Monday, May 08, 2006

Net (Non)Neutrality: "the Senate just needs to pass 'anything to get us into conference,' where the real decisions will be made"

Ain't this swell? The Republican majority in Congress has completely abandoned the pretense of legislating openly, where the public can see what's happening:

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate are preparing to vote on telecommunications legislation that could affect every American who surfs the Internet, watches cable TV or uses a phone.

But no one should waste much time watching the floor debates on C-SPAN. The lawmakers admit their goal is not to pass definitive legislation in public in the coming weeks.

Instead, they want to pass separate bills, regardless of how different they may be. The final version would be negotiated, largely in private, by about a dozen senators and representatives on a conference committee.

The Senate just needs to pass "anything to get us into conference," where the real decisions will be made, House telecommunications subcommittee chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said Tuesday at a telecom forum hosted by National Journal's Technology Daily.

"It's not supposed to work like this," said Celia Wexler, vice president for advocacy for Common Cause, a government watchdog group. "It's appalling that you can hear a member (of Congress) say that in public."

While most conference negotiations are closed to public view, lobbyists continue to influence the members and their staffers.

In the case of telecom, the groups say, so many well-financed lobbyists are involved that they may battle themselves to a standstill, leaving Congress flush with campaign contributions but unable to agree on a final bill before adjournment.

The stakes run into the billions of dollars for the central players, including cable operators and regional phone giants, such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., as well as Internet companies, including eBay Inc., Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

The telecom legislation is following a well-worn path that Congress often takes to craft spending, tax and other bills out of public view.
Government of the people, by the lobbyists and for the lobbyists. With the future of the free Web at stake.


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