|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 78||December 7, 2001|
The lawyers, the regulators, the high-tech executives and the academic experts have all had their say; now it's our turn. Consumers have until Jan. 27, 2002, to let the U.S. Department of Justice know what's wrong with the proposed settlement of the Microsoft antitrust case.
As we reported in the previous issue of NetAction Notes, the Tunney Act requires Judge Kollar-Kotelly to review the proposed settlement to determine if it is in the public interest. As part of that review, the law provides for a 60-day period of public comment. The clock started ticking on Nov. 28, when notice of the proposed settlement was published in the Federal Register.
What, exactly is wrong with the proposed settlement? The nine State Attorneys General who are opposing it summed up the settlement's shortcomings in a single sentence:
"Nothing in the text of this agreement forces Microsoft to change its business practices and technical implementations in the least."
In fact, the proposed settlement would allow Microsoft to continue the very practices that led to its domination of the personal computer industry. The settlement will not end the monopoly, will not prevent Microsoft from benefiting economically from its anti-competitive practices, and will not prevent the company from behaving like a monopoly in the future. If the proposed settlement is approved, Microsoft's operating system monopoly will become even more deeply entrenched, enabling the company to expand its control over the Internet.
The settlement is clearly not in the public's interest. To help encourage Internet users to speak out against the proposed settlement, NetAction recently introduced an updated version of our popular Billyfish icon. Visit http://netaction.org/msoft/winfish2.html to download a copy of Billyfish and get a list of suggested talking points for your comments to the DOJ.
Details about the proposed settlement and instructions on how to file comments are on the DOJ web site at: http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/cases/ms-settle.htm#docs. Submission of comments by email is preferred.
A flurry of reports in recent weeks suggest that the House of Representatives will vote soon on H.R. 1542, the Bell-backed broadband bill that would effectively put an end to the competitive deployment of high-speed Internet service.
NetAction is urging Internet users to contact their member of the House of Representatives and urge them to vote "no" on H.R. 1542, the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001. The bill would eliminate a key consumer protection in telecommunications and poses a threat to the continued deployment of affordable broadband and dial-up Internet services.
H.R. 1542 would free the four remaining Bell phone monopolies from their obligation to open their networks to competitors. Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, who co-authored H.R. 1542 with Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, wants the House to vote before the end of the year.
H.R. 1542 has nothing to do with Internet freedom and will most certainly not promote broadband deployment. What it will do is eliminate a key consumer protection that Congress included in the Telecommunications Act of 1996: the requirement that the Bells open their local phone markets to competition before they are allowed into the long distance markets. Although this requirement is the only incentive the Bells have to treat their customers and competitors fairly, H.R. 1542 would waive this requirement for long distance data markets.
Ludicrous as it sounds, Tauzin claims that this will ensure meaningful competition. But it won't. H.R. 1542 will put the four remaining Bell monopolies in control of the nation's telecommunications and technology infrastructure, threatening the future deployment of both broadband and dial-up Internet access and of competitive telephone service. The result for consumers would be less choice, lower quality service and higher prices for everything from basic phone service to Internet access.
NetAction's key concerns about H.R. 1542 include:
H. R. 1542 will not promote competition.
The Bells sat on DSL technology for years, deploying it widely only after competition developed.
H.R. 1542 does not ensure that broadband services
will be available in rural communities.
Despite Tauzin's rhetoric, there is nothing in the bill that would require the Bells to deploy broadband service in rural areas. In fact, the Bells have been selling off their rural assets as fast as possible in recent years.
The Bells can't be trusted to offer broadband
service if the current restrictions are lifted.
In the 1990s the Bells promised to deploy high-speed fiber optic networks in exchange for relaxed rate-of-return regulation. But instead of delivering on those promises, they pocketed the profits.
H.R. 1542 will make it more difficult to bridge the digital divide.
With less competition, the cost of Internet access will increase, making the service even less affordable to low-income consumers.
Some reports indicate the House vote could occur during the week of December 10, 2001. Phone your member of the House of Representatives today!
All House members can be contacted at: 202-224-3121 (Capitol Switchboard).
Or, go to: http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW.html for a list of representatives with links to their web sites. The site includes a search engine to locate your representative by zip code if you don't already know who it is.
There is good news and bad news for Internet activists in the UCLA Internet Project's second annual survey of Internet user behavior and attitudes.
The good news is that nearly half of the survey participants think that by using the Internet people can gain a better understanding of politics. The bad news is that fewer respondents see the Internet as an effective tool for political action.
The survey by the University of California at Los Angeles covers more than 100 major issues and includes responses from non-users as well as Internet users. It is available at: http://WWW.CCP.UCLA.EDU/pages/internet-report.asp.
Only four specific questions related to political power and influence, but the responses to three of those four questions suggest a troubling trend in attitudes toward Internet activism. The questions were:
About 45% of respondents considered the Internet useful in gaining an understanding of politics. But that's the extent of the good news. Responses to the other questions were more worrisome.
When respondents were asked if people like themselves could have more political power by using the Internet, the percentage of respondents who disagreed with the statement was significantly higher this year than last year (45.3% compared to last year's 37.3%.)
Likewise, when respondents were asked if they felt that using the Internet would give people like them more say about what government does, the percentage of respondents who disagreed with the statement rose from 42% last year to 51.6% this year.
The final question in this category was whether using the Internet would result in public officials caring more about what people think. This year, the percentage of respondents who disagreed rose to 44%, from 36.4% last year.
Troubling as these trends may be, they are worth noting as we continue to explore new and innovative ways of using technology as a tool for political empowerment.
NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues.
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