AUGUSTA (AP) – A coalition that includes civil libertarians and online businesses said the Legislature’s final passage Tuesday of a “net neutrality” bill sets Maine ahead of other states in taking a stand for nondiscriminatory access to the Internet.

The resolve, enacted by the House of Representatives on Monday and Senate Tuesday, instructs the Maine public advocate’s office to monitor state and federal activity relating to Internet access. The public advocate must also submit a report to the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee by Feb. 1, 2008.

Supporters of the resolve say Federal Communications Commission action has jeopardized network neutrality principles meant to ensure that all content, applications and services are treated equally and fairly on the Internet.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said the legislative action puts Maine in a leading role in protecting citizens’ rights.

“This resolution will help re-establish the Internet as the free and open arena of democracy it was always intended to be,” Bellows said in a prepared statement. The resolve is sponsored by Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland.

In Washington, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is co-sponsoring a net neutrality bill that would prohibit broadband network operators on a federal level from blocking, degrading or prioritizing service on their networks.

AT&T and Verizon oppose Snowe’s bill. Tim McKone, AT&T’s vice president of federal relations, previously wrote that it is unfortunate that “precious time is being spent on legislation that will impede, not increase, America’s standing” in the deployment of broadband.

Verizon’s Peter Davidson, senior vice president for federal government relations, wrote that lawmakers are “trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Network neutrality was mandated by federal law during the dial-up Internet era, according to Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America in Washington.

When cable modem service arrived, the FCC decided it was not going to apply the same obligations to the broadband world, Cooper said in an article Tuesday in TechNewsWorld, an online publication.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling a year ago that upheld the FCC, “we no longer had what was actually a hundred-year-old principle of nondiscrimination in communications,” Cooper said.

Among the businesses and business groups supporting the Maine Legislature’s action are Community Television Association of Maine, Common Cause,, and Great Works Internet, Maine’s largest Internet service provider.

“I am delighted at this resolution’s potential for positive effect on Maine and the rest of the U.S.,” said Fletcher Kittredge, founder and chief operating officer of GWI. “I look forward to reading the public advocate’s study on network Neutrality.”

AP-ES-06-12-07 1648EDT

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