Victory for Net Neutrality Movement

Good News!

The broad, nonpartisan movement for Internet freedom notched a major victory today, when a bipartisan majority of the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006″ — a bill that offers meaningful protections for Network Neutrality, “the First Amendment of the Internet.�

20 members of the Commitee (6 Republicans and 14 Democrats) voted for the bipartisan Bill, and only 13 against.

[…]

“Internet freedom is under attack, but Americans of every political stripe are fighting back together and today we achieved an amazing victory,” said Eli Pariser, Executive Director of MoveOn.org Civic Action. “Today’s vote was a solid loss for AT&T’s multi-million dollar lobbyists and a solid victory for the rest of us — including the thousands of Americans who have called Congress every day in support of protecting Net Neutrality.”

Since it launched in late April, more than 700 groups spanning the political spectrum have joined the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, including MoveOn.org, the Christian Coalition, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Gun Owners of America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Library Association, and Craig Newmark of Craigslist.

“We urge Congress to move aggressively to save the Internet — and allow ideas rather than money to control what Americans can access on the World Wide Web,” said Roberta Combs, President of the Christian Coalition of America. “We urge all Americans to contact their Congressmen and Senators and tell them to save the Internet and to support Net Neutrality.”

The bipartisan “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006″ (H.R. 5417) next moves to the full House after Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess. The SavetheInternet.com Coalition is urging people to continue writing and calling their members of Congress until Network Neutrality becomes law.

This victory is a great indication of how much people value the internet and want to keep it accessible for consumers, writers, activists, small businesses, churches, political groups, community organizations, and, yes, bloggers. Hooray for everyone who has helped the net neutrality movement! We need to keep the pressure on until net neutrality becomes law.

Watch Out

In today’s Boston Globe, Barbara F. Meltz reports on a recently released study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that documents the substantial role played by electronic media, particularly television, in the lives of young children:

Parents rely on TV to help them perform balancing act, researchers say

Television is so woven into the fabric of family life in America that parents can’t imagine managing without it and are willing to overlook its potential risks to their children, according to a report released yesterday

Researchers already know that TV viewing is huge—83 percent of children under 6 watch an average of two hours a day, and 43 percent have sets in their bedrooms. Now they know why: Parents see TV as the way to manage busy schedules, keep the peace, and facilitate routines such as meals and bedtime. Only secondarily do parents see TV as educational, but that’s enough for them to feel “less guilty and more grateful,� said Vicky Rideout , a vice president for the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the study.

“Parents have a tough job, and they rely on TV in particular to help make their lives more manageable,� she said.

Although the findings may not tell parents anything they don’t know, researchers and pediatricians said it’s a wake-up call that underscores the need to provide better information about the links between TV and obesity, violence, and academic achievement.

The report details how TV is used in the morning to help children wake up and at night to help them calm down. Parents use it to get compliance—“If you get dressed now, you can watch TV later�—and to give them time to shower, make dinner, or exercise. In some homes, TVs are in children’s rooms to eliminate fighting among siblings over what shows to watch or so that parents can view their own programs. [full text]

What the report, which can be found here, implies but does not seem to address is that there are broader social and economic forces and factors that significantly influence the decisions and actions taken by parents when it comes to regulating their children’s use of and exposure to electronic media. In many ways, families in the United States are under siege, beset by increasing demands and pressures with fewer (or simply inadequate) resources and supports at their disposal, while simultaneously being bombarded with messages that slickly insinuate that happiness can best be attained through consumption. In essence, parents have been backed into a corner, of sorts, and put in the untenable position of having to increasingly use and rely upon electronic media. They have been put in that position in large part because of the less than family-friendly policies of the state and federal governments. As noted in a 2004 report by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Project on Global Working Families—entitled The Work, Family, And Equity Index: Where Does The United States Stand Globally?—“the United States is far behind in many areas.� As to how so, the authors offer the following sobering conclusions:

The United States lags dramatically behind all high-income countries, as well as many middle- and low-income countries, when it comes to public policies designed to guarantee adequate working conditions for families. One hundred-sixty-three countries around the world guarantee paid leave to women after childbirth; the United States does not. Forty-five countries ensure that fathers either receive paid paternity leave or paid parental leave; the United States does not. Seventy-six countries protect working women’s right to breastfeed at work; the United States offers no such protection. Ninety-six countries offer paid annual leave; the United States does not require employers to provide any paid annual leave. One hundred-thirty-nine countries provide paid leave for short or long-term illnesses; the United States has no national policy regarding sick leave. The list of working conditions relevant to families where the United States lags behind goes on and includes, among others, maximum hour legislation, legislation guaranteeing minimum days of rest, and leave for major family events.

Where this comprehensive global data are available, the United States also appears to lag significantly behind in services available to children in working families. The United States ranks 39th in available data on early childhood education enrollment and 91st in student-to-staff ratios. The school year in the United States is shorter than that of 54 other countries around the world. While the United States has high rates of 0- to 3-year-olds in childcare, this is mainly due to families paying privately for care that is necessary in the absence of paid parental leave, not to either publicly-provided care or to parents choosing infant and toddler care when parental leave is available.

Initial inequities across social class are markedly exacerbated by the public policy decisions the United States has made, including, among others, the failure thus far to provide public preschool or early childhood education to parallel public school, the failure to extend the school day and school year, now that the economy is post-industrial rather than primarily agricultural, and the failure to ensure that employees have basic family-related leave from work. In most other nations, working families can count on publicly guaranteed parental leave; and in many, preschool childcare or early-childhood education is already publicly provided. Furthermore, many nations mandate that employers provide a minimum number of vacation and sick leave days, while others provide public insurance guaranteeing paid leave for families. These provisions limit what would otherwise be dangerous disparities across the social gradient. The United States does none of these. Consequently, as income levels decrease, American working families face much steeper rises in the number of obstacles to caring for dependents than do working adults in many countries around the world.

But, hey, it’s not all bad news. The United States is among the world leaders in the number of televisions owned per capita. Perhaps given recent trends in the Big Brotherliness of Uncle Sam, we simply prefer to watch while we are being watched. But who’s watching the children?

Calling All Voters: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

The state of Arizona is set to vote on legislation that would automatically enter voters into a lottery to win $1 million in unclaimed lottery funds. NPR has an interview with Dr. Mark Osterloh, former candidate for Governor in Arizona, who is spearheading the legislation.

Thanks to worstweatherever.com for the heads up on this one. I also liked his analysis of what the legislation, if passed, might bring:

I see two things at work here. First, to me the real issue isn’t voter turnout, it’s political apathy that leads to low turnout. This wouldn’t do much more than convince legions of apathetic (and likely uninformed) voters to crash the polls. The other side is the lefty genius. The largest groups of non-voters are young people and ethnic minorities; two groups that predominantly vote Democrat and would also be motivated by a chance for the money.

My take is: the first thing is get people to the polls. This alone, like getting a client to show up for therapy, is half the battle. As they get accustomed to the process of voting, hopefully some of the apathy will abate, and perhaps people will become more informed as they continue to vote, get attuned to the names of candidates, start to think about all those questions they are supposed to have an opinion on, etc.

Bandwidth 4 Us, Not 4 You

Along with Handsofftheinternet.com, there is another astroturf front group for the large Telcos that has just started up: TV4US. According to Savetheinternet.com, this organization is doing a telemarketing campaign in which they are calling consumers and trying to convince us that companies like Google and Microsoft are using up all the bandwidth and driving up the costs of television and internet services.

Here is Savetheinternet’s take on this organization:

What’s really costing consumers isn’t Net Neutrality but the phone companies’ multi-million-dollar campaign to kill it. Companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have spent tens of millions of dollars on canned phone calls, advertisements, DC lobbyists and phony front groups to squash our genuine grassroots effort.

Where do you think they get that money? That’s right. A portion of your phone bill goes towards creating campaigns that are designed to deceive consumers into acting against their best interests.

They also cite a joint report from the the Consumers Union (nonprofit publishers of Consumer Reports), which present these 12 facts about how the internet works:

FACT 1: Network Neutrality protections have existed for the entire history of the Internet. Opponents of Internet freedom pretend that Network Neutrality protections would mean new, onerous government regulations. But advocates of Network Neutrality are not promoting new regulations. We are preserving tried and tested consumer protections and network operating principles that have made the Internet the greatest engine of economic growth and democratic communication in modern memory.

