MAINE ACTIVISTS RENEW CALL FOR NET NEUTRALITY
PORTLAND –Mainers who are actively working to ensure that the Internet is available to all users without discrimination travel to Boston today for a Federal Communications Commission hearing on the issue of network neutrality, the principle of non-discrimination on the Internet. The FCC hearing will address Comcast’s practice of blocking peer-to-peer traffic on its network, and the FCC has requested comment on Verizon Communications’ recent blocking of text messaging.
“The development and continued enhancement of the Internet is vital to economic development in this state,” said Fletcher Kittredge, Founder and CEO of GWI. “Net Neutrality ensures that investing in an expanding infrastructure will benefit everyone in Maine, not just the big telecommunications companies.”
Network neutrality was the guiding principle of the Internet until 2002, when the FCC abruptly reclassified Internet Service Providers, stating that they were no longer “cable services” or “telecommunications services” but rather “interstate information services” and therefore the non-discrimination provisions present under Title II of the Communications Act need not apply. Without the official protections of net neutrality, Internet providers are now legally allowed to deny access to certain sites or charge more for access to certain web sites.
In 2007, the Maine Legislature passed a resolution requiring the state Public Advocate’s Office to study the issue of non-discrimination on the Internet, and the feasibility of the state taking action on this issue. The report, provided to the legislature last week, documents the range of legislation that has been introduced at the federal level but fell short of recommending that the Maine legislature take action to protect Internet freedom in Maine.
“As long as the federal and state governments fail to prohibit Internet censorship, companies like Comcast and Verizon will continue to block, discriminate, and spy on consumers’ Internet activities,” said Shenna Bellows, the Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “Without quick action, all of us are in danger of losing our Internet freedom.”
Activists intend to revisit the issue of net neutrality in the next state legislative session. In the meantime, the net neutrality issue is also being considered at the federal level. Last week, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act 2008” (HR 5353) to protect Internet neutrality. A similar bill, S. 215, was introduced last year in the Senate and is supported by Senator Olympia Snowe.
“Today, the average person with an Internet connection has greater ability to speak their mind and participate in our democracy than ever before. Politicians spread their message and raise money at light-speed; organizations concerned about issues can alert their members to take action in an instant; citizens can learn more about issues than they ever dreamed of, and then they can discuss these issues and ideas with people from all over the globe. All this has been built upon the principle that there is no content discrimination on the Internet because we have always had net neutrality,” noted Jon Bartholomew, Media and Democracy Campaign Coordinator for Common Cause. “Democracy will suffer if the principle of net neutrality is not protected.”
Monday’s FCC hearing, will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ames Courtroom, Austin Hall, Harvard Law School, in Cambridge. It will feature two panel discussions of key policy and technological issues related to non-discrimination on the Internet, and there will be a chance for those attending to create a video of their comments, which will become part of the FCC record of the hearing.
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