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The idea of the Internet as a public commodity accessible to all citizens may be on its way out. US Telecommunication companies have introduced a series of bills at both the state and federal levels that would restrict Internet access based on fees, remove corporate “build out” obligations that mandate providing service to all customers within an area, and remove local franchise agreements that currently fund local cable stations and local services. These proposals arise as telecom companies are poised to offer video over the Internet which would allow TV to be delivered over DSL phone lines.
According to Michigan Citizen, US Representative Joe Barton of Texas, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s telecommunications and Internet subcommittee, has introduced a bill that would create a national franchise agreement for cable providers. Under this bill, providers could choose individual neighborhoods in which to provide service while bypassing others. AT&T, for example, has promised its investors that they intend to serve 90% of “high-value” customers but only 5% of what it considers “low-value” customers, namely low-income and rural residents.
Amazon, Yahoo, Google, and other Internet companies have sent a letter to Barton criticizing the bill, saying it would fail to protect the Internet from discrimination and would limit the power of the FCC to oversee fair access. The bill is similar to many state-level bills that have been introduced in Michigan and 20 other states. In Indiana, where a similar measure passed last year, local franchises have been eliminated completely and Public Educational and Government cable access is under State control. Local politicians, including the Detroit City Council, Wayne County Commission, and the Michigan Congressional Black Caucus have passed resolutions denouncing the Michigan bill. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has offered to fast-track local franchise negotiations with AT&T, but has not as yet received a response.
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