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News :: Media
New Name For Senate Telecom Bill—But Still In Need of Fix
16 Aug 2006
Summary: Sen. Steven’s telecom bill HR5252 is now called the “Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform (ATOR) Act”—but still fails to protect Net Neutrality, allows for telecommunication ‘redlining’ of low income and rural communities, and hurts public access TV, says Anthony Riddle of the Alliance For Community Media.
Sen. Ted Steven’s HR5252—formerly known as the “Communication, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act”—has emerged from Senate Commerce Committee hearings with a new name—the “Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform Act” or “ATOR”. It is still unclear when—or if—the full Senate will vote on ATOR. At the moment Stevens is just shy of the sixty votes he needs to see the bill pass in the Senate—and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is unlikely to bring the bill to the floor unless all the votes needed are in place.

In a recent interview Anthony Riddle of the Alliance For Community Media—which represents Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) TV in Washington—outlined the dangers the bill poses to democratic media in America (interview with Access Update—August 11, 2006). “The telephone companies are trying to take over the telecommunications system of the whole country,” said Riddle. When asked to describe the full effects of the bill he commented, “it’s so huge it’s hard to cover everything. Number one, it will limit the number of PEG channels available to the public… the private sector is taking more and more control of the public communications space—in the future your children may have no access to telecommunications.”

He continued, “if you’re interested in media justice you need to call your local elected representatives—in the House and Senate—send them a fax—call their local office and say ‘we’re not experts on all the technical details of the law, but we know this—we want the public to be able to communicate. Public, Educational and Governmental Access TV is important. We don’t think there should be censorship on the Internet. And we don’t think there should be people who can’t get access to the Internet.’ These are the three discrimination issues. No discrimination of content on the Internet—that’s Net Neutrality. Buildout to everybody, let everybody have access (to the Internet)—that’s the buildout/redlining issue. And finally, there needs to be an open space for the public—not interfered with by business. Stop interfering with the public’s ability to have a democracy.”

On Net Neutrality Riddle commented, “there are a lot of things you cannot do without the Internet—you may not be able to get a driver’s license, you may not be able to register your kids for school. We have assumptions about how the Internet works. When I go online and do a Google search I have the assumption that the results I get back are not censored—that’s Net Neutrality. At the moment the companies who run wires through the public-rights-of-way don’t have the right to tell us what’s carried through these cables.”

What would a future without Net Neutrality look like? Riddle illustrates, “there were people organizing to prevent AOL charging them to use email. As AOL users they were using AOL to do their organizing. And AOL blocked them. Is this the world we want to live in? One where the people who own the means of communications can control who you talk to and what you talk about—what kind of conversation you can have. I’m telling you, that’s not the kind of world you want to have.”

Opposition to the Stevens bill has also come from local government organizations. The bill would strip local administrations of the ability to negotiate local telecommunications ‘franchises’, thereby making video-service companies less accountable to the public. The phone companies “have a ton of money—they’re pushing the congress around. Pushing a bill which would essentially allow then to enter the system without any local oversight,” Riddle argues. “Right now the way the laws are written if a company serves a community it must serve all the community. Now (with ATOR) they are saying a business-plan should decide who is served… if a community is left out (because video-service companies believe it won’t be profitable) it’s going to be poor people, people of color, immigrant communities. And then these people can’t participate in the democratic dialogue. They can’t participate in electronic voting—they can’t register online—we just don’t think this is fair.”

On the issue of PEG TV Riddle said, “the public access TV community has been extremely well organized—we have been able to get Congress to recognize that public access is politically important. In politics you have to move money or you have to move people—the phone companies are the ones moving the money—and we’re the ones moving the people.” Thus far ATOR contains provisions for PEG TV—1% of the video-service company’s revenue will be set-aside to support the operation of PEG. However as Riddle points out, this one size fit all provision will not help smaller communities where 1% will not support acceptable PEG services.

Lyell Davies—August 16th, 2006.

For more information go to:
To find out how your Senators stand on the issue of Net Neutrality go to:
For more information about the Alliance For Community Media’s position on ATOR go to:

This work is in the public domain.
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