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The Struggle for Net Neutrality
Monday, 16 November 2009
Giant providers want to overturn Net Neutrality for monopolistic power to provide higher-profit premium services. They're spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and the FCC to defeat Net Neutrality and jeopardize the Internet's future.
During his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama promised to "Support the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet."
Perhaps not given a worse record than his fiercest critics feared, worse than George Bush, across the board on both domestic and foreign policies, including:
Will Net Neutrality fare better? As the last frontier of press freedom, it gives consumers access to any equipment, content, application and service, free from corporate control. Public interest groups want it preserved. Giant telecom and cable companies want control to:
Founded in 2002, "Free Press is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to reform the media (by) promot(ing) diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, quality journalism, and universal access to communication."
It says Net Neutrality "means no discrimination (by) prevent(ing) Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination."
Giant providers want it privatized to "discriminate in favor of their own search engines (while) slowing down or blocking services by their competitors. (They're) spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress" and the FCC to defeat Net Neutrality and jeopardize the Internet's future.
Its loss will stifle innovation, limit competition, and control, restrict or prevent free access to information. "Consumer choice and the free market would be sacrificed to the interests of a few corporations."
The Internet will resemble cable TV with providers deciding "which channels, content and applications are available," and at what price.
At stake is whether digital democracy or corporate control will prevail. For media scholar Bob McChesney, it's "a defining issue (at a) critical juncture (window of opportunity) to create a communication system that will be a powerful impetus (for) a more egalitarian, humane, sustainable, and creative (self-governing) society."
Media reform activists agree that a corporate-free and open Internet must be defended at all costs. The stakes are that high. This battle must be won, but no law mandates it, and under George Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress, several proposed ones were quashed.
HR 3458: The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009
Introduced on July 31, 2009, it's "To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to establish a national broadband policy, safeguard consumer rights, spur investment and innovation, and for related purposes." It was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for consideration.
On October 22, 2009, Senator John McCain (with no cosponsors) introduced S. 1836: A bill to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from further regulating the Internet." In other words, to prohibit Net Neutrality, an idea McCain calls a "government takeover." It was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for consideration.
The Center for Responsive Politics and Sunshine Foundation found that from January 2007 - June 2009, McCain was the largest recipient of telecom and industry lobbyist contributions, getting $894,379, including amounts for his presidential campaign. During the same period, 244 members of Congress got $9.4 million, second only to what the pharmaceutical and health products industry gave, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
On October 23, 2009, a Federation of American Consumers and Travelers news release announced that:
FCC to Establish New Net Neutrality Rules
On September 21, an FCC press release headlined:
He called the Internet "an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, investment, and opportunity (that has) unleashed the potential entrepreneurs and enabled the launch and growth of small businesses across America. It is vital that we safeguard the free and open Internet." The way forward will be debated pitting consumers against powerful industry groups wanting full control and the profit potential it holds. In the end, new rules will be crafted, hopefully to fulfill Obama's promise, but so far with no assurance.
Previously, the FCC embraced four open Internet principles giving consumers access to:
Two new ones are now proposed:
On October 22, Genachowski affirmed the six principles (applying to all Internet accessing platforms) in announcing a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)," stating:
Up to now, the "Internet Policy Statement" helped preserve Internet openness, but it's time "to build on past efforts and to provide greater clarity regarding the Commission's approach to these issues through a notice-and-comment rulemaking....to help address emerging challenges to the open Internet." Comments are sought on:
A new FCC web site, openinternet.gov, was launched to encourage public input, with no assurance the agency or Congress will heed it.
Nonetheless, Free Press policy director, Ben Scott, said:
Potential FCC Net Neutrality Loophole
Free Press' Tim Karr fears it may undermine Internet freedom if not addressed and corrected, and a group of six prominent law professors agree. They include:
They've all "spent many years devoted to research on the architecture of the Internet and its related policies (and) published widely on" Net Neutrality.
