ArtsWatch: Net Regulations Survive

Senate Democrats protect FCC Net neutrality rules ... for now

GRAMMY.com
Philip Merrill

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On Nov. 10 Republican-backed S.J. Res 6, a resolution aiming to nullify the Federal Communications Commission's Net neutrality rules, was blocked by the Senate by a vote of 52–46. These open Internet regulations remain scheduled to go into effect Nov. 20. Opposing this seeming expansion of FCC regulatory authority over the Internet has been a leading issue for Republicans since this year's Congress assembled in January, and companion legislation H.J. Res. 37 passed the House of Representatives in April. The rules were hit with multiple lawsuits in September soon after their publication in the Federal Register. Although most reactions for and against the Senate's vote fell along party lines, consumer advocate Free Press is in the complicated position of applauding the vote while suing over the regulations' rules for not applying to wireless Internet. Free Press Action Fund President and CEO Craig Aaron said, "Free Press will continue to push the FCC to make better rules and to actually enforce them. Today's vote is a major victory for the public, but the fight for the free and open Internet is far from over."

The FCC announced a major next step in its Connect to Compete program that launched in October, including an estimated $4 billion in private-sector contributions to help bridge the digital divide and improve U.S. broadband adoption. On Nov. 9 FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, "Thanks to the leadership of Michael Powell and the CEOs of large and small cable companies across the country, [National Cable & Telecommunications Association] cable companies will offer a new low-cost broadband service. Low-income families with children eligible for the National School Lunch Program will be able to sign up for broadband Internet for $9.95 a month, with no installation fees, no activation fees and no modem rental fees. ... Millions of children and their families, in all 50 states, would be empowered to get online at home. ... It's a remarkable offer from the industry. It's a big deal. It's a game-changer." An array of additional announcements include low-cost as well as micro-financed PCs provided through Microsoft, Morgan Stanley and PC-refurbishment company Redemtech. Unlike the divided reactions to the Senate's Net neutrality vote, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) had positive reactions to this FCC move. NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell said, "We are proud to support this coordinated, community-based partnership to help educate, empower and enlighten new digital citizens so that they too will benefit from the Internet's transformative potential." Ironically, the FCC's open Internet principles stem from a 2004 speech Powell gave on Internet freedom while he was FCC chairman.

A different set of political permutations accompany intellectual property rights legislation H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was introduced with bipartisan support but has also drawn bipartisan opposition. With the bill's Nov. 16 House Judiciary Committee hearing looming, arguments in favor of and against the bill have both been at a boil, including RIAA Chairman and CEO Cary Sherman's Nov. 8 rebuttal of a negative Cnet News editorial. Late last month Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not refer to specific legislation when she responded to a request from Stop Online Piracy Act co-sponsor Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.). "There is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet," said Clinton. Referring to Clinton's response, MPAA Chairman and CEO Christopher Dodd responded in a blog on Huffington Post on Nov. 4, countering those who would confuse government crackdowns on criminal infringement with government crackdowns on political dissent. Dodd concluded, "We must keep the Internet free and open. And we can while promoting innovation and preserving jobs. Like Secretary Clinton, we are strongly committed to achieving both goals."

On Nov. 3 the National Foreign Trade Council released a policy priority statement for international digital trade called "Promoting Cross-Border Data Flows, Priorities For The Business Community." These principles, including trade policy support for the "open nature of the Internet," were crafted in partnership with the Business Software Alliance, Citigroup, GE, Google, IBM, Mastercard, Microsoft, and Visa. The document states in part, "Despite the widespread benefits of cross-border data flows to innovation and economic growth, and due in large part to gaps in global rules and inadequate enforcement of existing commitments, digital protectionism is a growing threat around the world." These abstract concepts are likely to bear directly on questions such as those U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk asked China last month regarding details on national blocks on U.S. commercial websites. Asked by Reuters about the NFTC priorities, Kirk said, "Eliminating barriers to cross-border data flows and other restrictions that are hindering the growth of the Internet and trade in information technology goods and services is a priority issue in the administration's 21st century trade agenda."

In Britain, leading Internet service provider BT is playing by the rules before using its judge-ordered site-blocking technology to prevent Internet subscribers from accessing a website. Fresh from the court order late last month compelling BT to absorb the costs of promptly blocking rogue site Newzbin2, a group of trade bodies, including BPI and MPAA, wrote to BT requesting the ISP support antipiracy by blocking rogue site the Pirate Bay and forgoing the court appearances required. On Nov. 4 a BT spokesman was quoted in The Guardian as having said, "In line with the Newzbin judgment, a court order will be needed before any blocking could begin. BT is currently focused on implementation of that order." While it might be inconvenient and expensive, relying on the transparency of court proceedings is likely a solid basis to rely on if an ISP's business must include preventing its customers from accessing select Internet sites.

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