Loss of Net Neutrality harms educational programming

Critics of sweeping Telecom Bill say lack of protections would harm lower-income and rural communities.

If the sweeping Telecom Bill bill being debated in the Senate passes without Net Neutrality provisions, critics say it will reduce funding for local educational and government programming for many communities, reports eSchool News.

The bill, which has already passed in the House without Net Neutrality provisions, is intended to allow phone companies to compete with cable to deliver television programming over broadband. But critics of the legislation fear it does too little to ensure these services will be extended equally to customers in lower-income and rural areas--and they also warn it could lead to a drop in funding for governmental programming in many communities.

The legislation would make it easier for telephone companies to enter the subscription TV market by replacing the current video franchising system--in which potential providers must negotiate contracts municipality by municipality, sometimes taking months or even years--with a national franchising model.

"This legislation can increase competition not only for cable services, but also unleash a race for who can supply the fastest, most sophisticated broadband connections that will provide video, voice, and data services," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas.

Critics of the legislation, including many Democrats, say that it does too little to ensure that broadband services will be extended equally to lower-income and rural areas, and that the bill gives away too many consumer protections to telephone companies that are almost monopolies.

"AT&T has been very clear its business plan is to target the high-value customer. Where Verizon has sought local franchise agreements, it has sought them only in the wealthiest communities," said Jeannine Kenney, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union. "Consumers who most need relief from monopolistic cable prices are the least likely to get it."

From 1993 to 2003, cable rates have risen by 53 percent, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Local phone rates in urban areas have risen by 23 percent from 1994 to 2004.

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