet.

The inclusion of this provision compels me to state that I would object to a unanimous consent request to the Senate proceeding with this legislation until a provision that provides true internet neutrality is included.

This bill means the American people will no longer be able to use the Internet free from discrimination. Sure, the time it takes you to access the web might be slower with dial up, or you might zoom around the web at warp speed, but you get to choose the speed. Today, whatever speed you chose doesn't make any difference in which sites you can visit. You still get access to any site you want. This is the beauty and the genius of the Internet. The net is neutral.

The days of unfettered, unlimited and free access to any site on the world wide web, what I call net neutrality, are being threatened. Those who own the pipes, the giant cable and phone companies, want to discriminate in which sites you can access. If they get their way, not only will you have to pay more for faster speeds, you'll have to pay more for something you get for free today: unfettered access to every site on the world wide web. To me, that's discrimination, pure and simple.

The Internet has thrived precisely because it is neutral. It has thrived because consumers, and not some giant cable or phone company, get to choose what they want to see and how quickly they get to see it. I am not going to allow a bill to go forward that is going to end surfing the web free of discrimination.

The large Interests have made it clear that if this bill moves forward, they will begin to discriminate. A Verizon Communications executive has called for an "end to Google's ‘free lunch.'" A Bell South executive has said that he wants the Internet to be turned into a "pay-for-performance marketplace". What they and other cable and phone company executives are proposing is that instead of providing equal access for everyone to the same content at the same price, they will set up sweetheart arrangements to play favorites. Without net neutrality protections, this bill is bad news for consumers and anyone who today enjoys unlimited access to all of the Net's applications, service and content.

There is no doubt in my mind that American consumers and small business will be the losers in this fight if this bill is allowed to move forward. Right now, a computer science major at the University of Oregon who is working on the next big thing for the Internet. But she will never get the chance to get the next big thing out there if she cannot pay the big fees that will be charged tomorrow for the same Internet access she gets for free today.

Right now in Pendleton , Oregon there is a small family wheat farm where dad is monitoring the fertilizer on their crop via a new web-service program that his son bought. If the network operators have their way, this web-service will get so expensive that it will be out of reach for this family farmer.

As a United States Senator who has devoted himself to keeping the Internet free from discrimination, from discriminatory taxes and regulations to assuring offline protections apply to online consumer activities as well, I cannot stand by and allow the bill to proceed with this provision. The inclusion of this provision compels me to inform my colleagues that I would object to any unanimous consent request for the United States Senate to move to consider this bill.

There are other provisions in this legislation, such as the one relating to my proposal for the creation of kids television tiers, that are problematic, but none of them rises to the same level of concern as the one relating to network neutrality. Therefore, I will object to any further action on this telecommunications bill until it includes a strong net neutrality provisions that will truly benefit consumers and small business. I ask unanimous consent that a copy of my statement be printed in the record.