Free Press Pushed Hard Against Waxman's Net Neutrality Bill

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When House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman thanked stakeholders for trying to come to consensus on compromise network neutrality legislation, he gave shout-outs to the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Public Knowledge, and the Center for Democracy for their "steadfast advocacy."Notably absent from that list was steadfast advocate Free Press.

Republicans were cited by some Democratic legislators as the principle opponents of Waxman's compromise bill. For example, Sen. Byron Dorgan said it was Republicans that had "abandoned efforts at compromise," But it turns out Free Press was no fan of this particular compromise, either.

The bill would have prevented the Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband, instead legislating most of the agency's network neutrality proposals, but with some carveouts and caveats that did not sit well with the group.

According to a copy of the e-mail obtained by Multichannel News, Free Press president Josh Silver warned the Open Internet Coalition that if it supported the Waxman bill, Free Press, which is a member, would pull out.

OIC had been at the table at various negotiations over the bill, but Free Press had its own representative at the Waxman negotiations, according to the group, and wanted to make sure that it was clear OIC was not speaking for them.

Silver told MCN that Free Press had gotten word OIC was going to back the bill, and sent the following e-mail to OIC members:

Hi OIC friends,

"Free Press opposes this bill, and there are many others who share that position.
If an OIC-branded presser goes out tomorrow in support of the Waxman bill, Free Press will be forced to withdraw from the coalition for the reasons we have articulated during the past week. Free Press cannot afford to be misconstrued as supporting a bill that strips FCC rulemaking authority, fails to sufficiently protect wireless, and forecloses the agency's ability to enact key goals of the NBP such as USF and low-income broadband deployment... to name a few. While we have deep respect for all of those from our community who worked tirelessly over the past few weeks on this effort, we have a strong disagreement with the assessment of this legislation as a positive, both on the merits and on the strategy.
I don't think the benefits of an OIC presser in support of a doomed bill is worth the cost, but that's not my call."

Silver confirmed it was his e-mail. "It is," he said, "but it is nuanced. As an internal e-mail it doesn't explain the fact that our position when e-mailing that to the OIC list was really much more about the idea that there had been an announcement to the list that the presser was going out the following day endorsing the Waxman bill from OIC [the press release did not go out, he says, and Free Press remains in OIC]."

He said the e-mail was "a reflection of the fact that it was a complicated bill and a complicated set of issues that we don't feel comfortable with anybody, OIC or anybody else, commenting on our behalf.

But it is obvious from the e-mail that Free Press is strongly opposed to the bill. "We believe that some of the provisions are problematic for sure. We had concerns that the bill could dissuade the commission from doing what it needs to do, and now needs to do even more so after the failure of the introduction of this bill, which is to reclassify and codify net neutrality and make good on the president's promise."

Silver said that if FCC chairman Julius Genachowsk does not reclassify he will be considered one of the most forgettable chairmen in history and if he does, one of the best. "It's that simple."

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