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Dr. Margaret Flowers: Net Neutrality and What You Can Do To Ensure It

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My guest today is Dr. Margaret Flowers, a Maryland pediatrician who left her practice to become a full-time advocate of the single-payer health care system. In her capacity as a spokesperson for PNHP [Physicians for a National Health Program], we've done three interviews on that topic. She is co-director ofPopularResistance.org.

JB: Welcome back to OpEdNews, Margaret. What is Popular Resistance and what are its goals?

MF: Popular Resistance is a daily movement news and resource website that covers the broad movement for social, economic and environmental justice. We also provide tools and information to activists for organizing and developing strategy. And we run a number of campaigns, particularly on issues that connect people across issues. For example, our campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership includes groups that work on food and water, health care, worker rights, Internet freedom, the environment and more. Our campaign on Net Neutrality similarly unites people.

JB: Let's turn to Net Neutrality now. What's going on with that whole issue at the moment?

MF: This is a critical time for the future of the Internet as we know it. When the Internet was created, it was classified as a Common Carrier which meant that it was essentially a public utility like water or electricity. In 2002, Michael Powell, who was head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and is now head of the industry lobbying group, changed it to an "information service" which meant that the government had less ability to regulate it.

Since then, there has been increasing consolidation of Internet service providers by the Big 3: Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. They have sued the FCC in order to gain greater ability to monetize and control Internet service.

The most recent case in January pushed the FCC to change its rules regarding the Internet. It was leaked in May that the current chairman Tom Wheeler was going to propose weak rules that favored the Big telecoms. The rules would open the door further to destroy net neutrality. Net neutrality essentially means that the service providers can't control content and that all people have equal access to content on the Internet.

In response to Wheeler's proposal in May, millions of people mobilized and pushed the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a common carrier using Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Wheeler added that to the agenda for public comment. Over the summer almost 4 million people submitted comments and more than 99% favored Title II reclassification.

Recently Wheeler hinted that he would propose what he called "hybrid" reclassification which means that he would call it reclassification but instead of full Title II, it would contain loopholes that the Big Telecoms could use to skirt net neutrality. Again, there was a large public outcry and even President Obama came out publicly for full Title II reclassification.

Wheeler still refuses to say that he will listen to the public and president and reclassify the Internet. We must remember that he is a former head of the telecommunications industry lobbying group. So, we must continue to pressure the FCC to represent the interests of the people, not those of the industry.

JB: So, the fact that Wheeler is a Democrat doesn't really play into the equation here. His first loyalty seems to be to the telecom giants. Was he counting on public apathy or ignorance to pull this one over on us? And how much of a difference does it make that the president came out, finally, for full Title II reclassification?

MF: The President appointed all five of the FCC commissioners, three Democrats and two Republicans. Despite running on a platform that strongly favored net neutrality, the President appointed Wheeler to be the chair and even bragged that Wheeler was the Bo Jackson of the industry because he won awards from both the telecommunications and broadband industries. John Oliver made the analogy of having Wheeler in charge of the Internet was like having a dingo in charge of babysitting.

It is amazing that Wheeler can continue to ignore a clear mandate from the people, from tech companies and small businesses calling for Title II reclassification. If the FCC were representing the public and not the giant telecoms, we would be well on our way to Title II.

The FCC is currently stalling the process. They announced this week that there will be no vote on the issue at the next FCC meeting on December 11. The next meeting after that is January 30. This delay gives the telecoms more time to oppose net neutrality and means that we must keep the momentum going to pressure the FCC.

The President's support for Title II was delayed and was probably a response to persistent public pressure including protests at his fundraisers and the poor performance by Democrats in the recent election. They can't afford to lose the net neutrality base which is mainly young people and tech companies. However, his support is important because it gave permission for many others who support net neutrality to be public in their support and made the national consensus in favor of reclassification very visible. In the end though, the President and Wheeler have both made it clear that the FCC is an independent agency. The ball is in Wheeler's court.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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