On November 2, they emailed Chairman Genachowski to "flag what (they) believe are two (serious) ambiguities in the Notice that (they) hope can be addressed early to provide a clearer foundation for comments:"
For nearly a century, this has been a central concept in telecommunications law and policy. Nothing should be done to subvert it, so a clear definition is essential. So far, it's "surprisingly narrow."
"Reasonable Network Management"
It's a significant ambiguity because what's not reasonable is "key to the entire rule."
To be effective, FCC rules and congressional legislation must be unambiguous and strong with clear standards in the public interest, especially regarding content.
Free Press Policy Brief on the FCC's Proposed Net Neutrality Rule
Free Press calls the NPRM "a very important step in the right direction," but some elements need clarification to "preclude ISP's from preventing their customers from sending and receiving lawful content, running lawful applications, or connecting lawful devices to the network." Also to assure them free choice among network, applications, service, and content providers.
If properly crafted, new rules will establish a legal framework to require nondiscriminatory treatment of all Internet traffic under reasonable, fair network management standards. Yet significant ambiguities may subvert final ones because of loopholes that must be avoided.
So far, it appears that the FCC "is very committed to protecting the open Internet with rules that have meaning and teeth....This is clearly a very good start (that) lays a good foundation for a final rule that will serve as an unassailable, yet appropriately flexible, firewall to protect and preserve the open Internet." With precise clarification, established standards "once enacted will withstand scrutiny in the courts" and be a victory for digital democracy. But not easily against powerful interests determined to subvert it, so therein lies the struggle ahead.
Disturbing Implications of The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) for Net Neutrality, Consumer Privacy, and Civil Liberties
Launched on October 23, 2007, America, the EU, Switzerland and Japan began negotiating a new intellectual property enforcement treaty, ACTA. Other nations as well, including Canada, Australia, Korea, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Singapore, and the UAE. Ostensibly for counterfeit goods protection, critics say it's more about Internet distribution and information technology rules to subvert Net Neutrality, privacy, and personal freedoms.
Powerful interests want stronger global intellectual property rights, and are pursuing them through the:
So far, few details are known, yet ACTA is being secretly fast-tracked to completion.
Concerned Americans got some information through Freedom of Information (FOA) requests. Canadians also through Canada's Access to Information Act (AIA).
Of concern are provisions endangering consumer privacy, civil liberties, legitimate commerce, restrictions on developing nations' rights to choose their preferred policy options, and, pivotal for this article, a free and open Internet.
The US Trade Representative's (USTR) Fact Sheet and 2008 "Special 301" report shows an intent to create tougher intellectual property enforcement standards than under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). If successful, they'll override national sovereignty, be binding on ACTA members, and give them enough power to enforce global compliance.
The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) is "a not-for-profit association registered in twenty European countries, dedicated to the development of information goods for the public benefit, based on copyright, free competition, open standards."
In 2008, Brussels rebuffed its request for ACTA documents saying:
In appealing the ruling, FFII accused the EU of "a gross violation of the basic democratic principles (these nations are) supposed to stand for." In a November 10, 2008 press release, it said:
In May 2008, Wikileaks obtained a leaked four-page document titled, "Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement," saying:
The document covers:
These provisions way exceed current treaty obligations by imposing binding copyright demands requiring:
IP Justice is "an international civil liberties organization promoting balanced intellectual property laws and free expression." It addressed ACTA as follows:
Other IP Justice concerns are over:
On April 6, 2009, the USTR released a summary of ACTA negotiations stating they're to:
From what's known, if ACTA measures are adopted, consider the implications. Consumer Internet communications and content will be monitored, threatening privacy, civil liberties, and a free and open Internet. In addition, new Net Neutrality rules and congressional legislation codifying them will be subverted by ACTA authority.