FACT 2: Network discrimination through a “tiered Internet� will severely curtail consumer choice. Network owners say discrimination will benefit consumers with higher-quality services. But winners and losers in the content marketplace should be chosen based on the merits of a Web site or service, not the whims of the network owners. Without Network Neutrality, telephone and cable companies will have a strong financial incentive to distort the free market in favor of their own content and services.

FACT 3: Network discrimination will undermine innovation, investment and competition. The genius of the Internet is that it always has allowed “innovation without permission.� It has been a free marketplace of ideas where innovators and entrepreneurs rise and fall on their own merits. But on a “tiered Internet� without Network Neutrality, the upstarts and little guys will be at the mercy of the network owners to decide who can succeed or fail.

FACT 4: Network discrimination will fundamentally alter the consumer’s online experience by creating fast and slow lanes for Internet content. Up to this point, the consumer has been the ultimate decision-maker online; the network owners simply transmitted data over the wires, regardless of its content. The network owners claim they won’t harm or degrade anybody else’s content in a world without Network Neutrality. But network prioritization is a zero-sum game. The fact is that every time one Web site is sped up, another must be slowed down.

FACT 5: No one gets a “free ride� on the Internet. The network operators allege that if Network Neutrality is preserved, they won’t be able to build new, high-speed networks. This is a myth. With Network Neutrality, they’ll continue to generate revenues in the billions from monthly subscription fees, access rates from content producers (who already pay a fortune to get onto the network), and by competing in the free market with their own content and applications. Getting rid of Network Neutrality is just an attempt to extract monopoly rents from a new revenue stream.

FACT 6: Telephone companies have received billion of dollars in public subsidies and private incentives to support network build-out. The phone companies say they should be able to do as they like with “their pipes.� But they ignore the billions of dollars in public subsidies and incentives they’ve received over the years that allow them to dig up public rights-of-way, build rural networks, and write off the depreciation of their wires. If they gave back even a fraction of the public money they’ve received, we could build fiber to every home in America.

FACT 7: There is little competition in the broadband market. Network owners argue that Network Neutrality is unnecessary because there is plenty of competition for broadband access to deter bad behavior. But cable and DSL now dominate 98 percent of the broadband market (and a significant portion of the country has only a single broadband provider or none at all). If both the cable and phone companies are using their networks to discriminate, the consumer is trapped. There is nowhere else to go.

FACT 8: Consumers will bear the costs for network infrastructure regardless of whether there is Network Neutrality. The network owners claim consumers will save money without Network Neutrality, because content providers will bear more of the delivery costs. But those costs will simply be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for consumer goods and Internet services. And with less competition on a “tiered Internet,� the network owners will be able to raise their own prices with impunity. Higher prices, fewer choices and less competition are bad for consumers.

FACT 9: Investing in increased bandwidth is the most efficient way to solve network congestion problems. There is more traffic flowing over the Internet every day. To avoid “traffic jams,� network operators have two choices. They can increase the bandwidth to accommodate all content providers on an equal basis; or they can maintain scarcity and charge providers for the privilege of getting through the bottlenecks. Without Network Neutrality, phone and cable companies have an economic incentive not to relieve the congestion.

FACT 10: Network owners have explicitly stated their intent to build business models based on discrimination. The Astroturf groups set up by the industry repeatedly claim that Network Neutrality is a solution in search of a problem. But consumer advocates aren’t imagining a doomsday scenario. In fact, the top executives of nearly every major telephone company have stated clearly in the pages of Business Week, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post that they intend to discriminate or degrade the content and services of their competitors who don’t pay for a spot in the fast lane.

FACT 11: The COPE Act will not deter discrimination but will tie the hands of the FCC from preventing it. The COPE Act’s Network Neutrality provisions are inadequate to safeguard the Internet; deliberately impede clear enforcement mechanisms; and leave the network operators free to discriminate against consumers and content producers on the Internet. Legislation sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey in the House — and Sens. Olympia Snowe and Byron Dorgan in the Senate — offers clean and simple solutions to fix these problems.

