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Timothy Karr

Putting the ‘P’ in Public Policy

Last week in Boston, cable giant Comcast got caught hiring people off the street to pack a public meeting on Net Neutrality – keeping out Internet activists who arrived to find the venue full and the doors blocked by campus police.

This corporate "Astroturfing" sparked a brief and intense flurry of press attention; people were drawn to the story because it was about the age-old struggle between grassroots activists and corporate shills. Comcast thought it could exert its political and financial clout to disrupt a public process and influence policy outcomes – just as it has done for decades in Washington. Thankfully, people were on hand – with cameras and tape recorders -- to catch the cable giant in the act.

At Stake: The Future of the Internet

The stakes in this case couldn't be any higher. "Let's bear in mind that the Internet is the communications network that is quickly becoming the backbone for all the other communications networks that Americans use," FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said in Boston. "In other words, how all of this turns out is a very, very big deal for each and every one of us."

Put into those terms it's probably easier to understand why we must have Net Neutrality – the principle that lets people and not corporations choose where they go, what they do and whom they connect with online. People need to control their ability to speak out, innovate and spread new ideas without the fear that a company like Comcast, Verizon or AT&T will yank the chord.

This is more than an idle threat. The top executives of major telecom companies have stated clearly in the pages of BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post that they would like to favor certain content over others. And they're already doing it. In just the past few months, in addition to Comcast's assault on innovative file-sharing applications, Verizon has blocked text messages sent by NARAL Pro-Choice America to its own members, and AT&T is announced plans to filter and inspect all Web traffic for perceived copyright infringements.

Public Policy Solutions

Instead of industry lobbyists, those who should ultimately decide the Internet's future are people like you and me -- everyone who uses the Internet every day and in every way. At Free Press, our organizational mandate is to guarantee that we all have a seat at the table by engaging the public in the media policymaking process. We believe that for far too long decisions have been made in the public’s name but without our informed consent.

So what are the policies that would keep the Internet free and open?

On Capitol Hill, Reps. Ed Markey and Chip Pickering have introduced the bipartisan "Internet Freedom Preservation Act" (HR 5353) that would establish Net Neutrality protections for the next generation of Internet networks.

The Markey-Pickering bill is important for three reasons:

1. It’s the Right Bill for Right Now

There is an urgent need for legislation that protects against recent efforts by phone and cable companies to block the free flow of information online. In 2006, more than 1.5 million Americans came together under the Coalition to stop a bill that would have handed control of the Internet to these companies. In 2008, we must send a strong and clear message that phone and cable discrimination will no longer be tolerated.

2. The Bill Makes Net Neutrality the Law of the Land

The bill is a major first step in a forward-thinking communications policy. It modernizes the Communications Act -- the foundation of media policy -- to ensure that Net Neutrality protections apply to new broadband services, just as they did to dial-up. It ensures that economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech will continue to flourish on the Internet and gives the FCC a clear mandate to protect Net Neutrality everywhere.

3. The Bill Opens Up a National Conversation

The legislation calls for at least eight public hearings across the country. For too long, communications policy has been made behind closed doors. By taking the debate beyond the Beltway, we have a unique, grassroots opportunity to tell Congress that high-priced phone and cable lobbyists will no longer set the agenda.

For progressive policy to succeed, we need to engage Americans of every stripe – right, left, rich, poor, rural and urban -- in the process. "The Internet Freedom Preservation Act may prove to be a bill around which such grassroots power emerges. Millions are starting to use the Internet to save it – and nobody has to pay them off to do it.

Timothy Karr: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:53 AM, Mar 05, 2008 in Corporate Accountability | Municipal Wi-Fi | Net Neutrality | Progressive Agenda | digital divide
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