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My guest today is progressive political activist and frequent OpEdNews contributor, PEN. Welcome back to OpEdNews, PEN.
Joan Brunwasser: Today we're going to talk about net neutrality. I'm not sure that I've ever had the issue explained to me clearly. Would you like to take a crack at it?
PEN: Hello again, Joan. As usual, you are right on top of the most critical and timely issues. We consider this the mother of all policy actions, because unless the internet is truly free to carry our communications on a level playing field, as it was intended, all other advocacy actions are in danger of being restricted. What the big telecom corporations want to do is discriminate on the internet against content, in the first instance based on how much the content providers can pay, but it also encompasses the threat of discrimination based on the political nature of that content. The fight for net neutrality is to stop them from doing that.
JB: Other than the almighty profit motive, who could oppose the need for net neutrality? It seems like something we can all agree on and then work together to achieve. Am I missing something basic here?
PEN: One of our participants in this action made the point that the big cable TV companies, who also provide internet connections to many people, want to change the internet according to their model, where THEY control what channels you have access to through their systems, and there is a huge financial hurdle you have to pay them to have access to their subscribers through one of "their" channels. So, without an enforcement of the principle of net neutrality, they could demand toll fees from you as a web site creator not to slow down your connections to people who want to visit your site. And if permitted to do that, it's a short hop to having them block those connections altogether on a political basis.
JB: Are you talking about censorship? How does that figure in here?
PEN: This is not some hypothetical danger. In 2008 we were working with Shirley Golub, the ONLY person to ever challenge Nancy Pelosi in her own primary. And we had a hard-hitting TV spot that regular TV stations were running, but Comcast refused to run this PAID ad, and never did. This is the same Comcast that is seeking approval to buy up Time Warner to consolidate everything even more. They are the last people we can trust with our internet freedom.
JB: This is troubling, PEN. Speaking of Comcast, how does the proposed merger feed into the net neutrality issue? Isn't bigger better for all of us, at least in this case?
PEN: If that were the operating principle, we'd all be better off with a Bigg[er] Brother (as in 1984). Apart from the issue of whether corporate power, concentrated in fewer and fewer hands itself, is something to fear, the issue here is REGULATION. The FCC has jurisdiction over this and has tried twice to promulgate rules for keeping the internet open. The appeals court in the DC circuit last month struck down these rules, BUT it was only on the technical question of whether the internet service providers were classified as "common carriers." This is a term of legal art which might make our own eyes glaze over, but what it simply means is that if the internet is considered an essential utility, then the FCC has to power to regulate it to keep it open and free. And the good news is that even the appeals court conceded that the FCC as an administrative agency has the UNILATERAL discretion to reclassify internet service providers as common carriers, as they should have been all along. And if the FCC does so, the people win.
JB: Okay, that's pretty straight-forward. So, the logical next question is, what can we do to insure that the FCC does its duty and upholds net neutrality?
PEN: Please understand we have some sympathetic FCC commissioners to talk to. They have already twice tried to make this happen by simple rule-making. This is not a case where we are railing against a smug and intractable House majority. On February 19th, the FCC opened up a docket for public comments. They are inviting you to have an influence on their next decision. They WANT to hear what YOU have to say about all this. We have a window of 30 days to do this and we need to jump all over it.
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JB: That is good news. So, how do we go about being good citizens, PEN? Spell out what we need to do and how to do it.
We've created a special server process to navigate the FCC submission site for you. All you need to do is simply submit our one-click action page and your personal comments will get sent directly and verbatim to the FCC gateway on this issue.
For those who would like the individualized FCC link here is that as well.