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The Grassroots Battle For True Net Neutrality

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An Interview with Dr. Margaret Flowers on the grass-roots battle for true Net Neutrality

From Dr. Margaret Flowers
Dr. Margaret Flowers
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Dr. Margaret Flowers is on the front lines of the battle for net neutrality. She a medical doctor and an organizer of which engaged last week in a series of direct actions at the FCC Headquarters in a last-minute call for true net neutrality. On Monday Flowers and a number of activists confronted the chairman of the FCC as he was coming out of his house to drive to work.

Dennis J Bernstein spoke with Dr. Flowers on Thursday.

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DB: Dr. Flowers, welcome back to Flashpoints.

MF: Thank you for having me.

DB: Well, it's so good to have you with us. Maybe you can just talk a little bit about what you think is at stake. Why you, a medical doctor, engaged in many other things, why are you there in Washington blocking doors, visiting the FCC chairman at his house, blocking his driveway, what's going on here?

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MF: Yeah, well this is really a fundamental issue, and as you know, my advocacy has moved beyond just health care. I see the fight for health care as part of the broader struggle for social, economic and environmental justice. So, we engage in campaigns that help to unite across issues, and build a stronger, more effective movement.

And net neutrality was actually a battle that was not on our radar until early this year, when we found out that the FCC was getting ready to propose rules that would actually start to further modify the internet and allow the large telecommunications companies like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T to have greater control over it, control over content, to be able to charge people more for faster service. And that would really undermine what we think is essential to building this movement, which is that we have this strong and growing citizens media, that allows people to get around the corporate media, and instead report on what is actually happening.

We have the internet as a platform to get information, to disseminate information, and as well as we use it for organizing. And so small groups like ours that don't have a lot of resources, other independent media outlets, and just people that use social media would start to find that their access to the internet would be further restricted.

DB: Now, what happened when you tried to block chairman Tom Wheeler's driveway, on Monday? What happened? Was he there?

MF: This was know...he was. This has really been an ongoing campaign that started out, for us, with an occupation outside the FCC, in May, that put reclassification of the internet as a common carrier under Title 2, back...put it on the table. And so, after that occupation, after we got Title 2 on the table there were two public comments periods which generated record numbers of comments. almost 4 million, 99% of them for Title 2 reclassification.

And still the chairman is not listening to the people, and is moving...we heard last week, was moving towards what was called a hybrid proposal. Where he was going to tell people that it was Title 2, but really it was full of loopholes that would allow the corporations to kind of get their way, these big telecommunications corporations.

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And so we had to kind of ramp up the pressure quickly, and it was determined that the real obstacle was the chairman, and we needed to do something about it to get his attention. So on Monday we got to his house before he left for work, and we just sat in, behind his car and wouldn't let him leave. We told him that he was working for Comcast, and not for the people, and not listening to the people. And he got a little bit of an experience of what it's like to be slowed down, which is what the rest of us will experience if we lose net neutrality.

DB: Did he say anything specific? Was he angry?

MF: Well, he was really quite surprised. And it's not the first time that we've encountered him. He came out and met with us while we were occupying the FCC in May. And so he had some familiarity with who we are. We were really trying to get him to just say publicly that he would commit to Title 2, which is what the national consensus is really developing around.

And he was very talented at avoiding saying that. And so our point was really, if you're a federal agency that represents the people, then the tech companies are coming out for this, the small businesses are saying that they need net neutrality, the people, the public are saying they need it. His job is really to represent us, and he wouldn't commit to doing that.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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