Telecom Reform Bill Signed by President

(note for those accessing this in the archives: this post and the post it links to were published on April 1st.)

By joining forces the Telecom and Cable companies have apparently steamrollered consumer groups and net neutality advocates like Google rammed through a major telecom rewrite in a mere 12 hours reports the Benton Foundation. You can click throught to their description of the bill and a list of comments on the poorly understood new law. What does appear certain is the law will be an unmitigated disaster for the country–and particularly for Lafayette.

The last 2 weeks had been period in which battles over net neutrality and a growing wave of resentment over a proposed national franchise bill spearhead by local politicians back home in the congressional districts led many to many to believe that a rewrite of telecom law was impossible in this session of Congress. But the Republican majority has apparently taken their re-election hopes in their hands and bet that telecom dollars will figure bigger in the upcoming election than citizen outrage.

Juicy, and outrageous, bits:

In votes cast in the wee hours of Saturday morning, the House and Senate passed, by narrow majorities, the Telecommunications Competition and Investment Act of 2006. President Bush signed it without a ceremony after a quick return from a visit to Mexico just a few hours ago. Because of the timing of the votes — held when even C-SPAN cameras were dark — and the President’s signature, coverage of the new legislation is spotty…

The complex provisions related to Universal Service, critics are already saying, will redirect up to 30% of USF funds to just four states: Alaska, Texas, Illinois and Montana…

In addition, the legislation phases in spectrum fees on all licenses beginning in Fiscal Year 2007 and ends the use of “unlicensed” spectrum.

Municipal telecommunications networks, including so-called “Wi-Fi” networks, will be prohibited beginning January 1, 2008.

Finally, the bill aims to end the “Net Neutrality” debate by 1) allowing network operators to discriminate between traffic if it is “economically advantageous,” 2) relying solely on “market-driven agreements” to determine interconnection and 3) restricting use of a network by the terms of service agreed to when subscribing.

The text of the bill is not yet publicly available, but is expected within the next two weeks when FCC enforcement/regulation is due to commence.

The biggest surprise in all this is the provision shutting down unliscensed spectrum. This means that wifi networks, as we currently understand them, will simply be illegal and there will be no free spectrum. My guess is that this clause was the price for bringing cell companies on board. There was no discussion of such a clause prior to last night’s vote and it is the clause surest to excite consumer outrage and coffee-house based revolt. Look for Repeal!! to be as popular nationally as it is in Lafayette.

The clause outlawing all municipal networks in 2008 would, if true, make proceeding with Lafayette’s fiber optic system uneconomic as they city could not make back its investment in that time frame.

Taken separately any one of these clauses would be a sickening example of corporate greed and legislative cravenness. Taken together, you can only drop back and hope that it is is an elaborate April Fool’s day joke.

Update: More on this story at: C/Net, Google, Slashdot, and

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