Diverse Coalition Announces Support for Net Neutrality Legislation in Maine

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
May 8, 2007 12:00 am

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Legislation Good for Residents, Creative Economy and Tech Industry, Groups Say

PORTLAND – The Maine Civil Liberties Union and other free speech advocates today joined state business leaders and computer professionals to call on the Maine Legislature to keep the Internet neutral and protect the freedom of individuals and small companies to post content online. The coalition is urging legislators to pass a bill known as “An Act to Protect Network Neutrality,” or LD 1675.

“Net neutrality means a free and open Internet and the freedom to choose what content you read and what applications you use,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “The Internet has always been an arena of democracy where every person could speak up and be heard and the Maine Legislature should do its best to keep it that way by supporting LD 1675.”

Net neutrality ensures that Internet service providers do not discriminate against certain Web sites or censor content because they disagree with the message. For the first time since the inception of the World Wide Web, net neutrality principles were put in jeopardy in 2005 when the Federal Communications Commission announced that it has the authority to regulate the Internet. Already, some network providers have begun to engage in content and user discrimination. Last year, BellSouth denied access to Myspace.com in Tennessee and Florida, and Cox Cable blocked its customers from accessing the online classified site Craigslist.com.

The Maine bill, which is sponsored by Senator Ethan Strimling of Portland, seeks to reinstate net neutrality at the state level. Among other things, the bill seeks to protect small Maine companies who can’t afford to pay high fees to post their content to the Web. On the federal level, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe has led the way in proposing legislation to reinstate net neutrality.

“Maine is taking the lead on net neutrality,” said Jon Bartholomew, Media and Democracy Organizer for Common Cause. “Senator Snowe has been the champion of this issue in Congress, and we hope the state bill will provide momentum for her net neutrality bill to advance in Washington. Net neutrality is important for our economy and our democracy, and it needs to be law of the land.”

Local computer professionals, free speech advocates and consumer activists are joined by national figures in the fight to reinstate net neutrality. Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.com, is a leading proponent of net neutrality, saying that “when the Internet is neutral, everyone can use it, just like everyone can use public roads or airwaves. All businesses on the Internet get an equal shot at success.” Similarly, Dr. Tim Wu of Columbia University, the professor who coined the term net neutrality, refers to Internet providers like AT&T and Verizon as “infrastructure providers, almost like the roads — and their plans are very much simple tollbooths placed on a utility necessary for the operation of the private market.”

Maine Web site developer Lance Dutson, founder of mainewebreport.com, added, “Reinstating net neutrality principles is essential to fostering the creative and technology industries upon which the future of Maine’s economy depends. As this state begins to invest in the improvement of our broadband infrastructure, legislators should insist that safeguards are in place to make Maine’s technological growth beneficial to all Maine people. Net neutrality is good for small business and it’s good for Maine.”

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