The Cybersecurity Act of 2009
This writer's May 22 article said the following:
Accompanying information said Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe introduced the legislation to address:
During a March Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, Senator Rockefeller said that we'd all be better off if the Internet was never invented. His precise words were: "Would it have been better if we'd never have invented the Internet and had to use paper and pencil or whatever!" Left unsaid was that without a free and open Internet, few alternatives for getting real news and information would exist, at least with the ease and free accessibility computers provide.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) Jennifer Granick expressed concern about "giving the federal government unprecedented power over the Internet without necessarily improving security in the ways that matter most. (These bills) should be opposed or radically amended."
Here's what they'll do:
In other words, the Commerce Department will be empowered to access "all relevant data" - without privacy safeguards or judicial review. As a result, constitutionally protected privacy protections will be lost - ones guaranteed under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Privacy Protection Act, and financial privacy regulations.
Another provision mandates a feasibility study for an identity management and authentication program that would sidestep "appropriate civil liberties and privacy protections."
At issue is what role should the federal government play in cybersecurity? How much power should it have? Can it dismiss constitutional protections, and what, in fact, can enhance cybersecurity without endangering our freedoms?
S. 773 and 778, as now written, "make matters worse by weakening existing privacy safeguards (without) address(ing) the real problems of security."
Months later, S. 773 was secretly redrafted, but from what's known, leaves it mostly unchanged. Like the original version, it gives the president carte blanche power "to decide which networks and systems, private or public, count as 'critical infrastructure information systems or networks," according to the EFF's Richard Esguerra. It also lets him shut down the Internet in both versions of the bill.
The original one states:
The new bill says:
In other words, he can shut down the Internet and leave privacy, authority, and security effectiveness unresolved. According to EFF's senior staff attorney, Lee Tien:
In late February, Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, told the House Intelligence Committee that the NSA, not DHS, should be in charge of cybersecurity even though it has a "trust handicap" to overcome because of its illegal spying:
On February 9, Obama appointed Melissa Hathaway to be Acting Senior Director for Cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security Councils - in charge of a 60-day interagency cybersecurity review, now completed. On August 3, she resigned citing personal reasons, but people close to her said the president's economic advisers marginalized her for favoring private sector regulatory options. As of late October, her position is still unfilled.
On April 21, NSA/Chief Central Security Service director, General Alexander, told RSA Conference security participants that "The NSA does not want to run cybersecurity for the government. We need partnerships with others. The DHS has a big part, you do, and our partners in academia. It's one network and we all have to work together....The NSA can offer technology assistance to team members. That's our role."
Spying is its role with DHS enforcement. Cooperatively with the administration, they threaten our constitutional freedoms. Infringing them can't be tolerated nor measures to subvert a free and open Internet.
Justice Department Targets Internet First Amendment Freedoms
On January 30, US Attorney Tim Morrison subpoenaed the Philadelphia-based Independent Media Center (IMC) to give an Indianapolis grand jury all IP address logs, times, and other ID information for June 25, 2008. In addition, under a gag order, its system administrator was prohibited from "disclos(ing) the existence (or contents) of this request" without Justice Department permission.
On November 9, EFF discussed the "Anatomy of a Bogus subpoena: How the Government Secretly Demanded the IP Address of Every Visitor to Political News Site Indymedia.us."
According to senior staff attorney Kevin Bankston:
Court orders can require phone companies or online service providers to reveal them, "along with a gag order preventing (them) from disclosing the existence of the government's demand. More often, companies are simply (subpoenaed) by prosecutors without any court involvement; these demands, too, are rarely made public."
EFF called the gag order "Bogus (for) Demanding the Recipient's Silence Without Any Legal Basis." It's "ready to provide assistance (whenever) government knocks on someone's door with an unlawful, invalid, overbroad, free speech-threatening, privacy-invasive demand for your sensitive Internet data." It represented IMC and prevailed, in part because the site doesn't keep historic logs on its visitors.
On November 13, indymedia.us announced:
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national topics. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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