Changing the Internet for The Worse

Two nights ago Congress passed legislation that could very well lead to serious, negative changes in the way the Internet works in the future. I voted against this flawed bill.

The main point of the bill, the COPE Act, is to provide the phone companies with national video franchises so they can provide alternative cable TV choices. The bill passed 321 to 101.

As I considered this legislation, I talked to constituents and industry experts both in Washington, D.C. and back home. Everyone I talked to expressed support for the broad concepts of increasing competition to cable, lowering prices, and offering consumers better choices. Yet many had grave concerns that the legislation as written failed to ensure better services for all consumers and potentially threatened next generation technologies.

One of my biggest problems with this bill is that it fails to insure "network neutrality" on the Internet. Net neutrality has become a buzzword of sorts as the debate over this bill intensified both on Capitol Hill and on the Central and South Coast.

The phone companies have made clear their intentions to establish a system where they decide the speed at which different bits of data can move across the network, in essence creating a "fast lane" and a "slow lane" and maybe many in between. If they do so, the cable companies will quickly follow suit.

This is a bad idea for two reasons. First, it means that small players on the Internet will find it harder to use the world wide reach of the Internet to bring their new ideas to market. This could prevent the next Google or MySpace from emerging due to the inability to pay phone and cable company fees for the "fast lane" of internet access.

Second, the lack of nondiscrimination among data bits allows for the distinct possibility that the phone and cable companies could block or slow the sites and services of their competitors.

I don't see in the phone and cable industries the kind of wide open competition that is present today on the Internet. And given that lack of competition, I question the commitment of those companies to protecting a system that allows open competition and fosters innovation. The absence of net neutrality poses serious threats to the next generation of internet innovators and to consumers who should be allowed to choose the best product regardless of whether it is offered by an established firm or a new technology start up.

I was a strong supporter of an amendment offered by my colleague Rep. Markey that would have ensured "Network Neutrality" by maintaining our current system of nondiscrimination for access to the World Wide Web network. Unfortunately, this amendment failed last night. Thus legislation that was supposed to be about creating more competition and giving consumers more choices and lower prices will likely produce fewer choices and higher prices.

With Some Work, Pension Bill To Be Ready By July 4th

The delay in completing action on the pension bill is testimony to the very sensitive balancing act we have before us. The pension bill must ensure that more money goes into pension plans, but the new rules cannot be so strict that they cause companies, pension plans, and jobs to disappear. What's true in medicine is true in government: A cure that's so strong that it kills the patient isn't worth much in the long run.

I am proud of my colleagues for their sincere desire to craft the best possible rules with the health of the pension system in mind. It hasn't been easy, but we have made enormous progress. With hard work and a little elbow grease, I fully expect to complete the pension bill by the July 4th recess.

Now Is Not The Time For Estate Tax

Given the massive continuing demands of Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, I do not believe it is now the time for a full repeal of the federal estate tax. Nor do I believe that the true costs and deficit impact of the backloaded proposals offered to date have been honestly represented to the American taxpayer.

I do, however, support exempting most family farms and small businesses from the tax entirely and I support raising the individual exemption. And so, I support and remain committed to seeking a fiscally responsible bill that provides reform and stable tax relief for all taxpayers in a more certain and stable way for the future. I will continue to work closely with my colleagues in the days and weeks ahead to achieve this more balanced result.

Subtly Siding With Insurers Over Patients

I joined Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Congressmen Rob Andrews (D-NJ) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) for a press conference yesterday in opposing a little-known proposed section of the Pension Reform Act that would allow insurance companies to collect money before victims are able to cover the costs of hospitals and other bills during their recovery.

This anti-patient provision penalizes an injured individual for someone else's negligence. Had Section 307 of H.R. 2830 been in place after my accident in the 1980s, my life would be very different. My parents could have been unable to cover my medical expenses and changing needs if the insurance companies were allowed to sue for payment before my situation was settled. This provision will trump strong laws in states like Rhode Island and allow insurance companies to act against victims. Removing this provision means protecting patient rights.

In addition to what this means for patient rights, Section 307 was never discussed or debated before it was slipped into this critical piece of legislation at the eleventh hour. This health insurance provision is not germane to the pension legislation it was placed in. The Pension Reform Act is currently in conference with the Senate, and I am hopeful that Section 307 will be removed during this process.

Re:Internet Marketplace--Playing Field is Anything But Level

I am extremely disappointed that the House voted for the COPE Act yesterday without any essential net neutrality protection. By blocking the Markey Amendment, the Republican Congress has allowed 'the pipes' to control content in a way that goes directly against the level playing field and innovative spirit created by the Internet. Because no net neutrality provisions were adopted, the broadband duopolies and monopolies will be able to turn the Internet into the equivalent of cable television. I hope the U.S. Senate will stand up for freedom and, unlike the House, insist on net neutrality to save the Internet as we know it.

Opening The Internet Marketplace

Yesterday's passage of the Communications, Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 opens the door for much needed competition in the video market, which will spur advances in technology, diverse programming and ownership opportunities, as well as provide critical relief of steep cable costs for consumers. I was clear about serving the interests of my constituents, and passage of this bipartisan bill proves that the rest of the nation deserves the same high priority treatment.

Competition has always served as the catalyst for innovation, but it has also served as the driver of building enhanced services and multi-layered opportunities for underserved groups and populations. The Cope Act represents a huge step in providing equal access and equal opportunities in an industry that advances our thoughts, emotions and actions.

Re:Refinery Bill--Certainty for Companies, Relief for Consumers

This legislation simply helps establish some certainty for companies making a huge financial commitment and long time commitment to building a new refinery. A federal coordinator would be established who would work with the federal agencies involved in the permitting process. The agencies would have to stick to their time lines without endless delays in making decisions.

There are no changes to environmental standards in this bill. And state and local processes would go on as usual.

Re:Zarqawi--End of Terror Comes With Troops Coming Home

Mr. al-Zarqawi only represented a small portion of the large and growing anti-American insurgency in Iraq, so his killing is unlikely to end the violence in Iraq.

According to a January 2005 estimate by Iraqi intelligence service director General Mohamed Abdullah Shahwani, Zarqawi's group is a mere sliver of the non-Baathist insurgency, while Baathists make up the majority of armed insurgents.

The only way to end the daily attacks on US troops and innocent Iraqis is to end the war in Iraq and bring all our troops home in a quick and orderly manner.

Re: Zarqawi--Step Forward for Iraq, Step Back for Terrorism

Al-Zarqawi’s death is a strike against the terrorist organizations that attack innocent Iraqis of all religions; and it is a victory for the newly seated, representational government in Baghdad. Many difficult challenges remain, but this a great day and an important step toward peace and stability in Iraq.

A Bill That Pays Economic, Environmental, Strategic Profits

Yesterday I introduced legislation called the "Plug-In Hybrid Electrical Vehicle Act of 2006." The bill encourages government and private industry to work together to develop new technologies that will make plug-in hybrids more cost effective. Through research and development grants, scientists will focus on producing cars made of light-weight materials and longer-running batteries. The bill also establishes a pilot program that will award 25 grants to help local governments purchase fleets of plug-in vehicles. Plug-in hybrids save money, conserve energy, protect the environment and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. For economic, environmental and strategic reasons, it makes sense to encourage automakers to go beyond their already popular hybrid vehicles and to develop and produce plug-in electric hybrid vehicles.