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Help Stop Destruction of the Free Internet Now

Posted on Dec 26, 2010
AP / Matt Rourke

By Elliot D. Cohen

The recent Federal Communications Commission decision to “protect” net neutrality was long awaited by activists, but it turned out to be smoke and mirrors, catering largely to service providers such as Comcast and AT&T. What is needed now is a collective movement by all Internet users throughout the world, not just the relative few who have been fighting on our behalf, to stop the demise of Internet freedom before it’s too late.

While the new FCC ruling requires that telecom and telephone companies maintain transparency in their policies, it does little to regulate those policies. Chief among the dangerous practices that it will fail to adequately regulate is the imminent “pay for priority” system desired by a few dominant Internet service providers. The FCC’s impotent ruling comes just as it is about to put its seal of approval on Comcast’s merger with NBC International, one of the world’s largest content providers. The conflict of interest is glaring, yet the FCC seems to have missed it; or just maybe regulators intend their decision as a Band-Aid to try to fix the problem.

Call to Action:

On New Year’s Day, between the hours of 2 and 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, go offline to express one unified voice against the creation of a pay-for-priority Internet system, the abolition of a flat fee for Internet access, and any attempt by Internet service providers to block, censor or otherwise interfere with Internet content.

The problem is that the new ruling, even liberally interpreted, gives the FCC little or no regulatory power over these giant telecom corporations. Pursuant to the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Brand X, the FCC acquired the authority to determine whether or not such companies operate under common carriage. In Brand X, the FCC, chaired at the time by Michael Powell, maintained that the Internet was an information (rather than a telecommunication) service, hence more like a cable television station and less like your home phone. On this basis, the FCC concluded that the Internet was not subject to common carriage. This was significant because, under the common law doctrine of common carriage, the Internet pipes, like the telephone lines, would be regarded as a public rather than private set of roadways. Thus, nobody can be prevented by a telephone service provider from speaking to anyone else over the phone lines. Likewise, common carriage for the Internet meant that no one could be prevented from using the Internet cables to communicate with others.

What is Net Neutrality?

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Internet common carriage is presently dead in the water. The upshot is that telecommunication and telephone companies can now decide, within certain limits of fair competition, what content providers can operate on the Internet. This is tantamount to turning the Net into an extension of the mainstream media, which has the power to decide what Internet surfers can see and hear in the way of news and information.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski claims that his commission’s new ruling would ensure that Internet users continue to have the same experience they currently have, but this is doubtful. To provide such assurance, the FCC needs to invoke Title II common carriage regulations and reinstate common carriage regarding Internet service providers. Instead, its ruling was based on Section 706 of the Communications Act, which limply requires the FCC to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans.”

In short, the FCC took the path of least resistance. While companies like Comcast and AT&T and their congressional cronies may now be decrying this ruling as a formidable attempt to fix what isn’t broken, it is likely that these same opponents are quietly relieved that the FCC did not flex its muscle to reinstate common carriage.

As a consequence, companies such as Comcast are in a powerful legal position to control Internet content by creating a “pay for priority” system, according to which major corporations with lots of money would be able to purchase faster connectivity or bandwidth while the rest of us would afford only poor connectivity. Giant companies would be in a position to have their voices heard loudly and clearly while the rest of the human population would have a faint voice and presence on the Net.

To add insult to injury, these companies want to treat the Internet like a utility wherein customers would no longer pay a flat access rate but would be monitored and charged for the amount of time they spend on the Internet and the amount of data they download. This would mean higher usage costs for consumers and would portend less access to information for Americans. If you couldn’t afford to pay the price of a download, you simply couldn’t get it.

All this would be bad enough. However, the plot thickens because the current gatekeepers of the Internet who would wield such power also have cooperative arrangements with government. For example, pursuant to the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, telecom companies such as Comcast and AT&T are required to help government conduct mass surveillance sweeps of all electronic traffic passing through their networks. In return, these companies enjoy full immunity from civil lawsuits filed by customers for abridgements of their Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

The implication here is that the companies that now control the Internet pipes are also working for the government. This is a formula for increased government surveillance and Internet control. Thus, while the telecoms and telephone companies currently screen electronic communications in cooperation with government, they do not appear to be regularly blocking content. However, in the absence of a clear, unequivocal, legal mandate protecting net neutrality, these corporate gatekeepers will begin to block as well as screen Internet content for political purposes.



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By NYCartist, December 29, 2010 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment

Since my access to my home computer is by a wireless device (I don’t have a cell phone, tv or cable and don’t plan to) - it’s exempt from regs and I’m at the mercy of my ISP = I don’t know how long I’ll be able to use the internet.  My service is slow, slower and so bad I can’t use the internet in “peak” hours now.

