Bush FTC Weights-in Against Congressional Net Neutrality Safeguards

The Bush Administration has come to the aid of GOP Hill leaders who are desperately working to derail network neutrality legislation. Federal Trade Commission Chair Deborah Majoras has just announced plans for her agency to explore the network neutrality issue. The message from the Bush White House via Ms. Majoras is clear: Congress shouldn’t be concerned about the need to restore the Internet’s neutrality, now that the so-called consumer watchdog FTC is on the case.

In a speech delivered at the annual tony confab of the Progress and Freedom Foundation (a Newt Gingrich co-founded group funded by industry that opposes net neutrality rules), Majoras questioned whether any Internet freedom rules were needed at all. The market, she noted, can protect us. But she also announced plans for her agency to convene an Internet “Task Force” to “evaluate Net Neutrality proposals in detail.” Her discussion of the issue ignored, of course, how the phone and cable giants purposefully lobbied to have the Bush FCC kill the U.S. Internet’s non-discriminatory governing principles in the first place (with cable in 2002 and with the phone network in 2005).

Majoras was a controversial appointment herself. The government’s chief regulator for competition in the oil and gas industry was formerly a top corporate lawyer for Chevron-Texaco (as well as for Halliburton). Just as she has helped big oil, she is now aiding big phone and telecom interests. The move by Ms. Majoras is designed to help Senator Ted “Tube” Stevens sway enough Senators so he can swiftly have the Senate pass his major telecom bill–minus any real network neutrality safeguards. Ironically, it was Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D) who led the effort to oppose the Majoras confirmation in 2004. Wyden was concerned (rightly, it turns out), that a Chevron-lawyer-led FTC would do little to challenge gasoline price hikes. Now Wyden is also leading the effort against permitting the Stevens bill to come to a vote if it is lacking net neutral rules.

Majoras plans to hold a public net neutrality related hearing as part of its “Consumer Protection in the Next Tech-ade” event on November 6-8. (Seriously, they call it that. They mean next decade!). Advocates should tell the FTC at that time it shouldn’t be flacking for a Bell-Big cable Net takeover. Ms. Majoras should also hear from everyone as well: 202-326-2492.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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