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Congressman Massa Conference Call to Introduce HR 2902 – Broadband Internet Fairness Act

Phillip Dampier June 17, 2009 Audio, Data Caps, Public Policy & Gov't 13 Comments

The audio from this morning’s conference call to introduce the legislation follows at the bottom of the page. Participants were: Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY), Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, and Phillip Dampier, founder of StoptheCap!

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Congressman Eric Massa formally introduced the Broadband Internet Fairness Act, H.R. 2902. The drafting of the bill was prompted by thousands of constituents and industry experts who voiced their concerns in regard to the outrageous increase in fees proposed by broadband providers.

In April, when Time Warner Cable in Rochester announced that they would begin overcharging customers based on their bandwidth usage, a group of doctors approached Congressman Massa and informed him that if the proposal was enacted, they would be forced to raise rates on their patients. Time Warner’s new program would have raised the cost of their current unlimited internet plan from $50 per month to $150 per month, tripling customers’ monthly bill. The proposed increase in rates gouges customers and limits competition between internet video sites and cable networks that offer identical content. The intended result of this increase would be to reduce the public’s internet usage and send customers back to cable television.

The Broadband Internet Fairness Act will prevent the monopolistic rate increases of broadband companies by promoting the interests of broadband customers. Specifically the bill:

·    Requires internet service providers (ISPs) to submit plans to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in consultation with the FCC if they plan to move to a usage-based plan;

·    Prohibits volume usage plans if the FTC determines that these plans are imposing rates, terms, and conditions that are unreasonable or discriminatory;

·    Sets up public hearings for plans submitted to the FTC for public review and input;

·    Only affects internet providers with 2 million or more subscribers;

·    Imposes penalties for broadband ISPs that ignore these rules;

“Access to the internet has become a critical part of our economy and we can’t let corporate giants limit the public’s access to this important tool,” said Congressman Eric Massa. “The Broadband Internet Fairness Act is all about protecting consumers from outrageous internet overcharges and giving the public a voice in this process. I have taken lots of time to work on this bill and have consulted with my constituents and industry experts. Now the hard work of passing this bill begins.”

“Cable providers want to stifle the internet so they can rake in advertiser dollars by keeping consumers from watching video on the Internet.  But so long as Americans can’t choose which cable channels they want to pay for, I don’t think cable operators should be able to determine consumers’ monthly internet usage. Additionally, charging based on a bandwidth usage is a flawed model when the cost of usage is totally out of line with the price. Consumers are much better served by plans based on the speed of the connection rather than amount of bandwidth used. Competition is crucial to our economy and I refuse to let monopolistic corporations dominate the market and gouge my constituents.”

Conference Call to Introduce HR 2902 – the Broadband Internet Fairness Act – Washington, DC & Rochester, NY – June 17, 2009 (26 minutes)
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Currently there are 13 comments on this Article:

  1. Uncle Ken says:

    That was a huge disappointment a guy not even from this country, Railroad cars, and the price of gas. Shakes head wondering. Where were the people from the US…the very places these things are going on?
    Good on idea, bad on content. Q/A needs more screening specifically what people are going to ask.

  2. Uncle Ken says:

    My issue was most questions were not on topic.

  3. Smith6612 says:

    I wasn’t very disappointed about this meeting at all. There were a few questions I would have liked to have been asked in the conference, but that’s it otherwise. I’m surprised though that no one mentioned that families with kids are more prone to being nickel and dimed and that it wasn’t talked about, as that would have woken many people up for those who haven’t been in touch with all of this yet who were in the conference/listening to the file above.

    But one thing which may be a good idea to spreading the word, since the word is already all over the internet and in some news stations around the US, I’m wondering if it may be a good idea to tip off many of the news stations as possible for many areas around the US about these caps. I’m sure that once someone can get around to tipping off the news and the press reports about this via Newspaper and TV News, a ton of people will start to find out about this and hop on board, as after all, how many people out there get their news from the newspaper or TV still? This came to my mind while listening to the conference, as ever since all of this capping has started to take place, I haven’t heard one thing about this issue on any of my local news stations, nor have I really seen it on Fox/CNN and the other large news networks, but it did show up once or twice briefly in a local newspaper.

    • I agree, and the outrage over Time Warner Cable’s nonsense in April drove coverage night after night here in Rochester. Media attention follows the stories viewers and listeners say they are interested in.

      I recognize the conference call today was not exactly a dog and pony press show, but these never are.

      Most people who participate are reporters who are, just like I’ve done, sitting and furiously retyping quotes from the speaker into their computers and structuring stories for publication and don’t have time to even ask questions.

      This conference call came at short notice, but I was privy to the fact there were MANY more listeners parked on the conference listening than asked questions. They will be writing stories on our issues even when they didn’t ask questions.

      Also remember this call was structured as a combination of the bill announcement, and Congressman Massa’s normal weekly press conference call, so off topic questions from reporters in the southern tier, who sometimes don’t have easy access to a very busy Rep. Massa (who told me he was up most of last night doing the people’s business) to ask him these things any other way.

      I was told to expect the whole thing would wrap up in about 30 minutes, which was a good estimate.

      Rep. Massa is very plain spoken and forthright, as listeners no doubt heard for themselves, regardless of the issue.

      BTW, as a comparison – the press conference call for Time Warner we covered a month or so ago attracted less than a dozen questions despite being a hot button topic. So don’t call count as an indication of interest.

