‘Net Neutrality’ – the Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time

by on December 20, 2010 · 17 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Media, War and Peace

By Al Franken – U.S. Senator, Minnesota / Huffington Post / December 20, 2010

This Tuesday [12/21/10] is an important day in the fight to save the Internet.

As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it’s a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate.

This principle is called “net neutrality” — and it’s under attack. Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it.

The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has the power to issue regulations that protect net neutrality. The bad news is that draft regulations written by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski don’t do that at all. They’re worse than nothing.

That’s why Tuesday is such an important day. The FCC will be meeting to discuss those regulations, and we must make sure that its members understand that allowing corporations to control the Internet is simply unacceptable.

Although Chairman Genachowski’s draft Order has not been made public, early reports make clear that it falls far short of protecting net neutrality.

For many Americans — particularly those who live in rural areas — the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections.

Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn’t nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

It gets worse. The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet — but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called “paid prioritization” (the creation of a “fast lane” for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern.

It sure is — but that’s exactly why the FCC should ban it. Instead, the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination.

What’s more, even the protections that are established in the draft Order would be weak because it defines “broadband Internet access service” too narrowly, making it easy for powerful corporations to get around the rules.

Here’s what’s most troubling of all. Chairman Genachowski and President Obama — who nominated him — have argued convincingly that they support net neutrality.

But grassroots supporters of net neutrality are beginning to wonder if we’ve been had. Instead of proposing regulations that would truly protect net neutrality, reports indicate that Chairman Genachowski has been calling the CEOs of major Internet corporations seeking their public endorsement of this draft proposal, which would destroy it.

No chairman should be soliciting sign-off from the corporations that his agency is supposed to regulate — and no true advocate of a free and open Internet should be seeking the permission of large media conglomerates before issuing new rules.

After all, just look at Comcast — this Internet monolith has reportedly imposed a new, recurring fee on Level 3 Communications, the company slated to be the primary online delivery provider for Netflix. That’s the same Netflix that represents Comcast’s biggest competition in video services.

Imagine if Comcast customers couldn’t watch Netflix, but were limited only to Comcast’s Video On Demand service. Imagine if a cable news network could get its website to load faster on your computer than your favorite local political blog. Imagine if big corporations with their own agenda could decide who wins or loses online. The Internet as we know it would cease to exist.

That’s why net neutrality is the most important free speech issue of our time. And that’s why, this Tuesday, when the FCC meets to discuss this badly flawed proposal, I’ll be watching. If they approve it as is, I’ll be outraged. And you should be, too.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Shane Finneran December 20, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Love this – an easy-to-read primer on net neutrality and the threats facing it.

The comic is also terrific. All I want for Christmas is a bumper sticker that says “I’ll bet the illegal Mexicans are to blame somehow”

So can we trust President Obama to take the people’s side on this?


Abby December 20, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Considering Obama’s choice to appoint RIAA friendly lawyers to key positions, and the way Homeland security has already been allowed to run amok protecting the interests of private businesses on the internet, I wouldn’t look to him for much help.

Of course none of this will affect the tech savvy (or criminals for that matter) who will just form private networks and keep doing as they please while the average user gets screwed.


Old Hermit Dave December 20, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Another wake up call from the tin hat guy–
Latest Terror Threat in US Aimed to Poison Food
Exclusive: The Dept. of Homeland Security Uncovered a Plot to Attack Hotels and Restaurants Over a Single Weekend

ZEE FADDERLAND security, masters at make work to keep their jobs agency. There are so many ways they can infringe on human freedom in the name of protecting them. Unless the people wake up to the fact that the war on terror is FAKE, life will get harder and harder to live in any normal way. Perhaps it is time to hold open public trials of these alleged evil Muslim Mastermind terrorists. Actually force the government to PROVE beyond a doubt that someone sewed bombs in their underwear. It is just so easy to FAKE these bomb plots. With the help of the media they can scare everyone with stories about how catastrophic the event would have been if they had not caught that Muslim male. When will the American people wake up and force the government to do something besides release scary stories? Lets put Ron Mohamed Jeremy on trial and make it a open public trial. It might just answer some long unanswered questions about 9/11/01. There was then and now, no logical reason that a super power country, should live in fear of someone equal to a group of Palestinian KIDS throwing ROCKS at Israeli TANKS. This is the largest duping, of the most humans, in the history of the world. Wake up Americans before you find yourself living like a Jewish family in Nazi Germany. That just is not the American way of life, that thousands of Americans fought and died to protect.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/8618-18563_162-7169266.html?assetTypeId=30&messageId=10197476&tag=contentMain;contentBody#ixzz18iobHoEI


Gary Ghirardi December 21, 2010 at 6:23 am

Save the Internet


Shane Finneran December 21, 2010 at 8:06 am

Another great article on net neutrality — thank you, Gary.

A chilling excerpt: “The rule is so riddled with loopholes that it’s become clear that this FCC chairman crafted it with the sole purpose of winning the endorsement of AT&T and cable lobbyists, and not defending the interests of the tens of millions of Internet users.”

Reminds me of health care “reform,” which was written by and signed off by the insurance industry.

