Is Net Neutrality Dead? Democracy loses if the Internet’s sold to the highest bidder — and that may be exactly what’s about to happen.
Full Show: Is Net Neutrality Dead?
May 2, 2014
For years, the government has upheld the principle of “Net neutrality,” the belief that everyone should have equal access to the web without preferential treatment.
But now, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and a former cable and telecommunications top gun, is circulating potential new rules that reportedly would put a price tag on climbing aboard the Internet. The largest and richest providers, giant corporations such as Verizon and Comcast – in mid-takeover of Time Warner Cable — like the idea. They could afford to buy their way to the front of the line. Everyone else — nonprofit groups, startups and everyday users – would have to move to the rear, and the Net would be neutral no more.
This week, speaking with Bill Moyers about these latest developments are two keen observers of media and the world of cyberspace. David Carr covers the busy intersection of media with business, government and culture for The New York Times. Susan Crawford is a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, contributor to Bloomberg View and author of, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.
“For 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,” Crawford tells Moyers.
Carr adds: “People have a close, intimate relationship with the web in a way they don’t other technologies … they have the precious propriety feelings about it. And I’m not sure if the FCC really knows what they’re getting into.” Producer: Gina Kim. Segment Producer: Lena Shemel.Editor: Donna Marino. Outro Producer: Robert Booth.Outro Editor: Rob Kuhns.
DON’T LET NET NEUTRALITY BECOME ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE
Barack Obama told us there would be no compromise on Net neutrality. We heard him say it back in 2007, when he first was running for president.
“We have to ensure [a] free and full exchange of information and that starts with an open Internet,” he said in a speech at Google headquarters, the presidium of cyberspace. “I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality, because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others, then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The Internet is perhaps the most open network in history and we have to keep it that way.”
He said it many more times. And defenders of Net neutrality believed him, that he would preserve Internet access for all, without selling out to providers like Verizon and Comcast who want to charge higher fees for speedier access – hustling more cash from those who can afford to buy a place at the front of the line. On this issue so important to democracy, they believed he would keep his word, would see to it that when private interests set upon the Internet like sharks to blood in the water, its fate would be in the hands of honest brokers who would listen politely to the pleas of the greedy, and then show them the door.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be Washington’s infamous revolving door. Last May, President Obama named Tom Wheeler to be FCC chairman. He had other choices, men or women whose loyalty was to the public, not to rich and powerful corporations. But Tom Wheeler had been one of Obama’s top bundlers of campaign cash – both in 2008 and again in 2012, when he raised at least half a million dollars for the president’s re-election. Like his proposed new rules for the Web, that put him at the front of the line.
What’s more, Wheeler had been the top gun for both the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), lobbyists for the cable and wireless industries. However we might try to imagine that he could quickly abandon old habits of service to his employers, that’s not how Washington works. Business and government are now so intertwined that public officials and corporate retainers are interchangeable parts of what Chief Justice John Roberts might call “the gratitude machine.”
Remember the FCC chairman under George W. Bush? Michael Powell was no champion of Net neutrality then, and now he works for its evisceration as CEO of the NCTA, the cable industry’s trade association, the same job Chairman Wheeler held three decades ago. Round and round they go, and where they stop – actually they never stop. They just flash their EZ Pass as they keep shuttling through that revolving door.
Consider: Daniel Alvarez was a long-time member of a law firm that has advised Comcast. He once wrote to the FCC on behalf of that giant, arguing against Net neutrality rules. He’s been hired by Tom Wheeler.
Former Ambassador Phillip Verveer also worked for Comcast and the wireless and cable trade associations, both of which have opposed Net neutrality. He’s now Tom Wheeler’s senior counselor.
Attorney Brendan Carr worked for Verizon and the telecom industry’s trade association, which lobbied against Net neutrality. Now Brendan Carr is an adviser to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who once described open Internet rules as a “solution in search of a problem” and used to be a top lawyer for Verizon.
To be fair, Tom Wheeler has brought media reformers into the FCC, too, and has been telling us all that we don’t understand – that we’re the victims of “misinformation” about the new rules – that he is still for Net neutrality. Possibly. But the public’s no chump, and as you can see from just those few examples from the reporting of intrepid young journalist Lee Fang, those new rules are not the product of an immaculate conception. They were hatched in a place where industry midwives huddle around the cradle, waiting to privatize — sorry, baptize — the new arrival, and claim him for their own. Everyone else — nonprofit groups, startups, the smaller, independent content creators and everyday users – move to the rear. The Net will be neutral no more.
President Obama could stiffen Tom Wheeler’s spine with one phone call. That’s not likely, given the broken promises that litter the White House grounds. But the FCC meets on May 15. Before then, you can send an e-mail to make your opinion known at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or direct a tweet to Wheeler @TomWheelerFCC.
After the meeting, there will be a “public comment” period of 30 to perhaps 45 days before they start finalizing any new rules. Speak up. You have a chance to tell both Obama and Wheeler what you think, so that the will of the people, not the power of money and predatory interests, is heard.
Don’t let Net neutrality become another broken promise. Here’s how.
» Save the Internet has a sample script, an email petition and instructions on how to call Wheeler and request that the chairman abandon his proposal.
» Using WhiteHouse.gov’s We the People site, critics of the new proposal have also launched a petition, calling for “nothing less than complete neutrality in our communication channels.” It already has over 40,000 signatures.
» A second petition asks the FCC to reclassify broadband as a regulated common-carrier service, which means it would have to be open to all, and serve all customers without discrimination. Currently broadband is classified as an information service, a category that gives the FCC a fairly limited set of regulatory options.
Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos.