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US Senate approves bipartisan resolution to restore net neutrality rules

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The Senate approved a resolution Wednesday that aims to undo a sweeping act of deregulation undertaken last year by the Federal Communications Commission, issuing a rebuke to the Trump administration, which supported the FCC’s move.

The resolution targets the FCC’s vote in December to repeal its net neutrality rules for internet providers. If successful, the legislative gambit could restore the agency’s regulations and hand a victory to tech companies, activists and consumer advocacy groups.

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What happened and what’s next as the U.S. government rolls back net neutrality

“The Senate vote, on the eve of mid-terms, could have significant political effects,” said Marc Martin, a telecom lawyer at Perkins Coie in Washington. But, he cautioned, it remains unclear how many voters will actually be motivated by net neutrality to go to the polls.

Senate supporters of the FCC rules put forward the legislation under the Congressional Review Act, a law that permits Congress to revisit — and reject — decisions by administrative agencies within a certain window of their approval. The resolution, or CRA for short, passed with the backing of all 49 Democratic senators and three Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

“Today, we show the American people who sides with them and who sides with the powerful special interests and corporate donors who are thriving under this administration,” Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who is leading the CRA effort, said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.

Kennedy, whose vote was closely watched as one of the few Republicans siding with Democrats on the issue, said he was ultimately persuaded to vote yes because more than 1 in 5 Louisianans lack choice in their broadband provider. “It was a fairly close call, but I’ll tell you what it comes down to: The extent to which you trust your cable company,” Kennedy told The Washington Post moments after casting his vote. “If you trust your cable company, you’re not going to like my vote today. If you don’t trust your cable company, you will.”

Still, it is unclear what fate may await the measure in the House. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., urged the House to take up the issue quickly.

“House Republicans don’t have to choose the same path that the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate chose,” Schumer said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “The American people have spoken. Speaker Ryan should listen.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has said lawmakers in that chamber are focused on designing their own legislation to “permanently address this issue,” casting doubt on whether the Senate resolution can advance. And given the White House’s endorsement of the FCC’s repeal, analysts say, it is unlikely that Trump will sign the resolution to make it effective. (In one of his first acts of office, Trump last year signed a Republican-backed CRA overturning other FCC rules that established new privacy protections for internet users.)

The net neutrality regulations, imposed on broadband companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast in 2015, banned the industry from blocking or slowing down websites. The rules also prohibited those companies from offering websites and app developers faster, easier access to internet users in exchange for extra fees — a tactic that critics described as digital “fast lanes” that could distort online competition in favour of large, wealthy businesses.

Despite surviving a court challenge from broadband industry groups seeking to overturn the rules in 2016, they came under fire again a year later — this time from the agency’s new Republican leadership. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai led the charge against the net neutrality regulations, calling them an example of government overreach that discouraged internet providers from investing in upgrades to their networks.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” he said in November, a month before he and the FCC’s two other Republicans, Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, voted to repeal the rules.

The agency’s two Democrats at the time, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, voted to keep the rules on the books.

Pai’s opponents have said the rules are a necessary consumer protection as the internet has become more vital to supporting the economic livelihoods of everyday Americans. In surveys, solid majorities say they support the principle of net neutrality generally, and the FCC’s rules in particular.

“Pai’s so-called ‘Restore internet Freedom’ order was built on a mountain of false premises — about the law, the state of investment … and public sentiment,” Tim Karr, a consumer advocate at Free Press, tweeted Tuesday.

Trade groups representing internet providers sent a letter to Capitol Hill on Tuesday urging lawmakers to vote against the CRA. Calling on Congress to reject the resolution in favour of developing bipartisan legislation to replace the FCC rules, the groups argued that the CRA does “nothing” to address the data mining and other practices of tech companies who have come under growing scrutiny for their role in facilitating the spread of online misinformation and harassment.

The internet Association, a trade group backed by Facebook, Uber and others, has said that regulations targeting Silicon Valley on hate speech risks running afoul of the First Amendment. It also said last week that consumers demand strong and enforceable net neutrality rules on internet providers.

“It is essential that rules be reinstated through any means necessary, including the CRA, courts, or bipartisan legislation,” the group said in a statement.

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Canada's forestry industry pushes back after Trump blames California fires on lumber imports

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A general view of the aftermath from a wildfire in McVicker Canyon, Calif., on Aug. 11, 2018.

SOCIAL MEDIA/X04130

Canada’s forestry industry is pushing back against comments by U.S. President Donald Trump that lumber imports are partially to blame for intense forest fires in California.

Trump said at a cabinet meeting Thursday that the U.S. should harvest fallen trees from the forest floor, which he says are making fires worse, rather than import wood when “Canada is charging us a lot of money to bring their timber down into our country.”

The comments were troubling and a bit ridiculous, said Forest Products Association of Canada CEO Derek Nighbor.

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“At a number of levels the president’s comments are just really off-base yet again.”

Lumber prices are higher in the U.S. because of the tariffs Trump has imposed on Canadian imports, said Nighbor.

“It’s his tariff regime that’s really provided a 20 per cent hike to consumer prices in the U.S. on softwood lumber.”

Susan Yurkovich, president of the BC Lumber Trade Council, said Trump has the option at any time to lower the premium on lumber prices that the U.S. National Association of Home Builders estimates is adding US$7,500 to the cost to build an average home.

