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Network neutrality: politics as usual wins again

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My representative in Congress, the Hon. John R. “Randy” Kuhl (R-Hammondsport), voted for the reprehensible Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act that gutted attempts to preserve network neutrality. That bill passed the House this week, 321-101. (How did your representative vote?)

This isn’t good news for District 29 in New York, one of the most rural areas of the state, that he represents. And it isn’t good new for Rep. Kuhl, either — at least if he’s expecting my vote for his re-election. (Learn how you can find out how your rep voted and why. It’s easy. Anyone with unfettered ‘net access can do it.)

I had e-mailed Rep. Kuhl a few weeks ago (see earlier post), specifically asking him to support network neutrality. Ironclad network neutrality legislation would allow the Internet to remain equally open to all. It would bar big broadband Internet service providers such as the Bells and cable giants from limiting access to those Web operators that can pay premiums for the best and fastest service. Network neutrality is often called the First Amendment of the Internet. Without it, innovation on the Internet drops dead.

In a rural district such as Rep. Kuhl’s, Internet access has become a lifeline for many people. Small Web sites of individuals, groups, businesses, small colleges and universities and small-town governments and agencies need the same access as eBay and AOL and other corporate interests that could pay a premium for superior access. In rural areas, egalitarian Internet access is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

But Rep. Kuhl voted against that sentiment. He voted against an amendment by Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts that contained clear language safeguarding network neutrality. The amendment failed, 152-269. (How’d your rep vote?)

This week I received a letter from Rep. Kuhl thanking me for my interest in the issue and saying “your input will be very helpful to me when this issue comes before me on the House floor for a vote.”

Well, it seems my interest and his failed to coincide. So whose interests did coincide with his?

Well, how about the big telecommunications companies and cable operators? If the Markey amendment had passed, it would have kept corpokleptocrats “that own broadband networks from discriminating against content and service providers in favor of their own commercial offerings.”

In this 2006 election cycle, the telecomms have given $4,450,000 to federal candidates and the parties, with 62 percent going to the GOP. Leading donors, er, purchasers of political access, are AT&T, $1.7 million; Verizon, $1.2 million; and BellSouth, $850,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rep. Kuhl, according to the center, has received just under $11,000 from telecomms — not exactly a princely sum, it would seem.

But here’s another way to follow the money. Consider political money given by Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth, which have stakes in undermining network neutrality.

According to the center, In the 2006 election cycle Rep. Kuhl received $4,000 from Verizon; indicted former House speaker Tom DeLay got $5,000. Rep. Kuhl got nothing from AT&T; now-retired Rep. DeLay got $10,000. BellSouth gave nothing to either in 2006.

In the 2004 cycle, Rep. Kuhl, in his first bid for office, received $4,000 from Verizon; DeLay got $5,000. AT&T gave DeLay $2,000. BellSouth gave DeLay $2,500. So Rep. Kuhl received much less money directly from telecomms.

But, in the 2004 cycle, Rep. Kuhl received $10,000 from DeLay’s leadership PAC, Americans for a Republican Majority. So some of DeLay’s telecomm money flowed downhill to Rep. Kuhl. He received $92,736 in all from leading House Republicans’ leadership PACs.

In the 2006 cycle, DeLay’s ARMPac gave Rep. Kuhl another $10,000; overall, Rep. Kuhl has received $133,426 from leadership PACs as of April 24.

So what?

In my earlier post I showed how money flows downhill from leadership PACs to incumbents and strong GOP candidates. It happens in Democratic circles, too (earlier post).

So Rep. Kuhl can truthfully say he received modest contributions from telecomms with an agenda against network neutrality — directly. But indirectly, money from telecomms flows to him and other GOP House members from House leaders’ leadership PACs. Is it fair to say he’s bound to follow GOP leaders’ wishes in the House?

Multiply this issue by the many others facing the House. Special-interest money flows into leadership PACs and downhill to the not-so-powerful members. They, of course, follow lemming-like the voting wishes of the House GOP leadership.

As a resident (and voter) in rural District 29, it leads to me to think my representative in Congress didn’t find my “input” to be “very helpful” when he cast his vote.

But his input — or the lack of it — will influence how I cast my vote this fall.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 16, 2006 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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