Caught up in the 'Net | Blogh

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Caught up in the 'Net

Posted By on Tue, Apr 6, 2010 at 2:06 PM

Appy polly loggies for the extended hiatus here. I've been working on a cover story due out tomorrow, among other things. I'll try to have some business up soon about the gubernatorial race ... which has been taking place, sort of, in my absence.

The big news on the Interwebz at the moment, though, is likely to be a setback to advocates of "net neutrality." A federal appeals court has ruled that the FCC lacks authority to prevent internet service companies like Comcast from discriminating against online content providers.

In the case before the court, the FCC tried to prevent Comcast from restricting access to file-sharing sites. Comcast claims it did so merely to prevent the  system from being overwhelmed by transfers of large files. But even if that were true, the ruling seems to make it harder for the FCC to preserve open access on the Internet. Net neutrality advocates worry that providers like Verizon, say,  could start limiting access to online services that rival their own offerings ... or even limit access to sites complaining about how FiOS is really an overpriced waste o----

Haha. These are jokes -- you can't complain about online censorship if you don't post for a week or two at a time.  Anyway, in theory, the Supreme Court could overturn the lower-court decision, but these are the folks who gave us the Citizens United decision: Giving corporations free rein over content doesn't seem to bother them. 

Which means it's up to Congress. There is a bill, proposed last year by Mass. Rep Ed Markey, that would ensure unfettered access to all (legal) online content. But it's been idling in committee for nearly a year. 

So this would be a useful moment to see where our own Congressional folks stand on the issue. Mike Doyle publicly supports open access online, and happily enough he sits on the House committee weighing Markey's bill. Republican Tim Murphy, by contrast, voted against a simliar measure Markey proposed -- as an amendment to a telecom bill -- back in 2006. (Doyle voted for the amendment.)

As for Jason Altmire? I can't find anything about his position on the matter, and as best I know he's never had to vote on it. If someone else is aware of a previously expressed position, I'd be much obliged if they'd post it here. I've called his office, and will post their response here. In the meantime, I'll just note that the communications/electronics sector plays a much smaller role in his campaign fundraising than, say, healthcare. 

So we've got that going for us, anyway. 

Oh, and speaking of Altmire, here's a timely note, given the tragic deaths of more than two dozen miners in West Virginia. In the current election cycle, Altmire is the House of Representatives' #1 recipient of mining-industry contributions. His coziness with the industry has already raised concerns among environmentalists; it'll be interesting to see how he responds to growing concerns about worker safety.

UPDATE: A spokesman for Altmire assures us that the congressman does support open access to the internet.

While we're on the subject, it's also worth noting that Altmire has voted in favor of the S-MINER Act, a 2007 piece of legislation that would have increased miner safety. S-MINER, which passed in the U.S. House but languished in the Senate, would have overhauled safety standards to better head off the danger of an explosion. There's been some talk in West Virginia about the impact S-MINER might have had, and whether it could have prevented the Big Branch tragedy. (A weaker mine-safety bill passed in 2006, before Altmire was in office.)