FACT 12: Supporters of Network Neutrality represent a broad, nonpartisan coalition that joins right and left, commercial and noncommercial interests. The campaign to preserve Network Neutrality protections is perhaps the most diverse set of public and private interests backing any single issue in Washington today. Hundreds of groups and hundreds of thousands of individuals from across the political spectrum are joining together to save this cornerstone principle of consumer choice and Internet freedom.

The aggressive level with which AT&T and Verizon are trying to push their message on consumers is an indication of just how much they stand to gain, and how much consumers stand to lose, if their anti-net-neutrality legislation is passed in Congress.

I have asked our US Senate candidates in Rhode Island to provide their positions on net neutrality so that voters know where they stand and whether they will defend the internet for consumers. So far, I have heard only from Sheldon Whitehouse’s campaign, who has not yet provided a response, but at least acknowledged receiving my question. Hopefully with a little more prodding I can get answers for Rhode Islanders on this crucial question affecting our consumer choices and our ability to use the internet for free speech, community organizing, and civic participation.

America’s Growing Prison Addiction

Locked Up

When I first glimpsed the headline posted on the Common Dreams website, “1 in 136 U.S. Residents Behind Bars,� my heart soared at the hope that fewer Americans were falling prey to alcohol addiction. Much to my chagrin and surprise, the article—by AP writer, Elizabeth White—instead reported on America’s burgeoning prison population, i.e., our addiction to corrections. The basis for the article is a recently released report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), which is an entity of the Justice Department that every so often likes to do a head count of the nation’s convicts. Here’s what the BJS found, as reported in their own press release:

During the year that ended last June 30, the nation’s prison and jail population grew 2.6 percent, reaching 2,186,230 inmates behind bars, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. Two thirds were in state or federal prisons (1,438,701) and the other third (747,529) were in local jails. The 12-month increase of 56,428 prison and jail inmates was the equivalent of 1,085 new inmates every week, the BJS report said….Since 1995 the nation’s prison and jail population has risen by more than 600,000 inmates. At midyear 2005, one in every 136 U.S. residents were in prison or jail. [full text]

The number that really jumps out at me is 2,186,230. Amazingly, there are close to 2.2 million Americans behind bars. To offer some perspective, that number is more than twice the total population of Rhode Island. It exceeds the population of Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in the United States. It is greater than the population of the Kingdom of Bhutan and 87 other countries. In short, that’s a lot of cons. Not surprisingly, “the United States is the unchallenged world leader in both raw numbers and imprisonment per capita. With a global prison population estimated at nine million, the U.S. accounts for about one-quarter of all prisoners on the planet.�

The explanation for this incarceration fascination can be partly accounted for by the overly punitive and inherently flawed manner in which this country addresses such social ills as substance abuse. Roughly a quarter of those in prison are there for drug offenses. Innumerable others in the penal system have significant histories of alcohol and/or drug abuse that has directly or indirectly contributed to their criminal behavior. Despite research showing that “alternative programs that divert felony drug offenders to substance abuse treatment programs rather than prison terms could save the U.S. criminal justice system millions of dollars and reduce recidivism,� the emphasis remains on incarceration instead of treatment. This nation’s war on drugs—which even Walter Cronkite has labeled a “failure� and “inhumane�—is, in truth, a war on drug users. And the casualties fill our teeming prisons, while the wardens of public policy tout their toughness and abandon their humanity.

Animals Rights in Disaster Evacuation Plans

Hey, it wouldn’t be a blog without at least one picture of a cute kitten. This is Cassie, the newest addition to our household. She comes to us from New Orleans. A colleague of my husband’s has been active in finding new homes for stray dogs and cats, travelling to New Orleans to rescue animals who need to be adopted.

It is estimated that 600,000 animals died or were left without shelter due to Hurricane Katrina and the lack of preparation for animal evacuation. For this reason, the House passed new legislation on Monday that would require disaster preparedness for pets.

Daily Kos and MyDD Blogging Stars in Town

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (Daily Kos, pictured above) and Jerome Armstrong (Mydd) will be at The Brown Bookstore today, promoting their book, Crashing the Gate. The book-signing is from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm and there is also a second event at The Trinity Brewhouse from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm.

I would like to attend, but I have to work. If anyone who reads this attends, I would love to hear about how it went.