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New England editorial roundup

Associated Press Updated: February 28, 2015 at 8:15 am
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The Daily News of Newburyport (Mass.), Feb. 27, 2015

Thirty years ago, few people outside the realms of academic research or the government had heard of something called the Internet. Now, it's hard to imagine how we could get by without it.

The leap in little more than 25 years from a small network of interconnected government and academic computers used by researchers to a globe-spanning World Wide Web that provides information, instantaneous communications and an endless array of entertainment to everyone with a connection is nothing short of a revolution. It was powered by the free market, the drive by profit-motivated companies to provide their customers with a bigger, better, faster Internet experience.

It looks like the revolution may be over.

In the name of fairness, the federal government Thursday wrapped its regulatory hand around the throat of the Internet, and began to squeeze until it gets the results it desires.

The Federal Communications Commission voted to establish new regulatory controls over the Internet aimed at preserving "net neutrality." It's a complex issue, but at its core is the idea that Internet service providers — ISPs, that is, companies like Comcast and Verizon that provide Internet connections to people's homes — must not be allowed to charge content providers — companies like Netflix — different rates for delivering the content at different speeds.

ISPs have long wanted to charge providers more for placing their content in a "fast lane" — which means their data-intensive, high-definition videos would play smoothly over customers' home Internet connections. The ISPs feel justified in charging higher prices for faster service because delivering data-intensive content takes modern, upgraded networks they spent billions to build.

But net neutrality advocates worry that ISPs, many of which are part of larger corporate conglomerates, will use the ability to throttle data delivery speeds to favor their own content. ISP Comcast, for example, owns content provider NBC/Universal.

The FCC's solution is to reclassify all ISPs as "common carriers." That's the same designation applied to old-school telephone networks and means in practice that the ISPs will have to offer equal access to their networks to all content providers.

So net neutrality advocates are about to get the government regulation they have been begging for. It's rather surprising that the same people who could imagine the potential of a world linked by interconnected computers cannot imagine a downside to opening the door to government regulation.

Comcast, Verizon and the other ISPs did not invest billions upgrading their networks out of a sense of public-spiritedness. They did so to make money. And one of the ways they expected to make money was to charge content providers more for faster service. That potential income stream is now gone.

How much will ISPs invest in network upgrades in the future, if a major economic benefit of doing so is removed?

And what other "benefits" will government regulators provide in addition to "fairness"? Censorship, perhaps? How about spying? Many of the same people who cheered Edward Snowden's expose of government email and instant message snooping are now applauding the handing of regulatory power over the entire Internet to that very same government.

Advocates for free and open access to information may be cheering today. We expect it will not be long before they rue the day the federal government took control of the Internet.

The Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Feb. 27, 2015

The pharmaceutical industry saw a major victory when a federal judge ruled that a federal ban on international drug importation trumps a law allowing Mainers to buy medications by mail from other countries, often at a deep discount — thus rendering the state statute invalid.

Whether the state will appeal the ruling hasn't been decided. But a bill authorizing prescription drug importation from Canada recently was introduced in the U.S. Senate and should receive serious consideration as a sound — although temporary — solution to a longstanding problem.

The rising expense of medication is driving state and national efforts to allow drug imports. Many best-selling brand-name products doubled in price between 2007 and 2014. And according to a recent U.S. Senate committee report, generic medications have followed suit.

Maine's first-in-the-nation importation law sailed through the Legislature in 2013. It was challenged later that year, though, when groups like the Maine Pharmacy Association, the Retail Association of Maine and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America filed suit in federal court.

They claimed that allowing Maine patients to buy medications from outside the country posed a risk to public safety, because international pharmacies aren't regulated as closely as their U.S. counterparts.

But Canada, a major source of imported drugs, has its own regulatory system, with procedures found to be just as rigorous as those of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act — a proposal introduced for the second year in a row by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. — calls for tight oversight of purchases from Canadian pharmacies.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has also signed on to the measure, which would allow Americans with a valid prescription from a U.S.-licensed physician to order up to a 90-day supply of medicines from a licensed Canadian pharmacy. Prescription drugs would have to have the same active ingredients, dosage form and potency as medicines that are approved by the FDA.

This measure won't resolve the bigger issue: that the United States — unlike other countries — doesn't negotiate with drugmakers. So our federal government misses out on an opportunity to reach the best deal for U.S. taxpayers, who fund prescription coverage for people on Medicare. And uninsured consumers wind up paying the full cost for the drugs that they've been prescribed, because they don't have big insurers advocating on their behalf.

But passage of the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act would be a good first step toward ensuring some relief for some patients, and it deserves to be discussed and debated in Congress.

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