  4. Uncle Ken says:

    Mr. Smith: I was not disappointed in the meeting with Eric Massa formally introducing the Broadband Internet Fairness Act, H.R. 2902 or Phil and Free press. What got me was the lack of formality of the questions asked. Where was Texas, where was the triad, where was Rochester. To me the entire thing looked like it was thrown together at the last minute. They took questions from the wrong people… off topic and were there any from us common people or just media? (I tried and could not get through) Free press or phil could have taken many questions and presented them 30 or more asking in that 26 minutes. What did we see 6or 8 in all? I just read the bill proposed and it was weak at best like they have to tell somebody the day before you get your butt capped. Phil just started a Q/A topic. Don’t you just love the way our government works? We can tell you something but not everything. No wonder or economy is still tanking. People today want answers here, now, not an hour or a day a week a month or a year later. People with no answers tend to hold back spending or expansion.

  5. BrionS says:

    Sorry Phil, but I completely disagree with this proposed bill.

    I’ve read through the entirety of the text and all I see is punitive measures against a subset of ISPs – the largest ISPs. There is nothing in the bill that prevents small ISPs such as the one in my father’s hometown from charging $70/month for 1Mbps download and something slower than dial-up for upstream bandwidth. As a matter of fact this bill excludes exactly those ISPs.

    Additionally, this puts a lot of faith that I see no reason to have into the FCC and FTC to do a good job. Are we forgetting that the FTC has been implicated in the whole Wall Street regulation debacle by getting too cozy with the banks there? And the FCC hasn’t really been a stellar player either in the recent past (last 10 years) trying to push thing things like the broadcast flag to impose draconian Digital Rights Management on digital broadcasts so they could not be recorded on conforming hardware (TV sets, set-top-boxes, DVRs, etc.).

    Finally, all this legislation does is add more process and bureaucracy to the system which will drive up real costs for the major ISPs who will then be justified in raising rates because their costs have gone up (as per the legislation). Not to mention that this legislation is singling out the broadband internet providers and telling them how they can and cannot price their product. What other businesses (not industries – remember, we’re not applying this industry-wide, just to select companies) does the government interfere this much when they don’t have a 60% shareholder stake in the company *cough* GM *cough*?

    No… good legislation would have been broader by requiring that ISPs not have any conflict of interest with content providers (i.e. TWC — content delivery — cannot be related in any way to TWE — content provider). It should also have stipulated expressly that municipal competition that is not sustained by tax money be allowed to compete against incumbent ISPs.

    This bill as written should never make it into law and if it does I will be supremely disappointed in our legislation for being so short-sighted.

    • Andrew says:

      I have to agree. It’s pretty weak.

    • I agree with your general assessments of the problems we are facing, but I have to tell you bill writing is much more of an art than a science. It’s a balancing act between what will accomplish a particular goal (in our case no caps/tiers on consumption), vs what will alienate various constituencies and stall the bill from getting anywhere. It also has to survive court challenges and opposition lobbying. The more sweeping the legislation (getting embroiled in content ownership/distribution guarantees more opposition groups piling on), the more difficult it is to survive its journey towards passage.

      This bill also doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is not set in stone.

      First, as I explained in the FAQ article, there are a number of things I *cannot* explain here for strategic reasons. You’ll have to decide for yourself, based on the entire mission we’ve had here, whether I’d involve myself in a bill that doesn’t achieve our ultimate goals.

      Second, what you read today isn’t necessarily the same bill that ultimately will be passed. Refinements through amendments, adjusting language, and other such things will occur as the bill progresses and other members of Congress propose changes.

      Third, some other legislation addressing some of the other issues you raised is likely forthcoming soon.

      In closing, I cannot reiterate enough that there is going to be a lot of things happening behind the scenes. If I ever believed our fundamental principles and goals were not being addressed, I would withdraw support for the legislation.

      • BrionS says:

        I don’t doubt your commitment to this cause Phillip, nor am I naive enough to think that the language of this bill will remain static should it progress toward law.

        My only concern is that IF the language of the bill as it is DID make it into law that we would not have won much of anything for the little guy — the rural guy.

        I did read the FAQ and I understand the reasons for excluding small ISPs but they’re not so innocent as they seem (at least not all of them).

        I have not given up on hopes of some useful legislation and I will keep my eyes and ears peeled to watch and see if this thing progresses. But quite frankly, I don’t see how the language as stated wouldn’t be shot down in court on grounds of unequal and unfair treatment of major ISPs (mostly because the language takes the wrong tack and the imposition of the rules seems rather arbitrary). Certainly if I were a judge presiding over a case arguing the legality of the language of the bill with major ISPs on one side and Eric Massa on the other, I’d be hard-pressed to not rule in the ISPs favor based solely on the bill’s language.

        Let it be known I am not a fan of any ISP (major or minor) that I have ever dealt with, but I don’t feel this proposed bill has what it takes to pass muster to make it to the next step.

        But that’s just me.

        • You don’t have to convince me about the smaller ISPs… we’re covering FairPoint, remember?

          As I said earlier, there are plenty of opportunities to help address the language at the appropriate time. My preference is to drive momentum for the legislation so providers realize we are deadly serious about not allowing Internet Overcharging schemes to be taken lightly.

          I will make inquiries about the constitutionality of the major/minor ISP differential language.

          Tnx!

  6. Uncle Ken says:

    Phil: just to lighten up things a bit I installed firefox only to find all my video ability went south for the winter. Thank the lord I made a restore point. At my age I don’t need this. But how many people get to talk to a congressman on national TV? Not many! And you hung in there. K

  7. Pablo says:

    Does this bill look at the possibility of having local cities run broadband services, such as what is happening in Wilson NC? Wouldn’t mind having something like that…

    Please continue to write to your local congressman…I know I will.

  8. Uncle Ken says:

    Pablo: I don’t think we need 10,000 cities each running the show their own
    ways. A single set of rules for all is what is needed. If a city wants to run a
    fiber ring around their city nothing should stop that. The lobby be damned.
    The big isp’s be damned. Massa said he wants competition well there you
    go.

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