Cantwell Helps Keep Non-Profit Voicemail Service for Homeless

Cantwell to Back Bipartisan Media Ownership Measure, Joins McCain to File Low-Power FM LegislationCantwell Touts Net Neutrality, Media Diversity Proposals as Senate Telecom Mark-up Begins

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thursday, as the Senate Commerce Committee took up its sweeping revision of U.S. communications laws, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) outlined her support for a number of amendments to the measure designed to promote net neutrality and media diversity, and thanked the committee for adopting her amendment to help keep free voicemail service accessible to homeless Americans.

During the first day of the session, the Committee accepted a Cantwell amendment that ensures certain non-profit organizations such as Seattle-based Community Voice Mail won’t be impacted by changes to the way the FCC administers the universal service fund. Community Voice Mail provides free voicemail boxes to help unemployed and homeless individuals in 37 cities nation-wide, as a means of helping these citizens search for jobs or places to live, and stay connected despite difficult circumstances.

“It’s important that organizations that have been providing vital services to people in need are still able to be of assistance,” said Cantwell. “I want people to be able to get back on their own two feet and we want to make sure we aren’t inadvertently cutting off the good work already underway.”

Along with Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Cantwell has cosponsored an amendment to the telecom bill that is identical to the Snowe-Dorgan Internet Freedom Preservation Act (S. 2917). This measure would prohibit broadband service providers from acting like “gatekeepers” to the Internet, by establishing a principle of nondiscrimination when it comes to content—the concept referred to as “net neutrality.”

“I appreciate the work the Chairman has devoted to this legislation, which has evolved over many months,” Cantwell said. “However, I believe there remain some significant holes in this proposal, and some policy areas where we may simply disagree. When it comes to the future of the Internet, there is nothing more important than preserving a system that fosters innovation and is free from the discriminatory practices that may stifle competition and restrict access to the marketplace of ideas. In addition, we can and must do more to promote a diversity of voices in the media, and ensure American consumers are protected.”

In addition, Cantwell joined Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to file a measure based on the senators’ Local Community Radio Act (S.312). This legislation would implement the recommendations of an FCC report on low-power FM radio stations, which provide an affordable alternative to community groups unable to obtain expensive full-power radio station licenses on very scarce broadcast spectrum. The FCC created this new classification of stations in 2000, but Congress rolled back the Commission’s ruling with a rider to a subsequent appropriations bill. The McCain-Cantwell amendment would repeal this rider so local community stations can flourish.

“In an age of mass media consolidation, these low powered radio stations play an important role because they bring a diversity of voices to the airwaves,” said Cantwell. “In Washington state, there are 15 low-power FM licensed stations, with more applications pending. It’s time to remove the artificial, bureaucratic barriers so these community-oriented stations can gain a foothold in some of our nation’s most concentrated media markets.”

Also for the Committee’s telecom mark-up, Cantwell has cosponsored a measure related to the FCC’s controversial media ownership rules. In particular, she is backing an amendment along with Senators Dorgan and Lott (R-MS) to require the FCC to move forward with proceedings regarding localism and minority media ownership before it proceeds with its broad rewrite of regulations.

Just yesterday, the FCC announced its intention to reopen these contentious rules, although some Commissioners have already raised concerns about whether the process outlined by Chairman Martin will provide for sufficient public input. The FCC last rewrote media ownership guidelines in 2003, but the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned key parts. Cantwell in 2004 joined with a bipartisan group of senators in opposition to the FCC’s rules, which would have allowed large media conglomerates to control a greater number of newspapers and radio and television stations.

All of these amendments are expected to be considered by the Committee next week. With more than 200 amendments filed, the Commerce Committee’s mark-up on communications legislation is expected to continue through most of next week. The Committee will resume its consideration of the bill next Tuesday.