By JOHN DUNBAR
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - During the recent writers strike that virtually paralyzed television production for three months, Patric Verrone learned the true value of the Internet.
It was his job as president of the Writers Guild of America, West, to keep his members unified during the highly public 100-day strike, and the Internet proved invaluable.
"When your employers are the same companies that control the media, it's hard to get your message out," he said in an interview.
To maintain contact with one another, guild members used blog postings, e-mail and videos. It was the success of that campaign that prompted Verrone to come to Washington and push for legislation that he hopes will guarantee the Internet's status as an open forum for communication.
Verrone was appearing Tuesday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at a hearing on the future of the Internet.
At the hearing, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin testified that his agency's policy gives it sufficient authority to prevent discrimination by Internet providers.
"I do not believe any additional regulations are needed at this time," he said, noting the commission's recent enforcement actions.
The issue of "network neutrality" - the principle that people should be able to go where they choose on the Internet without interference from network owners - has heated up again recently.
The FCC has conducted two hearings on "network management" following admissions by Comcast Corp. that it sometimes delayed file-sharing traffic for subscribers as a way to keep Web traffic flowing.
The network neutrality debate has divided Congress, with Democrats largely in favor and Republicans mostly opposed, a point that was clear at Tuesday's committee meeting.
"It is a political division now and it's getting more so," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. "It is unfortunate."
Stevens said a return to "intense regulation" of the Internet is "entirely unwarranted."
A notable exception to the partisan divide is Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who is co-sponsoring network neutrality legislation with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
Verrone, a television writer and producer for over 20 years, supports the legislation.
The writers strike, in addition to depending on the Internet for communication, was also largely prompted by the Internet. The writers guild fought successfully to be paid for content they create for use online as well as the reuse of previously created programs that appear on new platforms.
Large network owners like cable and telecommunications companies are opposed to network neutrality legislation, saying it would add a layer of regulation that will hurt consumers. They say it is unnecessary and amounts to a solution in search of a problem.
Verrone wants Washington to ensure that the owners of the information pipelines in the U.S. do not interfere with the free exchange of ideas.
"The only thing bigger than corporations in this country is the government," he said. "So we think we have to make clear to legislators that we need somebody making sure that that pipe is neutral."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)