With the Senate Commerce Committee scheduled to have a hearing tomorrow (May 25) on Net Neutrality, we will have a chance to answer one of the real puzzlements of the debate: Where is Maria Cantwell?
Sen. Cantwell (D-WA) has a long and distinguished record in the tech sector. As a member of the House of Representatives in the early 1990s, she successfully fought off the Clinton Administration plan to put an decoding device in everyone's telephone — the Clipper Chip — that would allow the government to have access to encrypted telephone conversations.
After losing her House seat in the Republican sweep in 1994, she went to Real Networks before her political comeback in 2000, winning the Senate seat. She's up for re-election this year. Her challenger, Mike McGavick, is a well-funded candidate with lots of business backing and support from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), with whom Cantwell fought over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
There is certainly some hometown support for Cantwell to come out in favor of Net Neutrality. Amazon has been engaged in this issue for years. Microsoft has come on as well, and both are part of the coalition working for Net Neutrality legislation.
The hometown Seattle Times on May 22 published an editorial, “Ill effects of a gated cyber world.” The editorial was short and to the point. Here's a sample: “If computer-network providers are allowed to hijack the Internet, the damage will go much deeper than the consumers' wallets. Democracy will be at risk with the inevitable limiting of voices if Internet neutrality is not ensured.”
The editorial concluded: “The biggest loser in a gated cyber world would be American democracy. Democracy is already suffering from the effects of consolidation, especially in the media where only a handful of companies either own outright or own interests in films, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, book publishing, and any other media channel that can be devoured. Congress should think of that before funneling more power into the hands of a few.”
But there are pressures on the other side. The great weapon that the Bell companies yield is that they have thousands of employees in every state. There are about 4,000 Qwest workers in Washington state, and probably a few thousand retirees also. During the debate on the House version of a telecom bill, Kirk Nelson, Qwest's Washington state president, sent a letter to all employees. Here's what it said:
Dear Fellow Washington Employee:
Qwest needs your help on an important legislative issue. Specifically, I'd like you to contact your congressional representative in support of the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act, legislation that will streamline the way local television franchises are negotiated.
COPE is expected to be considered by the House of Representatives sometime next week. Passage of this bill will help Qwest and other companies compete against the cable monopolies. Because of this, Qwest supports this legislation.
The cable monopolies and their allies want to kill the bill and are orchestrating their own letter writing campaign. That's why it's critical that you contact your representative and urge a “YES” vote.
I've attached a link below that will automatically prepare a letter for your elected representative. It's easy and will only take a minute. All you have to do is enter your name, home and e-mail addresses, and click the “send” button.
In addition to asking for their support of the bill, the letter urges “NO” votes on two amendments backed by our opponents. The first will mandate build-out requirements for second-entrants to the TV market, and the second creates unnecessary laws — termed “net neutrality mandates” — that will prevent companies like Qwest from entering into commercial agreements with Internet content providers. I've included more details on each amendment below.
Again, please take a minute today to urge congressional support for COPE. This bill is not only important to Qwest, it's important to millions of consumers across our region who are looking for relief from soaring cable rates. Click http://qwest-cope.cmail1.com/.aspx/l/48428/28752450/www.capwiz.com/qwestoutreach here to send your letter.
P.S. I'll keep you updated on the success of our letter writing drive and the outcome of the House vote. Again, please send your letter today!
Build-out Mandates: Build-out mandates require massive investment regardless of consumer interest or technical feasibility. Instead of promoting deployment, these mandates stymie it. If a build-out mandate were imposed, franchise areas that could benefit from some competition would see none.
Net Neutrality Mandates: Qwest strongly supports net neutrality. However, we oppose amendments that impose other, so called, net neutrality mandates. Internet providers and carriers should not be prevented from reaching commercial agreements for network services that enhance their products without raising consumer prices. Additional net neutrality amendments are unnecessary and will stifle innovation and investment.
That little link in the middle takes you to a web site with a form letter for Qwest employees to send letters to Congress. Here's the test of the Net Neutrality part of the letter: “Net Neutrality Mandates: Qwest favors the net neutrality safeguards codified in COPE. However, we oppose amendments that impose other, so called, net neutrality mandates. Internet providers and carriers should not be prevented from reaching commercial agreements for network services that enhance their products without raising consumer prices. Additional net neutrality amendments are unnecessary and will stifle innovation and investment. Please vote NO.”
One doubts the message will change when the Senate Commerce Committee marks up its bill, a session now scheduled for mid-June.
At this point, Cantwell is in fairly good shape. She's got about a 10-point lead in the polls, and has raised about $8.6 million, contrasted with about $2.6 million for McGavick through the end of March. As a first-term Senator, she wants to make certain she gets a second term and doesn't want to take unnecessary chances.
But Net Neutrality should be an issue on which she takes a stand, not only for because of Microsoft, Amazon and Real Networks, but for everyone in the state.
UPDATE: Sen. Cantwell didn't make an appearance at the Commerce Committee's May 25 hearing on Net Neutrality.