Net Neutrality Law Passes in Maine

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.

Tags: Mike McCurry, net neutrality, telecom (all tags)

Comments

6 Comments

Re: Net Neutrality Law Passes in Maine

This is a dumb question, I know, but I haven't had enough time to do any research on this. But why are CWA opposed to net neutrality. I just can't come up with a reason.

phat

by phatass 2007-06-13 06:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Net Neutrality Law Passes in Maine

First, in the interests of full disclosure, I am on staff at CWA.

I wouldn't characterize CWA as being "opposed to net neutrality."

CWA's policy is:

THE U.S. MUST PRESERVE AN OPEN INTERNET. High speed, high capacity networks will eliminate bandwidth scarcity and will promote an open Internet. Consumers are entitled to an open Internet allowing them to go where they want, when they want. Nothing should be done to degrade or block access to any websites. Reserving proprietary video bandwidth is essential to finance the build-out of high speed networks.

You can read the details of CWA's position in the Speed Matters Policy Paper (http://files.cwa-union.org/speedmatters/ SpeedMattersCWAPositionPaper.pdf)    starting on page 26.

There are many areas in which this position is in alignment with the position that the Save the Internet coalition takes on "net neutrality" issues. There are also some areas where the two positions are not in alignment.

by sea1943 2007-06-14 05:48AM | 0 recs
more proof public financing is the answer

I know Jerome is against public financing election reform a la Maine and Arizona, but come on--does anyone think this would have been passed by legislators who rely on lobbyist money? I think that more than 80 percent of the Maine legislature run on clean money.

by desmoinesdem 2007-06-13 08:23PM | 0 recs
Re: more proof public financing is the answer

Interesting question...

I know that if our society is to prosper, indeed survive, it had better be possible for the legislature to act in the people's interests.

I think I'll try and find out here in CA...

by Pericles 2007-06-13 09:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Net Neutrality Law Passes in Maine

The main problem I see with the argument against net neutrality is that the large telecoms say that the only way they could build out the infrastructure to rural and high cost areas is by charging the content providers.  As I understand it, network neutrality last year was introduced as part of a new telecommunications bill that would update the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  Part of that act set up the Universal Service Administrative Company, who do just what we are talking about - they subsidize the costs of telecommunications to schools, libraries, low income people, hospitals, and importantly high-cost and rural areas.  Currently, I don't think that the high-cost and rural area part of USAC does internet connections, or at least I didn't immediately see it on their website.  But the companies that all these big telecom companies, would certainly be working on the contracts that are awarded under the distribution system set up by USAC, and we wouldn't be counting on the word of these telecom companies that they would take the extra money they will make from charging the content providers and putting into these buildouts.  People always point to how far ahead several other countries are with their broadband build out, and I haven't researched this as much as I should have, but I'm betting that it was an intentional government program, and they didn't just trust that the telecom companies would do the right thing.  

by jfred6 2007-06-13 09:30PM | 0 recs
On a related note...

Former Common Cause director Chellie Pingree has returned to Maine to run for Congress in the First CD (Southern Maine).  If she wins, she'll take this issue, clearly one near and dear to her heart, back to Washington with her.  (Chellie has an Act Blue page)

Another reason this passed is the fact that Maine is a true Blue state right now - the House, Senate and Blaine House are controlled by Dems, which goes to show, state legislature races matter (said the former candidate for the Maine House...)

by MBW 2007-06-14 04:06AM | 0 recs

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