Reminder to some: we, the people, own the airwaves but we, the people are getting screwed by the corporations and gov’t/pols that support them (helped by campaign financing).

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, December 28, 2010 at 10:22 pm Link to this comment

I gotta say this!

For the past two weeks, ATT’s service was down for some folks… me was one of them.

They had to change ‘ports’ they said.

Wonder if NOW I will have to move and go invisible.

This is just the beginning…. is satellite internet good from a private company NOT affiliated with these tyrannical monsters? 

Or another communications solution?

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Peter Knopfler's avatar

By Peter Knopfler, December 28, 2010 at 6:30 pm Link to this comment

Same old poop profits before people, don´t like it,
say something, get locked up.What´s a poor boy to do?
Storm corporations, take it to the street. History
has told us, 1% owns 90% of everything, no other
option, but to take it to the street. Corporations
are screwing us, and what do we do; we screw each
other instead of attacking corporations, 108 years of
Coca cola, what do we have to show for it, diabetes
pandemic, and tax payer paying for it all.The
acceptable addiction is the NET, so free and equal
and addicting. Now enough users, lets make them pay
big time. Drug pusher, free samples, get hooked ,
price goes up, BUNCH OF LOW LIFE GEEKS. Technical
addiction are you a victim? Say No to technical
addiction, or JUST DO IT. no thinking, is your mind
right. you know the rest.

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BR549's avatar

By BR549, December 28, 2010 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment

The shut-down was going to happen anyway, whether Assange had squeaky-clean motives or, as some suggest, he had been bribed to bring about an earlier demise to it. The feds have wanted this ever since that philandering dipshit Clinton was in office. It was a thorn in their side and it was only a matter of time before they went after the one media source that could spread the truth virally.

That’s the difference between politicians and true citizens; the citizens realize the sacrifices one must make to support the republic, whereas the politicians actually took an oath to uphold it and then said, WTF. Those that scream the loudest about internet reform are the worst type of traitors. They slide into office promising to support the tenets they were elected on only to then change the rules while they are in power. That’s why we make nooses.

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fearnotruth's avatar

By fearnotruth, December 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm Link to this comment

Excuse to police the Internet?
By F. William Engdahl, 7 December 2010

http://engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net/Geopolitics___Eurasia/US_Con_Job/us_con_job.html
[...]
What is emerging from all the sound and Wikileaks fury in Washington is that
the entire scandal is serving to advance a long-standing Obama and Bush
agenda of policing the until-now free Internet. Already the US Government has
shut the Wikileaks server in the United States though no identifiable US law has
been broken.
[...]

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By Marc Schlee, December 28, 2010 at 1:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There’s no “I” in team,

But there’s a “U” in fuck the corporations.

Which side are you on?


FREE AMERICA

REVOLUTIONARY (DIRECT) DEMOCRACY

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By Morpheus, December 27, 2010 at 10:27 pm Link to this comment

I don’t know why people expect real change. Did we forget overnight that our government is bought and paid for? We have to do more than complain to corrupt politicians and broken government. Now dry your eyes and stand for yourself…

Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( http://www.revolution2.osixs.org )
We don’t have to live like this anymore. “Spread the News”

We have to stop playing defense all the time. It is time to go on offense.

Welcome to the revolution…

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mack894's avatar

By mack894, December 27, 2010 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment

This is what happens.  People begin to ditch land lines, cell phones packages get
more complicated and expensive.  People begin to ditch cable tv, the corporate
providers find other ways.

And you are given a little change to pay for it with a payroll tax holiday which
won’t be enough to pay for all the extra increases and charges designed to take
that big of change of your pocket and into theirs.

Too bad we the people don’t have an agency looking out for us, protecting our
interests.  Sadly, the govt seems to have abdicated that role.

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By bpawk, December 27, 2010 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment

Like all progressives, you are trying to applying intelligent, progressive ideas on a right-wing country. After demolishing Ralph Nader et al progressives, you have nowhere else to go to besides Obama, who only has to be left or ultra-right republicans to be defined as even remotely progressive. I’m afraid America is going down the tubes where there will just be rich or poor, as the middle class is being decimated as we speak with an ineffective president residing in the White House. You have nowhere to go as both dems and republicans eat from the same poisonous tree.

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By ray, December 27, 2010 at 3:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An open & free internet is not in the corporate interests & corporate america is aware of our human needs to sustain physical life & to purchase their products.
With over 70% of this nations wealth owned by 1% of the populace, it becomes clear that they have taken care of us commoners.
Look to Bradley Manning to see what will happen to dissenters that express their views- U will also become a vegetable in human form.

