Nettled

Nevadans battle over regulating internet

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller is taking a prominent role in trying to end net neutrality.

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller is taking a prominent role in trying to end net neutrality.

Photo/Dennis Myers

U.S. Sens. Dean Heller and Harry Reid are both key players in the battle over net neutrality, but their home state seems unmoved by the issue.

“Not off the top of my head,” said Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada director Bob Fulkerson, when asked if he knew of anyone involved in the issue.

Net neutrality is a governing principle that governments and internet service providers and governments should handle all data equally, without imposing higher prices or otherwise treating anyone different for different methods of data delivery. It is net neutrality that has prevented providers from speeding up or slowing down content or blocking it, with some users getting preferential treatment—and also prevented providers from charging for faster delivery speed. When the web is neutral, a homemaker’s information travels at the same speed as Citicorp’s. And neutrality requires regulation—on an unregulated web, service providers can discriminate and provide different speeds at different prices. Critics of net neutrality call an unregulated internet “open.”

If a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission is approved equality of rates could change and service providers could jack up rates. The FCC says it will keep the internet “open” by not allowing service providers to block or slow access—that’s the sweetener that precedes the but—and then renders that pledge meaningless by also saying that it will allow service providers to charge more for being in a fast lane instead of a slow lane. This is called “paid prioritization” in order to keep the process as puzzling as possible to the ordinary customer.

At a time when information is a commercial commodity—one of the most important, in fact—discriminating on who gets what information when can determine a lot for users. The late Nelson Mandela said that “eliminating the distinction between the information-rich and information-poor is also critical to eliminating economic and other inequalities.”

Heller opposes net neutrality and wants the net completely unregulated, which would free up providers to charge more for speed. He defined his position in a Nov. 9, 2011 statement: “Net neutrality goes against years of sound internet policy, led by both Democrats and Republicans, to leave the internet virtually unregulated that has ushered in an era of wonderful innovation and billions in private investment in infrastructure.”

Last month, Sen. Dean Heller and fellow Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said the FCC should butt out of regulating the web except to the extent permitted by Congress:

“For the third time in less than a decade, the FCC is trying to regulate the internet in some fashion. Many are discussing whether the proposal the FCC chairman has outlined does enough to regulate the internet. This is misguided. The conversation should focus on if we need any regulation at all, especially without a demonstrated market failure. … The FCC should respect its regulatory limits and Congress should do its job to address these concerns. In the meantime, any policy adopted by the FCC should continue to respect the ’light touch’ regime that has led to industry investment and a thriving Internet ecosystem.”

According to OpenSecrets.org, Heller has received at least $86,000 from contributors in the communications/electronics sector.

In 2011, Reid and Heller voted on opposite sides of a move to prohibit an FCC net neutrality rule from taking effect. The rule prohibited broadband service providers from blocking content or applications. Reid voted no, Heller yes.

Leader?

When Reid, the Democratic floor leader, first took that post, he spent considerable time cultivating the blogosphere, which tends to support neutrality. But in more recent years he has neglected that constituency, which now is concerned about whether he stands with them. Reid can decide whether or not to allow a vote on the issue in the Senate.

Reid’s opposite number in the House, Nancy Pelosi, is regarded as more forceful in seeking to preserve net neutrality—which isn’t saying a great deal, because Pelosi is no barn burner on the issue, either. “Democrats, by and large, have been stronger supporters of net neutrality, although Pelosi isn’t exploiting her leadership position to galvanize support for the cause,” reported Venture Beat last week.

“[Reid] has largely avoided wading into tech policy so far,” the Washington Post reported last week. “To the extent that he’s gotten involved, it’s been to help undermine legislation on patents. And Congress is already lagging behind on a number of other tech issues, so it’s unlikely a net neutrality bill of any kind, for or against, will get to the president’s desk this year. There are other challenges, too. It’s an election year, which makes compromise even more difficult in an already divided Congress. And asking Reid to weigh in rhetorically on net neutrality is largely an indirect form of pressure, as the FCC is an independent agency.”

A number of supporters of neutrality, including Credo long distance service, MoveOn, and Daily Kos sent a letter to Reid last week:

“We are writing to you today to urge you to join House Minority Leader Pelosi, more than a dozen members of the Senate Democratic caucus, dozens of members of the House of Representatives, hundreds of technology companies, non-profits, and activism organizations, as well as millions of Americans in demanding that the Federal Communications Commission reclassify broadband and implement strong Net Neutrality rules. We should treat the Internet as the public utility that it is—like water, telephones and electricity.”

According to the Center for Public Integrity in 2010, “Reid’s most generous backer over the years, with at least $133,650 in contributions, is AT&T Inc. This includes contributions from the corporate PACs of companies now part of AT&T, such as BellSouth, Cingular and SBC. The telecommunications giant has good reason to like the Senate majority leader.” Last month AT&T said that if its $48 billion AT&T-DirecTV deal goes through, it will abide by net neutrality for only three years—that’s assuming the FCC proposal takes effect.

As for U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, net neutrality is not an issue on which he has spoken out. A reader recently posted this message on his Facebook page: “In addition to posing for photo-ops could you perhaps sponsor legislation to force internet service providers to be classified as common carriers? Net neutrality has consistently been demonstrated to be important to your constituents, of which I am one, and this is not a partisan issue, at least based on existing party platforms (unless they’ve changed lately).”

According to Open Secrets, of $145,300 Amodei has received in political action committee money in 2013-2014, $17,500 has come from the communications/electronic sector, or 12 percent of the total.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is reminding neutrality supporters that in 2012 they managed to kill two pieces of legislation—the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act—by generating widespread opposition through internet activism.