NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Why I am Against the Internet Freedom
and Broadband Deployment Act

by Dennis Courtney, May 2002
President, Capital PC User Group - Washington, DC

(click to email author)

The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act (IFBDA), popularly known as the Tauzin-Dingell Bill, narrowly passed the House of Representatives last month and is now headed for the Senate. It faces more of a challenge in the Senate but its defeat is by no means assured. After you read this article I hope that you will join me by adding your voice to the chorus calling for the defeat of this bad piece of legislation.

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
IFBDA supporters claim that the bill is intended to free the Baby Bells from the burden of regulation so that they can bring broadband access to their customers. The trouble is it frees the Baby Bells from all current regulation and prohibits the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and various states from ever regulating broadband. Specifically, it frees the Baby Bells from the requirement that they resell access to their service lines to other broadband providers and prohibits anyone from regulating them. This means that they can freeze out other broadband providers, charge you whatever they wish without any service level requirements while both the state and federal governments will be prohibited from doing anything about it! Instead of making broadband access competitive, IFBDA is very clearly anti-competitive.

The bill states that "the imposition of regulations by the Federal Communications Commission and the States has impeded the rapid delivery of high speed internet access services and Internet backbone services to the public, thereby reducing consumer choice and welfare." Giving the Bells carte blanch to avoid competition and charge any price without ensuring a minimum quality of service does nothing to increase consumer choice or welfare.

Unfulfilled Promises
Have you ever wondered what all those different taxes listed on your phone bill are for? At least some of them were supposedly earmarked to help build a nationwide fiber-optic system. Over half of America was supposed to have fiber-optic lines to their home or office by 2000. The Bells took massive write downs to replace their copper wire infrastructure and collected over $53 billion (with a 'b') in fees earmarked for fiber-optic. But almost none of the infrastructure they promised has been delivered.

The New Jersey Ratepayer Advocate wrote about NJ Bell Atlantic "...low income and residential customers have paid for fiber-optic lines every month but have not yet benefited. Bell Atlantic-New Jersey has over- earned, under spent and inequitably deployed advanced telecommunications technology to business customers, while largely neglecting schools and libraries, low income and residential rate payers and consumers in Urban Enterprise Zones as well as urban and rural areas".

Follow the Money
Why would the House pass a bill so obviously pro-business and anti- consumer? One has to wonder when looking at the money spread around by the Bells in support of Tauzin-Dingell. According to the non-partisan campaign contribution reporting site http://www.opensecrets.org the Bells gave over $19.4 million dollars from 1999 to 2001 in PAC, soft money and individual contributions. Opponents of Tauzin-Dingell gave just over $8 million. Supporters of Tauzin-Dingell received more than 7 times as much money from the Bells than they did from the anti-Tauzin-Dingell groups. More than 180 House members got 10 times more money from the Bells - and they voted to approve the Bill by a 5:1 margin. Those who got equal amounts of money from both sides voted 2:1 against the Bill. Some 16 members of the House received no money from either side - they voted 13-3 against the Bill. The strong correlation between money and votes in the House make the defeat of the legislation in the Senate an uncertain conclusion. The Bells have 'deep pockets' and have shown that they are willing to invest in making sure that they have their Congressman's ear on this matter.

What Can You Do About It?
First you should educate yourself regarding the issue. This article is a good first step but there is plenty of information on the subject to be found on the Internet or through your local consumer watchdog organizations (the public utility commissions in 30 states, including Maryland, oppose the bill). Search at http://www.google.com and enter the key words "Tauzin" and "Dingell" to find information on the legislation.

Second, contact both of your state's Senators and tell them what you think about Tauzin-Dingell. Although we don't know yet what the bill will be called when it reaches the Senate, they'll know what you mean. Many Senators will accept Email directly or through the Senate website at http://www.senate.gov. Whatever you think about this legislation, let your Senator know. If it passes in the Senate you can be assured it will be signed into law and you will be living with the consequences for a long time to come.

Dennis Courtney is the President of the Capital PC User Group in Washington, DC and can be contacted at president@cpcug.org

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization.

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