As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

DiFi Tries To Hand Corporations A Giveaway In The Stimulus

The final numbers on the stimulus package are trickling out. Some of the baseline investments are here:

* Investments in Infrastructure and Science - $120 billion
* Investments in Health - $14.2 billion
* Investments in Education and Training - $105.9 billion
* Investments in Energy, including over $30 billion in infrastructure - $37.5 billion
* Helping Americans Hit Hardest by the Economic Crisis - $24.3 billion
* Law Enforcement, Oversight, Other Programs - $7.8 billion

It's unquestionable that the conference report is worse than the House bill but better than the Senate. It costs less than the Senate bill while providing more stimulus. Some bad spending like the clean coal "FutureGen" project is out, along with some of the worst corporate tax breaks. Mass transit spending is up, the child tax credit was partially restored to House levels (now kicking in after $3,000 in income), and the state fiscal stabilization fund gets around $54 million (but that includes funding for school construction). You can find the full summary here.

There are some very solid elements to the bill. White House economists estimate that the package will create or save 396,000 jobs in California and 3.5 million nationwide. This is a down payment on a new generation of investment in America.

However, like with most Congressional sausage-making, there may be some rough patches. The worst is the allegation that Dianne Feinstein is trying to include filtering into the stimulus as part of the program to expand broadband capacity across the country.

The Open Internet Coalition - which includes groups like Public Knowledge, Free Press and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) - is applauding the more than $2 billion expected to be in the stimulus bill for broadband build-out in rural or underserved areas. They say not only will building out high-speed Internet instantly create jobs, but giving people in those areas more access to the Internet will spur small-business creation and other growth [...]

These groups are also over-the-moon about the fact that the Senate bill has a non-discrimination, interconnection requirement that essentially says any provider receiving stimulus funding has to make sure they provide equal access to everyone over their network (part of the so-called "net neutrality" debate). The House version requires the FCC to define "open access," which essentially calls for carriers to share their networks with competitors.

But they're worried Hollywood is still trying to insert a content filtering provision via Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., at the last minute. Feinstein has been trying to add language specifying that Internet service provider (ISPs) may engage in "reasonable network management" ... "such as" efforts to combat illegal activity like "child pornography and copyright infringement." In essence, some argue, ISPs would be able to monitor any content coming to and from your computer, just in case there was some copyrighted material violating fair use, or kiddie porn in there.

But groups like the Motion Picture Association of America stress the "network management" angle of the bill ("filtering" is a nasty word around these parts). After all, it's hard to argue against stopping kiddie porn from being sent over one's pipes. I've left a message with Feinstein's press office to see what the status of her amendment is. It doesn't appear to be in there, but I'll let you know if she plans on trying to stick it in at some point.

"Of course we see huge privacy invasions from this sort of thing," said Cathy Sloan of CCIA.

Now, some caveats. There was a hyperventilating story in the UK Register claiming that this would kill net neutrality. As stated earlier, there are open access provisions in the stimulus, and it doesn't appear that this amendment even made it into the final version. This looks to me to be more of a privacy and anti-competition issue.

In another part of that story, Henry Waxman was implicated. His office has assured multiple constituents, including yours truly, that he has had nothing to do with any filtering amendment.

That's not to say that we shouldn't be concerned. DiFi is allegedly trying to pay back a corporate constituent with a highly invasive amendment that would certainly violate the spirit if not the letter of privacy laws. And of course this kind of monitoring is a slippery slope, as are most IP issues. At the root I agree with John Cole:

As baseball season is getting close, I would like to propose a trade. We give the Republicans Dianne Feinstein and a PTBNL and they give us Olympia Snowe. This is a solid trade for us. With Judd Gregg at commerce, we would almost complete the New England rout, and Feinstein, as a newly minted Republican, will go down to certain defeat in California. Additionally, there is nothing in this agreement that says the PTBNL can’t be Nelson or Lieberman.

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