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By Big B, December 27, 2010 at 2:22 pm Link to this comment

The one thing that people in the USA forget is that nearly the entire utility infrastucture of the US was built with either the help of the peoples government, or the government entirely. (if you live outside of a major city, odds are the federal government paid for all the utilities that are at you house, your power, phone, water and sewer, if you are lucky to have sewer.)

The only reponse the people of the US will have after the corporate takeover of the FCC, will be to have a government (peoples) run broadband system. (the people used to own the “public airwaves”) You hate to go this far, but what choice will we have when the voices of corporate opposition are drowned out, or eliminated altogether by the “free market”?

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Mike789's avatar

By Mike789, December 27, 2010 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment

Sure thing. They built the pipes and hence should have unlimited dominion. Not so fast. They had to get right of way and/or purchase bandwidth which is by law our, the people’s, dominion. Property easements are public property, I believe.  The notion that there is, by definition, a difference in a phone land line and and internet connection is a sidestep from established principle of privacy but also contradicts precepts of agreement under which access was originally granted to corporations. The FCC gave up too much. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile ~ just like with derivatives cubed.
  So, I’ll let corporations promulgate their agendas to market wares and services within pipes; wire, cable and radio wave, nonetheless, they’re doing it on grounds fought for with blood.

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By Rixar13, December 27, 2010 at 11:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Internet common carriage is presently dead in the water. The upshot is that telecommunication and telephone companies can now decide, within certain limits of fair competition, what content providers can operate on the Internet.”

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BR549's avatar

By BR549, December 27, 2010 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

Bill,
The issue over the “free” part of the “free internet” was about openness, ....... not shekels.

Secondly, the ruling by the FCC is only a mirror of the dystopian mindset of our out of touch legislature; that corrupted and still corruptible body of seething avaricious egoists with no social conscience or integrity. Our government is like a rabid dog, chasing its own tail until one day soon it will collapse in an exhausted heap. Actually, it isn’t OUR government because WE the People had been wishing, hoping , and voting for something different. The government we have is the result of a gang of interlopers who have been sneaking in over the years and taking and oath they had no intention of living up to. That is THEIR government, not ours. We want OUR government back.

My two cents.

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By DarthMiffy, December 27, 2010 at 1:39 am Link to this comment

Bill,

What options do we have that are not worse than a totally open and unrestricted
internet, worldwide?

Please specify.

(Good on you for ditching the TV.)

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By gerard, December 27, 2010 at 12:58 am Link to this comment

Raking off profits is one thing, but this being a capitalist nation with no conscience, there seems little we can do about that.

It’s freedom of information I worry about, and open communication. That’s what is most likely to disappear.  Remember, owners don’t want workers to be independent thinkers.  Owners wand followers, buyers, users who are afraid of their shadow, who don’t even know or care when they aren’t getting true information vital to democracy.

This is precisely what Assange and Manning were interested in—free, vital information for the people—particularly in this case about US foreign policy, but ultimately about everything.  If you read Assange’s (mostly squelched) statement of reasons, you know how vital he considers internet freedom.  Let him and Manning be sacrificed and you will be sorry later—not just for their lives (which is very important) but for freedom of both internet access and content.

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By Bill, December 26, 2010 at 10:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ummmm, the internet is not free.  You pay a decent charge for access.  Then
you pay for a device that allows you to access and use it. 

I do get the idea of making it like the phone system, or TV: pay for device, pay
for access, pay for content.

But where do the money hounds thinks all this ends?  TV content access (and TV is mostly a vast wasteland of garbage) got to a price point some years ago that I decided it added noting or very little to my life that made it worth paying for.  Turned more to reading great literature, my personal digital creative pursuits, and my trusty great quality mahogany OM guitar which is quite nice indeed and was also nicely less in cost when new, than some pay for a year of a flush cable package.  I have enjoyed it now for 6 years and it is still in fantastic condition, beautiful in looks and sound and all fine wood construction.

These buggers are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.  At a time when consumers are being squeezed dry, the greed mongers are looking for the last drops of blood.

Think about this for a moment, I have the cheapest Verizon package for my minimalist cell.  It costs 42 bucks a month.  Let’s say 1/3 of all citizens in the US have the same bottom level package.  105 million users x $42/month = $6.3 billion annually, and I have news the infrastructure was paid for some time ago.  Someone is getting incredibly wealthy, and it is not working people.

Hey consumers, we have options!!!

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