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Democracy And Consumers Lose If "Net Neutrality" Is Killed

Federal communications Commission logo Last week, Bill Moyers discussed the FCC's policy shift on Net Neutrality with David Carr and Susan Crawford. Carr writes about the Internet for the New York Times, and Crawford is a visiting professor at Harvard law School. The interview is essential to understanding the situation, the likely impacts upon consumers' wallets, and the current predicament for a democracy. Moyers summarized well the predicament:

"Our Internet. The electronic public square that ostensibly allows everyone an equal chance to be heard. This democratic highway to cyberspace has thrived on the idea of "Net neutrality” -- that the Internet should be available to all without preferential treatment... But Net neutrality is now at risk... FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is circulating potential new rules that reportedly would allow Internet service providers to charge higher fees for faster access, so the big companies like Verizon and Comcast could hustle more money from those who can afford to buy a place in the fast lane. Everyone else -- nonprofit groups, startups, the smaller, independent content creators, and everyday users – move to the rear."

Crawford described the lack of competition:

"... most Americans, they have no choice for all the information, data, entertainment coming through their house, other than their local cable monopoly. And here, we have a situation where that monopoly potentially can pick and choose winners and losers, decide what you see... This industry, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner made $l.5 trillion over the last five years. They have no interest in seeing competition emerge in these cities. And David is right. In 19 states it’s either difficult or impossible for cities to do this for themselves. And mayors know that they need these networks in order to attract businesses, keep social life coherent in their cities, and build up their fabric of their civic life."

Yes, you read that correctly. The corporate telecommunication giants have lobbied and won new laws in 19 states that prohibit local government officials from building their own broadband Internet (e.g., fiber). That is a clear action by large corporations to reduce competition; the same corporations Wheeler is happy to allow to charge more and higher fees.

Crawford also explained the coming losses of freedom... loss of choices consumers will have if Net Neutrality is killed:

"So you’ve got one wire coming from one company coming into everybody’s house. There’s a box at the end of that wire. We call it today a set-top box. But it’s also going to become a Web browser. There is a software platform on that box. Comcast controls that browser. That browser that you’re using to access everything can pick stream picks, Comcast service over Netflix, can pick Comcast telemedicine service over whatever you might want to sign up for. Can pick Comcast educational software over what you might want to have."

Carr added:

"To me to say to people, I’m in favor of Net neutrality, but if you got enough dough, you can bolt it in a special way, I would say that sounds like two Internets, a good Internet and a bad Internet. And I don’t like the idea that somebody can control traffic. To control traffic is to control information and also to control a kind of message."

Two Internets. One (fast) for the wealthy and one (slow) for everyone else. Is that the change you want? Not me! I doubt you want that type of change, too. You want the fastest access to the sites you choose, not the sites your Internet service provider (ISP) chooses. It's a loss of freedom when your ISP chooses.

The discussion highlighted the politics FCC Chairman Wheeler has already caved in to. Crawford explained:

"[Wheeler] doesn't want to spark a war with the industry. He believes that he won't be able to get anything else done if he leans towards calling these guys a utility. What I think he's missing is that he's sparked a war with an entire American populous. We love Internet access. We want it. It is very personal. And to give up on any constraint of these monopolists seems very odd to people. So they're waking up."

So, rather than treat broadband Internet like electricity -- reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service -- and keep prices reasonably low for consumers, Chairman Wheeler instead has chosen to keep broadband classified as an Information Service and allow Internet service providers to charge both website publishers and consumers with more and higher fees. Chairman Wheeler prefers to allow a few large, corporate Internet service providers to raise prices and reap massive new revenues, rather than keep broadband Internet prices lower to fuel job creation, new businesses, and startups nationwide.

Is this the change you want with your Internet? I don't want this type of change and I doubt that you do either.

Prior to leading the FCC, Wheeler was a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the wireless and cable industries. What's behind Chairman Wheeler's decisions about broadband? Crawford explained:

"... my first question to Tom Wheeler would be, "Why are you giving up? We seem to have no oversight of this market at all. And yet, because of your short term political expediency needs, you're saying you're not even going to try to have firm legal ground on which to constrain the appetites of these companies to control information."

Crawford explained the politics of broadband:

"The head of the Cable Association, Michael Powell, used to be the chairman of the FCC. He said it would be World War III if the FCC even leaned towards calling these guys a utility. That's what Mr. Wheeler is facing. And the risk is that then those actors march on Capitol Hill, gut his budget, and don't allow him to do the other things he wants to accomplish with the commission."

For those that are unaware, Michael Powell served as FCC Chairman from 2001 to 2005. He is also General Colin Powell's son. The bottom line: Wheeler has caved to corporate interests at the expense of consumers... specifically your wallet (or purse). Expect higher broadband prices if the FCC's new policy sticks. Expect many of your favorite sites and blogs to be relgated to the slow lane (which will be a price increase since you'll likely pay the same but for slower access).

Reported, the FCC will vote on May 15 about Wheeler's policy shift. Crawford explained that complaints from consumers is the only way the FCC's new policy will be stopped:

"The uproar in the country is already causing the FCC to walk back from Wheeler's initial statement that he was never going to move towards treating these guys like a utility. That's already happening. Keeping that pressure up is only going to help because then they have to keep all these options on the table and act like a regulator. So writing into the FCC, writing to your congressman, keeping in touch with your senator. That really is making a difference. The White House is responding."

Yes, you read that correctly. You can make a difference. You say you don't want a price increase for your broadband Internet? Then, get active: contact your elected officials today. Write to the FCC. Consumers can also submit comments to the FCC through Senator Bernie Sanders' (I-Vermont) website. After contacting your elected officials, then sign a few petitions: Senator Markey, MoveOn, Credo Action, Daily Kos, and the White House. During the coming weeks, participate in local protests in your city or town. Tell them you want:

  • To keep Net Neutrality; real Net Neutrality not the fake Net Neutrality in the latest policy proposed by FCC Chairman Wheeler.
  • The healthiest democracy possible, with everyone having access to information.
  • To keep the freedom to choose the websites you visit, and not lose that freedom when ISPs choose (like they do currently with cable TV).
  • The reclassification of broadband as a utility (e.g., telecommunications).
  • Real broadband competition everywhere, not the fake competition where the corporate ISPs have gentlemen's agreements that divided up the country so cable never competes against fiber.
  • Local prohibitions removed so local governments and their residents can develop broadband utilities, if they choose. Local governments should have the same freedoms as corporate ISPs. This increases competition and will (hopefully) lower broadband prices.
  • Everyone to have broadband at the lowest prices possible: for education and schools, to create jobs, and to encourage entrepreneurs to start new businesses.


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[Video] Internet Citizens: Defend Net Neutrality


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