Ron Wyden announced this afternoon that he has placed a "hold" on the telecommunciations legislation just passed by the Commerce Committee until clear language is included in the legislation that prevents discrimination in Internet access.
From his floor statement (in an e-mail to me):
Mr. President, the major telecommunications legislation reported today by the Senate Commerce Committee is badly flawed. The bill makes a number of major changes in the country's telecommunications law but there is one provision that is nothing more than a license to discriminate. Without a clear policy preserving the neutrality of the Internet and without tough sanctions against those who would discriminate, the Internet will be forever changed for the worse.
This one provision threatens to divide the Internet into technology "haves" and "have nots." This one provision concentrates even more power in the hands of the special interests that own the pipelines to the Internet. This one provision codifies discrimination on the Internet by a handful of large telecommunications and cable providers. This one provision will allow large, special interests to saddle consumers and small businesses alike with new and discriminatory fees over and above what they already pay for Internet access. This one small provision is akin to hurling a giant wrecking ball at the Internet.
The inclusion of this provision compels me to state that I would object to a unanimous consent request to the Senate proceeding with this legislation until a provision that provides true Internet neutrality is included. . . .
The large interests have made it clear that if this bill moves forward, they will begin to discriminate. A Verizon Communications executive has called for an "end to Google's `free lunch.'" A Bell South executive has said that he wants the Internet to be turned into a "pay-for-performance marketplace." What they and other cable and phone company executives are proposing is that instead of providing equal access for everyone to the same content at the same price, they will set up sweetheart arrangements to play favorites. Without net neutrality protections, this bill is bad news for consumers and anyone who today enjoys unlimited access to all of the Net's applications, service and content.
This hold is basically a signal of intent to filibuster. Holds generally are requests that any Senator can make that a bill or measure not be considered by the full Senate until certain issues in it are cleared up. It's not officially in the Senate rules, and the majority leader can refuse it. If Stevens's statement that he doesn't have 60 votes is to be believed, then Wyden's hold could keep this bill from the floor. We'll just have to wait to see what negotiations that might be in the offing mean for the future of the telecommunications bill and net neutrality.
Here I need to provide full disclosure: my first job out of college was with Ron when he was still in the House. Though there's been plenty I've disagreed with him about, I'm still a fan. His leadership on this issue, however, has been unquestionably admirable. He introduced the first stand-alone legislation on net neutrality, S. 2360, the Internet Non-Discrimination Act, in March, and is a co-sponsor of Snowe/Dorgan. He was among the first to recognize it as a critical issue for consumers, for the technology industry, for business small and large, and for the non-profit sector.
His willingness to stand up on this issue should be applauded and supported. It should be supported by all Senate Democrats, including the leadership. Don't let up on your pressure on your Senators on this issue. Make them stand with Wyden to protect the Internet.