Net Neutrality Pressures Target House Democrats
Net Neutrality Pressures Target House Democrats
Net Neutrality Pressures Target House Democrats

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    It will be a heady time when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) takes over the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year. At that point, the fabled west-side Los Angeles Waxman-Berman machine will control the world. Waxman, from his committee, will have jurisdiction over the air, water, health care, the Internet and a piece of most of everything else domestic. The other half of the partnership, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), will take the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He only gets domain over the rest of the planet.

    In the past, Waxman has been a reliable vote in favor of Net Neutrality. He voted for amendments by Telecom Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) at the full Committee markup and on the House floor when they were presented in 2006.

    Besides Waxman’s ascension, another factor in the Net Neutrality equation will be the vehavior of the wandering Ds – those spokesmodels for corporate interests who voted against protecting the Internet. Since 2006, one of the worst offenders has departed – Rep. Al Wynn (D-VZ), an ardent Net Neutrality opponent was beaten in the primary last year by Net Neutrality Champion Donna Edwards (D-MD). (Now if she could only win a seat on Energy and Commerce…)

    Wynn wasn’t the only offender. The last time the Energy and Commerce Committee took up the issue of Net Neutrality, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-ATT) introduced legislation to have the FCC investigate the “preferential practices” of search engines. That maneuver was Gonzalez’ way of doing the bidding of his (then) hometown telephone company by letting the Internet industry and public-interest groups fighting for Net Neutrality that companies like Google would be in jeopardy if they kept up the campaign. Gonzalez’s fellow Texan, Gene Green (D-ATT), also consistently voted against Net Neutrality.

    So did Reps. Bobby Rush (D-ATT) and Ed Towns (D-VZ). When the Telecom Subcommittee dealt with the issue in 2006, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) voted against Net Neutrality, but saw the error of their ways and switched to the correct vote in full Committee and on the House floor.

    Two of the newest Committee members, G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and John Barrow (D-GA), voted on the House floor against Net Neutrality in 2006 when they were not yet on the Commerce Committee.

    That was 2006. My, how times have changed. Starting at the top, President-elect Barack Obama’s platform had as its top technology goal “Protect the Openness of the Internet.” From Waxman on down, Committee members will have the choice of supporting their new, popular president and his enthusiastic supporters, or voting for a local industry.

    Waxman represents Hollywood, and Hollywood has been generous in contributing to Waxman’s campaigns. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that tracks campaign contributions, the entertainment industry has been the third-largest contributor to Waxman’s campaigns over the course of his career. Now, the question will be how Waxman will finesse the competing interests.

    Waxman’s support for Net Neutrality came before before Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), launched his industry’s broadside against Net Neutrality earlier this year. In a March 11 speech, Glickman railed against Net Neutrality as “government regulation of the Internet.” Of course, government regulation is fine with the MPAA when it might benefit Hollywood, as in the industry’s current campaign to have the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) impose a selectable output control authority on the movie business to take control of users’ set-top boxes, restricting outputs at the industry’s whim.

    One question now is whether Waxman will follow Glickman’s lead, or try to work out some accommodation with Hollywood over Net Neutrality. It would make his job easier if MPAA members backed away from Glickman’s opposition, realizing that the studios would benefit from a free and open Internet. Perhaps they will see that wisdom in the coming months. Or perhaps Waxman will simply ignore Hollywood and do what’s right.

    For the telecom industry shills, it’s one thing for Towns, Rush, Green and Gonzalez to vote with their friendly local phone companies and with all of the Republicans on the Committee against Net Neutrality. It’s quite another to vote against Net Neutrality at a time when a Democratic president who has made a free and open Internet a top priority, particularly as some of their home districts went blue for Obama, as Gonzalez’s Bexar County did. And it is worth asking — will Gonzalez still have such warm and cuddly feelings toward AT&T now that the company abandoned its San Antonio headquarters and decamped to Dallas?

    Barrow, who is white in a largely minority district, endorsed Obama early, and Obama returned the favor by endorsing Barrow, a conservative Democrat, over Barrow’s African-American, progressive opponent, Regina Thomas. Maybe Barrow will change his mind when the vote comes up. Butterfield’s district, too, turned out for Obama as the state went Democratic, so he might view things differently. Charlie Melancon, one of the remaining Democrats on the Committee who voted against Net Neutrality on the House floor, Charlie Melancon (D-LA) would have to buck a Democratic president. As his state voted Republican, Melancon might still hold out against Net Neutrality, but it will be mighty lonely for him.