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Sen. Dorgan Praises Net Neutrality Coalition

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Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) criticized both AT&T head Ed Whitacre and Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) for their efforts against Network Neutrality protections during a conference call with reporters today, as the SaveTheInternet.com coalition celebrated its first anniversary.

Sen. Dorgan Praises Net Neutrality Coalition
Sen. Dorgan Praises Net Neutrality Coalition

Dorgan cited Stevens’ role in stonewalling a vote on the issue on the Senate floor last summer, and Whitacre’s expressed intent to develop a tiered Internet.

The North Dakota senator also praised the Free Press’ SaveTheInternet grassroots campaign, which is nominated for a Webby award, to preserve the medium’s open architecture – an architecture that has made it "one of the wonders of the world." Thanks to the coalition, he said, Net Neutrality has moved from an unknown technical issue to on of the predominant debates.

Dorgan believes the Senate is now "developing a consensus" on the issue, as more Washington politicians sign on to his and Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R-ME) Internet Freedom Preservation Act, a piece of legislation similar to what the FCC required of AT&T in order to merge with Bell South.

“The Internet became a robust engine of economic development by enabling anyone with a good idea to connect to consumers and compete on a level playing field," he said. "The marketplace picked winners and losers, not some central gatekeeper. That freedom — the very core of what makes the Internet what it is today — must be preserved.”

At a year old, SaveTheInternet.com has attracted support from both sides of the political spectrum, small businesses as well as major online corporations like Google, collecting 1.6 million petition signers.

"Pretty much everybody is in favor of Net Neutrality except those running fake grassroots campaigns," said Craig Newmark, founder of the online classifieds site Craigslist.

The "fake" campaigns to which Newmark refers are ones that have had their origins traced back to telecommunications giants like AT&T. The telecommunications and cable industries have been staunch opponents of the Net Neutrality movement, and so have, by default, the members of Congress who rely heavily on them for campaign contributions.

Though Verizon and AT&T have characterized the Net Neutrality movement as one funded by billion-dollar Internet giants like Google and Microsoft, who they say stand to gain most, small businesses and nonprofits alike fear the lack of protection Net Neutrality legislation can offer.

Gary Miracle, owner of NMChili.com and other small retail sites, said that learning of the telcos plans to create a tiered system, where big-dollar companies could pay to have their sites delivered faster than the competition, "scared the bejeezus" of him. Their plans were reminiscent, he said, of the steep cable price increases over the past 20 years.

Paying "100 times" what he’s paying now would "put a real dent into my operation," he said.

But for Michelle Combs, representing the Christian Coalition, lack of Net Neutrality protection carries other concerns. "We have over 100,000 churches in our membership," she said. "Churches rely on the Internet and even have sermons on the Internet. We’re concerned. We’re getting the word out."

Combs said that organizations like hers were slow to adopt the movement because the concept wasn’t easily explained in the beginning. But now that more are beginning to understand the issue better, people are gravitating toward it – especially in light of concern that ISPs could, in theory, block or deteriorate the pathways by which the Christian Coalition spreads its message.

"Our goal is turn Net Neutrality into a true family issue," she said. "We are concerned that if they can control our content, then they can control our mission."

Ben Scott, policy director at FreePress, echoed Combs. "That’s the concern we all share from the content side. We’ve had no gatekeepers. We think that’s the magic of the Internet – an equal platform for democratic communication."

That platform for democratic communication is what propelled the Net Neutrality movement to the attention of American policymakers in the first place.

"What we’ve seen over the last year is nothing short of a grass roots Internet revolution," said Adam Green, Civic Communications Director for MoveOn.org. "Millions derailed a bill in Congress that would have allowed AT&T and Verizon to dictate what websites you open."

Sen. Dorgan Praises Net Neutrality Coalition
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