July 26, 2006
Urge Senators to Support Network Neutrality Provisions in Communications Reform Bill
By now I am sure that all of you have heard the term network neutrality. It has been protecting web site owners and internet consumers for the last decade. The basic premise of net neutrality is that it ensures all internet traffic is treated equally. Every company, business, or individual who owns and runs a web site has to pay a premium to telecom companies for use of their hard lines that connect web sites to users. Net neutrality has ensured that the premium is the same for everyone.
Despite the best efforts of net neutrality proponents, including AALL, the Senate Commerce Committee's new telecommunications bill, the Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 (S. 2686), does not include a provision for net neutrality. The telecom giants have spent millions since January to block net neutrality legislation because they can reap enormous financial benefits by creating a two-tiered internet consisting of a "fast lane" and "slow lane." Telecom companies, without net neutrality legislation, could charge internet companies a higher premium to be part of the "fast lane." The "slow lane," therefore, would include web sites that either could not afford the higher premium or simply would not want to pay it.
What exactly does this mean? The result of a two-tiered system would be a segregated internet in which web sites paying to be part of the "fast lane" would be more accessible to the public than those in the "slow lane." Telecom companies, through the use of premiums, would indirectly control access to information. In fact, telecom companies would be the only beneficiaries of a communications reform bill that does not include meaningful net neutrality provisions.
In addition, controlling internet activities through tiered premiums would create a natural barrier to creativity and ingenuity. Start-up companies with little cash on hand would not be able to access the "fast lane," thus leaving their creative ideas to die in the "slow lane." Would companies like Google or Yahoo! have been able to grow in an online environment without net neutrality? The answer should be fairly obvious.
Hearings have been held on the current version of S. 2686 by the Senate Commerce Committee, where efforts to amend it with meaningful net neutrality provisions failed by an 11-11 vote. The August recess begins August 7th and runs through Labor Day. Your Senators will be back in your states, and this presents an excellent opportunity to take a hands on approach to this issue, especially if your Senator is running for re-election. Attend a rally, schedule a meeting at your Senator's district office, or, at the very least, send them an email. Urge them not to support any communications reform bill unless it includes meaningful net neutrality provisions. Also, be sure to personalize your message so that it relates specifically to your institution and your patrons. Here are key talking points:
- Network neutrality is necessary to ensure that a standard premium will be charged to all web site owners, thus preventing discrimination on the part of telecom companies. Libraries depend on the internet to assist faculty, students, and researchers in finding the information they need. Without net neutrality, law libraries will not be able to afford the extra cost, thus limiting the availability of resources to their patrons.
- Adopting S. 2686 without net neutrality provisions will limit, or at best discourage, public access to certain web sites. Many of these sites provide services essential to the public, such as access to health, medical, or government information.
- Consumers will end up being the biggest losers. Unlimited access to all forms of information is a core value of our democracy, and since it was created the internet has been a place where innovation and creativity have thrived.
Every member of the Senate needs to hear from their constituents on this issue. Below is a list of Senators who have not yet taken a definitive position on net neutrality.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI)
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)
Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-ME)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH)
Sen. Michael B. Enzi (R-WY)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA)
Sen. James M. Talent (R-MO)
Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-OH)
Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-DE)
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-DE)
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI)
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA)
Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln (D-AR)
Sen. Benjamin E. Nelson (D-NE)
Sen. Mark L. Pryor (D-AR)
Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
We have received several requests to create a sample letter to send to your Senators regarding network neutrality. Right click here to download a sample letter [ a Microsoft Word document ].
Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries
American Association of Law Libraries