“They have an instant remedy available to them, and that’s to rescind the tariffs that we believe were unjustly placed on lumber and that would provide an immediate discount to American consumers.”

Nighbor said there is a conversation to be had about managing dead wood and fire threats, but that harvesting such wood is a complicated affair.

“Even if they would be able to get all that wood, they wouldn’t be able to process it.”

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The U.S. has seen increased investments in milling capacity, but still only supplied about 34 billion of the 48 billion board feet of lumber it consumed in 2017. The country won’t be able to close that gap any time soon, said Yurkovich.

“The gap between domestic demand and domestic supply is between 14- and 15-billion board feet. Putting that much production onin my view, that’s going to take years and years and millions and millions of dollars.”

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NDP pressured by Seattle mayor to stop logging near BC-Washington state border

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Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has written to B.C. Premier John Horgan asking that logging be stopped near the headwaters of the Skagit River, which is supposed to be protected by a more than 30-year-old agreement.

"The proposed logging in the Silverdaisy area is inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the 1984 [United States-Canada High Ross Treaty]," she wrote.

The area where logging is occurring is known as the "donut hole," and is close to the western border of E.C. Manning Provincial Park and eastern border of Skagit Valley Provincial Park.

It was set aside, without protections, more than 30 years ago due to mining claims.

A statement from B.C.'s Ministry of Forests says B.C. Timber Sales [BCTS] — the government agency which awards logging licences for Crown land — approved 39,000 cubic metres of timber to be cut in an area of 67.2 hectares or 0.672 square kilometres in 2015.

Durkan wrote to Horgan in early August saying the logging goes against the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission [SEEC] struck between British Columbia and the City of Seattle in 1984.

Sixteen commissioners, appointed by both countries, manage a $500,000 US budget to conserve and protect wilderness and wildlife habitat and enhance recreational opportunities in the Skagit Valley among other things.

'Jeopardizes Salish Sea'

Durkan says the BCTS needs to consult with the City of Seattle and the SEEC, "before authorizing any activity that would impact the ecological integrity and recreational resource value of the Silverdaisy area."

She said in her letter the area provides more than 30 per cent of  the freshwater flowing into Puget Sound.

Her letter also says the watershed is home to large and diverse fish and wildlife populations such as bull trout, steelhead and chinook salmon. 

"Failure to protect the ecologically and economically valuable fish populations and clean water quality of the Skagit River risks many millions of dollars in ongoing investment in salmon recovery," she wrote.

"And jeopardizes the biodiversity of the Salish Sea on both sides of our shared border."

She also says logging in the area will impact its use as a recreational site.

'B.C. values relationship'

The Ministry of Forests says the timber licence was awarded under the previous B.C. Liberal government and it cannot stop logging once a licence has been issued, but that "B.C. values its relationship with Seattle and Washington State."

The statement says the area being logged does not contain fish-bearing streams and that roads and ditches have been constructed to minimize the impacts of the logging.

Cutting on the licence is expected to finish in the fall and future logging plans are on hold pending consultations with the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission.

The Wilderness Committee has also been critical of the logging, saying it's being done with, "no care for wilderness of wildlife."

The committee wants efforts to buy out the mining tenures in the "donut hole" sped up, so that the area can be protected from logging.

Meanwhile, Durkan asks in her letter that a call be set up between her and Horgan to discuss the issue.

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Forestry industry pushes back on Trump blaming fires on Canadian lumber imports

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Canada's forestry industry is pushing back against comments by U.S. President Trump that lumber imports are partially to blame for intense forest fires in California. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and then on to Southampton, N.Y., for a fundraiser.


Andrew Harnik / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Canada’s forestry industry is pushing back against comments by U.S. President Trump that lumber imports are partially to blame for intense forest fires in California.

Trump said a at cabinet meeting Thursday that the U.S. should harvest fallen trees from the forest floor, which he says are making fires worse, rather than import wood when “Canada is charging us a lot of money to bring their timber down into our country.”

The comments were troubling and a bit ridiculous, said Forest Products Association of Canada CEO Derek Nighbor.

“At a number of levels the president’s comments are just really off-base yet again.”

Lumber prices are higher in the U.S. because of the tariffs Trump has imposed on Canadian imports, said Nighbor.

“It’s his tariff regime that’s really provided a 20 per cent hike to consumer prices in the U.S. on softwood lumber.”

Susan Yurkovich, president of the BC Lumber Trade Council, said Trump has the option at any time to lower the premium on lumber prices that the U.S. National Association of Home Builders estimates is adding US$7,500 to the cost to build an average home.

“They have an instant remedy available to them, and that’s to rescind the tariffs that we believe were unjustly placed on lumber and that would provide an immediate discount to American consumers.”

Nighbor said there is a conversation to be had about managing dead wood and fire threats, but that harvesting such wood is a complicated affair.

“Even if they would be able to get all that wood, they wouldn’t be able to process it.”

The U.S. has seen increased investments in milling capacity, but still only supplied about 34 billion of the 48 billion board feet of lumber it consumed in 2017. The country won’t be able to close that gap any time soon, said Yurkovich.

“The gap between domestic demand and domestic supply is between 14- and 15-billion board feet. Putting that much production on…in my view, that’s going to take years and years and millions and millions of dollars.”

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