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Net Neutrality Threatened (Part II)
Saturday, 18 December 2010
If Genachowski's proposal is adopted, Net Neutrality will be compromised. Cable and telecom giants will take control, and another Obama promise will be broken.
Three earlier articles addressed the issue, here's the most recent: Net Neutrality Threatened (Part I).
Net Neutrality is a defining issue of our time. It's essential to keep the Internet free and open, letting users access all content without restrictions, limitations, or discrimination, maintaining an online level playing field for everyone.
It's the essence of democratic free speech. Without it, the Internet will resemble cable TV, letting corporate predators game the system, deciding what web sites, content and applications are available at what price and speed.
Giant cable and telecom companies are lobbying Congress and the FCC furiously for that right. A leaked September 2010 House Energy and Commerce Committee draft bill, if enacted, will let them establish higher-priced premium lanes (two Internets), effectively destroying Net Neutrality, compromising the last free and open space. New FCC provisions may do the same. More on that below.
An October 2007 global measure, overriding national sovereignty, also threatens Net Neutrality, consumer privacy, and civil liberties. Called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), secret negotiations seek to subvert them, ostensibly to protect copyrighted intellectual property, including films, photos, and songs. ACTA remains a work in progress, but developments going forward bear watching, especially if a global agreement is reached.
New FCC Proposal Threatens Online Freedoms
In early December, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed new regulations to be voted on December 21 saying:
If Genachowski's proposal is adopted, Net Neutrality will be compromised. Cable and telecom giants will take control, and another Obama promise will be broken, sabotaging the last free and open space, subverting digital democracy for profit and the ability to block unwanted content.
The 1934 Communications Act "regulat(ed) interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio so as to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges...." It established the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to "execute and enforce the provisions of this Act."
Key to Genachowski's scheme is not classifying broadband Internet service under the Communications Act as a Type II telecommunications service that would subject it to tighter control. As a result, any FCC action may be legally challenged and will be if unfavorable to industry giants. In addition, as mentioned above, wireless service would be exempted from most new rules, a serious flaw given how fast it's becoming the most popular Internet access method of choice.
Corporations and lobbyists responded favorably to Genachowski's plan. National Cable and Telecommunications Associations President Kyle McSlarrow said that previous negotiations had "produced a rough consensus on a number of points, which we believe are reflected in" his proposed rule changes.
The CTIA Wireless Association added:
Telecommunications giant AT&T was practically jubilant saying:
The five-member FCC is composed of three Democrats and two Republicans firmly opposed to regulation. If a majority backs Genachowski, Net Neutrality will be seriously jeopardized unless a groundswell of consumer opposition demands the administration and Congress prevent it.
Report Saying New Rules Will Be Approved
On December 15, Reuters headlined, "Approval of Internet traffic rules likely - analysts," saying:
They expect Democrat commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps will back Genachowski, believing "There aren't really any better options (despite) their preference for tougher rules."
Another analyst agreed, saying at most minor modifications might be made but no major ones. December 21 is decision day. With little time left, it's crucial that consumers act, demanding Congress and the Obama administration preserve Net Neutrality and not allow Genachowski's proposal.
Free Press.net Letter to the FCC
On December 10, its five commissioners were sent a letter to "preserve the Open Internet, promote universal broadband access, and protect consumers in a concentrated (industry dominated) marketplace." Doing so is essential "for democratic participation, commerce and innovation."
The FCC itself acknowledged that "The Internet's openness, and the transparency of its protocols, have been critical to its success." It's time to show it by enforcing Net Neutrality rules.
Moreover, the Order is legally shaky, undermining not only Internet policy, but also "the Commission's entire broadband agenda."
Free Press listed five specific problem areas:
Each of the above items demands fixing. Failure to do so "will jeopardize the Internet's historic openness and (will) undermine Obama's promise to deliver meaningful, real Network Neutrality protections." However, his failure to publicly endorse this shows another promise made may be broken, the latest in a long disturbing list affecting everything vital to working Americans.
Nineteen supportive digital democracy organizations joined with Free Press in opposing Genachowski's proposal. It bears repeating. Otherwise, Net Neutrality will be irreparably compromised.
A Final Comment
On December 8, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) Corynne McSherry cited the following Net Neutrality and Genachowski proposal concerns:
When his proposal in full is released, it will be crucial to examine destructive loopholes and exemptions. For example, will "managed services" or "additional online services" subvert a free and open Internet? Will wireless exemptions be as bad? Will other provisions effectively gut Net Neutrality freedom so essential to preserve?
After the December 21 FCC vote, we'll know more. But advance word suggests cable and telecom giants won at the expense of free speech, Net Neutrality, and the public interest. Stay tuned, and demand Congress act quickly during the lame duck session to reverse all destructive FCC provisions approved. It's our Internet and our choice about its management, functions and freedoms. They're too important to lose.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on December 18, 2010.