Net Neutrality Law Passes in Maine
by Matt Stoller, Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 05:22:07 PM EDT
I've been meaning to blog this for a few days, but you may have noticed a few items on Breaking Blue about a major step for the Save the Internet coalition: our first legislative victory. Maine passed into law a provision ordering the Office of the Public Advocate to investigate what Maine could legally do to protect net neutrality in Maine, with the understanding that net neutrality is critical for Maine business and democracy in Maine. There was heavy lobbying against this by Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, but the lobbying campaign failed.
The Maine legislature, pressured by Common Cause, League of Young Voters, the Community Television Association of Maine, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, and the blog Turn Main Blue, has taken the extraordinary first step of pushing for net neutrality protections. There was some discussion about whether to pass a full-blown law mandating protections for net neutrality, but the legislature settled on an investigation of the state's authority to prevent a costly legal challenge. Depending on the outcome of that investigation, you can expect either a state resolution calling on Congress to mandate net neutrality protections, or an actual law protecting net neutrality in Maine.
There are a few reasons this resolution passed in Maine and did not in Maryland. First of all, Maine has a clean elections system, so legislators can make decisions without immense pressure from corporate interests. Second of all, for institutional reasons, CWA is weak in Maine, and so did not really play in this dispute. It was CWA that killed the Maryland resolution, and that is keeping the Democratic leadership from embracing net neutrality in their technology agenda.
The lessons are clear going forward. We need public financing of elections, and we need to persuade CWA to adopt net neutrality as a core policy principle. They aren't far, and I'm hoping that we can have a fruitful dialogue with them on the issue.
In April, I asked you to email CWA President Larry Cohen. You may have noticed that I stopped blogging about them for awhile, and that's because I have been in contact with senior policy analyst Debbie Goldman, who has been patiently working to facilitate a dialogue. Their President, Larry Cohen, invited me to meet with them on May 11, and since then we've been working to schedule a dialogue and negotiating the contours of it. Their spam filter ate about eight of my emails, so if you emailed Larry Cohen there's a good chance it didn't get to him. So bottom line, I've been trying to schedule a meeting with the CWA for about a month now, a meeting Larry kindly suggested we have.
Aside from this willingness to dialogue, there's a lot of great progress on the telecom reform front. Maine's resolution is a great step forward, since we know have a demonstrated legislative success. And CWA's willingness to talk to net neutrality proponents is hopeful, as is the Brodsky bill being discussed in New York state and blogged on the Albany Project for near universal build-out. This one's in Eliot Spitzer's court, if he decides to get going on it against the interests of the telecom and cable companies, we can have his back with a massive CWA/Moveon/blog push. That bill, which includes buildout provisions and net neutrality is backed by a coalition of consumer groups, media reform groups, and CWA. And then of course, there's the 700 spectrum auction, which Kevin Drum frames really nicely here.
All in all, we're making great progress organizing around this policy issue. Every single Democratic Presidential candidate has come out for net neutrality, and so has Mike Huckabee (for an amusing threat from big business interests towards Huckabee, see Scott Cleland's post, where the operative quote is 'Don't believe this is his "official" policy position for a minute.'). Freepress, for whom I did a bit of consulting work earlier this year, just won a webbie for its SavetheInternet campaign, and is well-respected in the Beltway for their expertise. We've got strong industry allies. This is an ongoing fight against some of the nastiest industries in America - cable and telecom - and it's going to take a long time. But I'm encouraged, because our strategic openings keep expanding, and we're getting better and better at this.
Congrats, Maine lawmakers, for doing the right thing. And good job, Common Cause, Maine Civil Liberties Union, the League of Young Voters, Community Television Association of Maine, and Turn Maine Blue. This stuff matters.