Consider this jumble of arguments. Allowing telecommunications companies to set prices would create a “digital caste system,” Dutson warns. Opposing net neutrality would be especially bad for Maine, where small businesses need all the help they can get. Net neutrality opponent Scott Cleland, a telecom consultant who blogs against net neutrality on NetCompetition.org, calls net neutrality bills “pro-junk-e-mail legislation” — a dubious assertion that ignores the fact that many spam companies would happily fork over extra cash in a non-net-neutral environment to get their e-mails past junk-mail filters. (In fact, in 2006 AOL drew criticism from free-Internet activists for implementing a version of this, in which paying e-mail-senders could avoid AOL’s junk-mail filter.)

There’s also some transparent fear-mongering going on, on the part of net neutrality opponents who claim that net neutrality could put both homeland security and personal privacy at risk by clogging up existing networks, increasing government "surveillance" of Internet traffic, and making the Internet less efficient overall.

It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

And it’s a lot of brouhaha for something that may ultimately have to be decided at the federal level because of the extremely inter-state nature of the Internet.

To that end, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe is the co-sponsor of the Internet Freedom Protection Act, which “would ensure that broadband service providers do not discriminate against Internet content, applications or services by offering preferential treatment,” according to her office. The bill has high-profile backers that include presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL).

Fletcher Kittredge, who is CEO and founder of the local Internet service provider Great Works Internet (GWI), competes directly with telecom giant Time Warner Cable in this region. Regardless of what the Public Advocate decides is the state’s role, Kittredge hopes the in-depth study will at the very least shed more light on the issue.

“To have someone like a bunch of lawyers sit down and do a careful, reasoned, analysis of the issues should hopefully move that discussion on,” he says. They will study it, and come back and say “there are some issues here and something needs to be done” — either at the state level or federally.

“One of the interesting things is that I think Senator Snowe, who is a pretty smart woman, has realized that this is a big issue,” Kittredge continues. “I’m hoping what this bill will do is: one, make it clear to her — and to Senator Collins ... that they’re on the right track, and they should keep it up. And maybe raise the visibility of this a little to them so they’re wiling to put a little more political capital behind it.”

And no matter what, we’re stepping to the front of the pack on Internet policy, Dutson says. “The work that the state of Maine does to deal with the jurisdiction issue ... that’s going to affect how the rest of the country looks at it on a state-by-state basis. We’re going to be in a much better position to have a leadership educated in the digital realm.”

Real ID
In the case of Real IDs, the state has already taken that leading role.

In late January, the Maine legislature took the precedent-setting step of essentially saying to the national government: You can take your expensive, privacy-invading identification-card system and shove it.

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