The Senate Commerce Committee will hear from a variety of Internet stakeholders on Tuesday at a wide-ranging hearing expected to touch on the push for “network neutrality” legislation, the emergence of new Web-based enterprises, as well as the need for greater bandwidth and capacity as more users come online around the globe. Staffers for Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who chairs the Interstate Commerce, Trade and Tourism Subcommittee, are planning the hearing. Dorgan and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, introduced legislation last year that would bar broadband providers from blocking, degrading or prioritizing content and applications on their networks. National Cable and Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow; Writers Guild of America-West President Patric Verrone; Stanford University professor and Internet expert Lawrence Lessig; Christian Coalition spokeswoman Michelle Combs; Robert Hahn, executive director of the Center for Regulatory and Market Studies, American Enterprise Institute; and actress Justine Bateman are slated to testify. McSlarrow is expected to highlight cable companies’ leadership in developing a robust broadband platform that is available to 92 percent of U.S. households, according to an industry source. If cable operators had not invested more than $100 billion to build and upgrade their networks to launch residential broadband service, “the YouTubes of the world would not even exist,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Combs’ organization joined with an array of business, consumer and other groups across the political spectrum to launch the Save the Internet campaign two years ago to push for legislation like Dorgan’s. More than a million people have signed onto the initiative, whose goal is to ensure that the Internet “remains open to new ideas, innovation and progress.” She and Lessig testified Thursday at the FCC’s field hearing on broadband network management in Palo Alto, Calif. Lessig, who recently refocused his energy on a grassroots campaign to combat the influence of money in American politics, said in an interview that he may surprise lawmakers when he urges them to reject “overly broad net neutrality regulation.” He believes some proposals are “broader than they need to be to achieve what net neutrality needs to do.” While he did not comment specifically on Dorgan’s legislation or a companion bill introduced by House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey, D-Mass., Lessig warned that if rules are too broad, the underlying objective of the regulation will be lost. He said stakeholders should embrace the “four freedoms” of the Internet access outlined by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell. “The question is what you add on top of that,” he said.
Verrone, whose members recently ended a strike that ravaged Hollywood, will likely discuss the problem of online piracy and the importance of compensation for content in the digital age. WGA members walked off the job last November after talks broke down over how writers are paid for their work on the Internet and digital videodiscs. Bateman is said to have launched an online production studio and will offer insight from a creator’s perspective.
This article appears in the April 26, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.