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This week, the House is expected to vote on Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006. The COPE bill would permit phone and cable companies to operate Internet and other digital communications service as private networks, free of policy safeguards or governmental oversight. The bill would effectively end what is known as "net neutrality" which is the concept that that everyone, everywhere, should have free, universal and non-discriminatory access to all the Internet has to offer. The COPE bill would permit Internet service providers like AOL to charge fees for almost every online transaction and to prioritize emails based on the senders' willingness to pay.
Another provision of the bill would cut back the obligation of cable TV companies to devote channels to public access and fund the facilities to run them. And the COPE bill would replace local cable franchises with national franchises. The companies contend that this will create competition and lower fees but consumer groups and activists are concerned that it will take control and oversight away from local government as well as cut channel capacity for public, educational and governmental access channels or PEGs. The COPE Act would also permit providers to not provide service to low-income communities that they believe would be less profitable to serve.