Can you COPE with this?

The following is Hiram Scott's (President of the Boston Neighborhood Producer's Group) submission to the Metro daily newspaper Sunday May 7, 2006:

CAN YOU COPE WITH THIS?

There’s a telecommunications bill before Congress known as the Communications, Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act (House bill #HR5252), which is being sponsored by Texas Republican, Joe Barton. Within a few weeks this bill will be up for a full vote by the House, and if passed it will alter significantly the way we use the Internet today, and will result in the closing down of many public access television stations nationwide.

What is happening is that the telephone companies want to enter the cable business that is currently the playing field of cable companies such as Comcast, RCN, Cablevision and others. Phone companies are lobbying hard our elected officials in Washington to pass this bill, while correspondingly telling consumers that the bill would benefit them by resulting in more (supposedly) competitive cable rates, but what they are not telling the American people is at what cost.

People are not being told that this bill (in its current form) would result in millions of voices being silenced, because it would strip local control of public access from local municipalities and move it to the federal level. Such a move would so alter the franchising process and the way the franchise fee is collected and distributed that many hundreds, if not thousands, of local access stations would have to go off the air and close their doors forever, particularly those serving rural areas throughout our country.

Basically the phone companies want preferential treatment, they want to have unfettered use of the public rights-of-ways (streets and sidewalks), to tear them up to lay down their cables but without having to compensate the local government via a franchise fee for doing so. Cable companies nationally have been paying this franchise fee for decades, which is legally required, but the phone companies don’t want to give back to the community in this way, they say no.

Redlining and discrimination is another dangerous component of the COPE bill, it would effectively make it possible for phone companies to legally “cherry pick” which neighborhoods they choose to serve. Therefore if you’re living in a low-income area the phone company could conceivably enter in, tear up your neighborhood’s streets and sidewalks while running its cables to a more affluent neighborhood.

How this bill would affect the Internet is even less desirable. Currently people can surf the net and visit whichever website they wish, but under the COPE Act this open access would be lost. The neutrality that characterizes the information highway, could easily become subject to an “internet toll. “ This toll would take on the form a fee imposed by telephone companies on users who wish to visit sites that are not supported by their network. So in actuality we could be charged to visit Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Ebay, and other popular and useful sites.

Public access television and the Internet are important pieces of the puzzle that make up the fabric of our nation, let’s not surrender it over to the phone companies.

Hiram Scott,

President, Boston Neighborhood Producer’s Group, Inc.

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