This much we do know. As one comes to expect from these things, the big corporations got pretty much what they wanted. The movie companies got the right to set the rules for what consumers can do with over-the-air digital TV signals and the authority for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enforce Hollywood's business plans. The shorthand for this issue is the "broadcast flag," the name for the bits in the signal that will tell your electronics what your rights are. The bill, if it ever became law, would overturn a case brought by Public Knowledge, (my day-job employer), which beat back the FCC's broadcast-flag rule in court last year.
The record companies got the right to use the FCC to cripple the satellite and terrestrial digital radio businesses by curtailing consumers' ability to store music. It was unfortunate that neither of these items, the broadcast flag or its radio counterpart, was at all controversial when the Committee discussed the bill over the course of three days.
The telephone companies got the right to get into the video business quickly, without a requirement that they actually serve an entire franchising area and without pesky local oversight. The cable companies got the right to get out from pesky local oversight when their current franchises run out. The cellular companies, largely owned by the phone companies, got themselves exempted from state consumer protections. Such a deal for all -- consumers excepted.
Ah, but then we come to Net Neutrality, which sucked the oxygen out of the rest of the debate. For the record, the amendment by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) failed on an 11-to-11 tie. Somehow this was portrayed in many news stories as a defeat for the tech industry. Don't believe it.
Playing catch up, those in favor of preserving the open character of the Internet had a big job to do. The telephone companies are spending millions of dollars. They have several full-page ads in the Washington Post and other publications. They flood the Sunday morning talk shows with their ads. The lobbyists working on their behalf filled the very big room where the Commerce Committee met.
And by holding them to a tie, the coalition of public interest groups from all political ideologies and the tech companies kept the issue alive and made the future progress of the legislation much more problematic.
The debate among the Senators was so intense from the start that Chairman Ted Stevens got himself all wound up in a several-minute-long rant that ended up making absolutely no sense whatsoever. He calmed down later, but there were some scary moments for those concerned about who was making Internet policy as we asked ourselves how much these guys really know about what they are doing. At one point Stevens said the tech companies had spent more money on the Net Neutrality amendment than had been spent before on any amendment. One had only to look around the room at the telecom crowd to see how far off base that was.Poor Sen. Stevens. Guess that Hulk tie magic is wearing off. Oh well.
Looks like the issue has become huge. As Art wrote in that post by giving a good showing on Net Neutrality, the move to keep the telcos. hands off the internet guaranteed that the issue would become a part of any future negotiations if Stevens tries to take the bill to the Senate floor. Thanks again to those who have paid attention and helped out by making the calls. We certainly made a difference. But stay tuned via the guys over at SavetheInternet. Onward