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The Year in First Amendment Rights: Net Neutrality

James Tucker,
Washington Legislative Office
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January 2, 2008

We made substantial progress on restoring net neutrality principles to protect freedom and innovation on the Internet. At the end of 2006, under the strong bipartisan leadership of Senators Olympia Snowe and Byron Dorgan, we turned the tide on big telecoms by defeating an industry-sponsored comprehensive telecommunications bill that would have made Internet discrimination a way of life. In 2007, claims made by the telecoms that such fears were unfounded rang hollow when several of them were caught red-handed in their efforts to censor speech and restrict online association.

In August, AT&T censored political comments made by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder during a concert webcast. In September, Verizon Wireless rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program that would send action alerts to its members. In October, Comcast interfered with customer file-sharing. Several telecoms, including AT&T, changed their terms of service to give them the right to suspend customer accounts and all service “for conduct that AT&T believes … tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.”

Internet discrimination has fueled calls for greater oversight of the telecoms by the FCC, more congressional hearings and growing support for net neutrality legislation such as S. 215, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act. Expect to hear a lot more about net neutrality during Campaign 2008.

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