If the broad rewrite of US telecommunications laws (the Communications, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006) that we have been reporting on for the past several days makes it to the Senate floor, it will include the broadcast flag. Despite objections voiced by Sen. John Sununu (R-NH), the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has left both the audio and video broadcast flags unmolested.
If the bill makes it to the full Senate, it will therefore contain the broadcast flags. However, individual senators would still be able to offer amendments to the legislation that would remove the controversial flags. Sen. Sununu has indicated he might do exactly that.
The Commerce Committee will continue running down the bill, amendment by amendment, with network neutrality next on the list. Once they have finished marking up the bill, Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) still has to make the call on whether to send it to the full Senate for a vote. Right now, he’s undecided, as he believes it is doubtful the bill’s proponents could muster the 60 votes necessary to stop a possible filibuster.
In addition, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), has reiterated his opposition to any telecom legislation that does not include a provision safeguarding network neutrality. "I will do anything I can to block a major telecom rewrite that undermines what makes the Internet special. I will block it. I will do anything I can to derail it," said Wyden. That may include placing a hold on the bill to further delay attempts at passage.
It appears as though a new amendment similar to the Internet SAFETY Act we reported on last week has also been incorporated into the legislation. That would require operators of web sites based in the US with sexually explicit content to insert language onto each page of the site with said material. It’s a nice way for the Committee to think of the children, but will have little or no real-world effect on the problem the amendment is trying to solve.
Over in the House of Representatives, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings on the net neutrality issue. The usual suspects showed up, including RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol, EVP Fritz Attaway from the MPAA, and Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. Bainwol and Attaway mustered the same tired arguments as to why the flags are essential to the survival of the music and movie industries. The CEA’s Shapiro disputed that, telling the Committee that "we have to stop measuring creativity by the financial interests of ten companies."
As things stand now, the Senate Commerce Committee has decided we need a broadcast flag, but is leaning heavily against net neutrality. That’s just plain inconsistent. In the argument against legislating the tenets of network neutrality into law, its opponents make the case that federal regulation is unnecessary because it applies government regulation to technology instead of letting the markets sort the whole matter out. That is the line of reasoning followed by Sen. Stevens and other legislators who are leery of mandating net neutrality. At the same time, the senators are fully backing the broadcast flag, which would apply strict government regulations to technology.
There’s one common thread here: the interests of big business. With the broadcast flag, big business is for heavy regulation. In the case of net neutrality, it’s not. At least we know where our lawmakers’ true interests lie.
Update: as expected, the strict Net Neutrality rules were voted down, 11-11 in the Committee.