Franchise Bill May Have Its 60 Votes

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Lengthening odds on a telecom bill be-darned, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told reporters Thursday that he thinks he has the 60 votes he needs to pass a franchise streamlining bill, and one without network neutrality.

"I haven’t been personally told we have [the votes]," he cautioned. " My staff and I believe that we have them, but I have not personally talked to Senators to make sure that we have them," he told reporter.  "And the Leader’s asked me to make sure, so I’m going to visit with a series of Senators to make sure that they will be with us."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) won't give the bill precious floor time as the session winds down unless he is sure it is filibuster-proof 

Stevens did not say whether and how the omnibus bill might have to be trimmed or tailored to get the votes, but he said he did not expect to trim it on the floor--that would leave it to the conference committee--and was adamant about the absence of network neutrality.

Joe Barton, chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has passed its own streamlined video franchise streamlining bill, has reportedly said net neutrality won't be on the final bill, either.

Large computer companies like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! have put millions into a campaign to put strong network neutrality language in the bill, which they say is key to keeping the internet safe for entrepreneurs and start-ups. They argue that networks, now that the FCC has ruled that they don't have to open their networks to independent Internet Service Providers, will create a system of 'net haves and havenots divided by the amount of money they are willing to pay. They also argue the telephone and cable networks will have too much power to quash speech, say slowing traffic to a Web site or e-mail campaign on an issue they don't favor.

Networks, who have put millions into campaigns opposing tough network neutrality language, say they would never do that, that the FCC has the power to punish anyone who does, and that they must be able to get a return on investment by managing their networks. The alternative, some argue, is an Internet where everyone's service is equally slow and jerky, and that the Internet of today, with everyone wanting to send high-res video of the family, is different from the one in which mostly data was bicycled around between computers.

Stevens also said he had been contacted by a noted scientist who backed his much-mocked "tubes" analogy for the Internet, and even said he would be willing to go on The Daily Show. Jon Stewart has been a long-time lampooner of the chairman.

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