Man, Obama is turning out to be big trouble…


Ian December 21, 2010 at 11:11 am

You are exactly right, the role of government is to provide a level playing field for all participants (individuals, unions, corporations, and other groups). But what we have is a government that colludes with big business (big money) to create an uneven playing field that favors those who will favor them.


Frank Gormlie December 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Ian, and this is why all libertarian philosophy is not the same as the GOP. It’s better than that. You libertarians at least understand and admit the problems with big business colluding with government. It was Ron Paul (not Rand) who stood up and defended WikiLeakers. Plus Ron Paul was against the wars.

We progressives can work with you libertarians around issues like that. It’s when the contradictory nature of the libertarian philosophy stands out in sharp relief – that we have problems. Like not defending women’s right of choice, like not defending workers’ rights to organize, like not defending protections on our food, drug supplies, and work safety rules, etc.


Ian December 21, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Frank, it is not “the contradictory nature of the libertarian philosophy [that] stands out in sharp relief”, as there are no such contradictions. It is your, and many liberals, misunderstanding of the philosophy that stands out in sharp relief.

Of your list of supposed contradictions, none are a part of the libertarian philosophy. I would suggest educating yourself on this subject before you make such outrageous mistakes in understanding and judgment.


Gary Ghirardi December 21, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Good building coalition despite differences Frank. This is the only way to defeat the power of money and it corrupting influence on Government.


Ian December 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm

It is hard to build a coalition when your supposed partners don’t understand your position.


Gary Ghirardi December 21, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Yes, so true but it is time we all agree to try. We, as the majority members of society, those without political power, need to build coalition to be sizable enough not to be ignored. I can agree to not agree on issues with you philosophically, but we can all agree to demand access to larger issues that we have no voice or vote in: militarization, tax distribution, job globalization, corporatization of government.


Abby December 21, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I think you can blame the tea baggers for a lot of the confusion about what libertarians are actually about.

They tend to claim to have libertarian views, but their agenda is not the same.


Frank Gormlie December 21, 2010 at 8:52 am

Gary and other readers: please don’t place any links in the beginning of your comment – it screws up our chatter box on the sidebar.


annagrace December 21, 2010 at 4:59 pm

It is disturbing that the media has not taken apart every lie and innuendo in the Repug argument against net neutrality “Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor Tuesday to warn that the Obama administration is on the verge of nationalizing the Internet, charging that the president has already seized large swaths of the economy. The charge is a familiar one and reflects the Republican strategy of opposition to net neutrality, which portrays regulation of major broadband companies as a form of nationalization and control of the Internet itself.” And “While arguing against net neutrality, McConnell relied on the very same rhetoric about a free and open Internet that is used to bolster it, exploiting the confusion that surrounds the issue. ”

So is there some alternative universe out there? Do both sides really get to use the same rhetoric with out the press fact checking the arguments? Shame on the mainstream media for being a bunch of lily livered sycophants.

The FCC noted that “Pay for Priority Unlikely to Satisfy “No Unreasonable Discrimination” Rule.” Looks like that is exactly what the alternative universe has served up to us- unreasonable discrimination. So much better than regulation- I mean nationalization- right?



Gary Ghirardi December 22, 2010 at 4:01 am

“The Federal Communications Commission rules prevent broadband companies from secretly restricting internet services and require that they make public information about how their networks function. ” Global Telecoms Business

Maybe now is the time to test this ruling and watch the big companies stall the request from public eyes.


tlrelf December 21, 2010 at 10:55 pm

While I don’t even begin to claim to understand the ins-and-outs of this bill, since I’ve been online, it seems that there has been a constant barrage of threats to net neutrality and other attempts to limit our freedom of speech and access, etc. What does everyone here think of the efforts of the Electronic Freedom Foundation? I remember using their mission statement as a class exercise years ago. . .alongside the various applicable amendments.


Sarah December 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Let’s look at who the major players are and what they think about the new FCC ruling. I can usually come up with a good sense of an issue when I look at who is pissed off and why. So, here’s my list and my thoughts about each player. It’s not a complete list of course, but it’s some of the main players I came across in my research.

Verizon: Some news reports say that Verizon is considering filing suit to block the rules. Personally, I think they may secretly be happy because the rules are far more lenient on wireless (cellphone) access and Verizon knows that much of the future of the internet will be provided on the wireless / cellular network. (Think smartphones, iPads, etc)

AT&T: Biggest financial contributer to the anti-NN crowd.

Sprint: Somewhat neutral, and they seem to think the rules are fair enough.

T-Mobile: Publicly neutral, they are keeping quiet for the most part, waiting for the rules to be officially announced.

Apple: Steve Wozniak believes the rules do not go nearly far enough to protect NN.

Kay Bailey Hutchinson: I just threw her in here for flavor. She hates the very idea of NN rules.

MoveOn: Pissed off and they think no rules would be better than what was adopted, in part because of the exclusion for wireless carriers.

FreePress: Very pissed off. Big-time in favor of NN, rules are riddled with loopholes and exclude wireless.

Christian Coalition: They are rather pleased. This one surprised me. This organization is pro NN and considers the new ruling a huge victory.

Glen Beck: He’s very much against NN, but I can’t find any recent comment from him. He was really pissed at the Christian Coalition early in the year because of their support of NN.

Gun Owners of America: They were pro-NN until they came under attack about that stance and now they are against NN, because they are 100% against government control over the net.


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