Its summer and time for old habits to kick in. It might be going to camp, or taking a vacation, or working at a summer job or just hanging around. Even Congress has its summer habits. Much like TV, Congress from time to time uses the summer for re-runs, bringing back some old classics of years past - like giving the telecom and entertainment industries a bag of goodies all nicely wrapped up.
It's not just Net Neutrality. There's lots more at stake.
Stop me if you've seen this one. The big media and telecommunications industries persuade Congress to write a bill that gives them anything they want, while consumers get little or nothing.
Does the plot sound familiar? It should, and it's on yet again, in the form of the new Senate telecom legislation (S 2686) to be marked up this week in the Senate commerce Committee. We've seen this show before. In 1996 Congress passed the Telecommunications Act. That one took price controls off of cable service, allowed broadcasters to build up huge empires and let the telephone companies buy out each other while putting the screws to competitors.
It was such a success that the act was brought back in modified form in 2001 and 2002. The bill known for its sponsors, then-Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the committee's senior Democrat, would have lifted the restrictions on telephone companies to share their lines with competitors and deregulated their prices. That bill passed the House, but died in the Senate during the time when Democrats had control, but the Federal Communications Commission implemented many of the policies without Congress. (We note for the record, however, that Dingell has seen the light and altered his views and become a backer of Net Neutrality, a pro-consumer Internet concept the phone and cable companies oppose.)
Now it's time for another appearance, and the real, big industries, as opposed to the relatively nascent Internet companies, have had their shopping lists enshrined in legislation. We've seen one version of the act over in the House, where the telephone and cable companies got their wishes heard, for a streamlined national system of getting or keeping cable licenses without any pesky requirements that would keep the Internet as open and free as today's Internet.
On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee will mark up an even bigger, more ambitious bill that has more goodies for more industries and arguably next to nothing for consumers. Read on for details.