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The Battle Over Net Neutrality Rages On

The Battle Over Net Neutrality Rages On

Four months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supposedly settled the issue, the battle over Net Neutrality is still raging. If anything, it’s just beginning to heat up. On April 8, the Republican-controlled Congress resolved to repeal the FCC’s recent legislation surrounding Internet protections, and conservative activists are fighting tooth and nail to push back any apparent gains before they are realized. At the same time, media reform advocates say that the FCC’s December ruling on broadband policy did not go far enough in establishing consumer-friendly regulatory guidelines across both Internet and mobile platforms.

Meanwhile, the impact of the announced merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is still up for debate, and federal officials are raising anti-trust concerns against Google.

Genachowski comes to Oakland

Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski met with mayors from the Bay Area in Oakland to tout a mobile apps contest (a partnership with the Knight Foundation) as a way to reduce the digital divide, which has left one-third of Americans without broadband access. Genachowski remarked that those facing digital exclusion were primarily immigrants, minorities, disabled people, and other underserved communities. However, as I reported for Oakland Local, the visit was perhaps more notable for what Genachowski didn’t say.

At the press conference I attended, Genachowski didn’t take any questions, so asking him about the omission of Net Neutrality provisions for wireless carriers wasn’t possible. Nor could I ask him about the upcoming threat posed to low-power TV stations by mobile TV, which could hit 20 U.S. markets this year. Mobile TV could deprive low-power stations of critical bandwidth. Many of these stations reach diverse demographics that are underserved by network and mainstream cable television.

FCC Commissioner at NCMR: System ‘Out of Control’

The lack of a two-way discussion between the nation’s most powerful telecommunications official was disappointing, especially since numerous concerns remain over how the FCC will enforce media policy moving forward. As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps recently said at the National Conference for Media Reform, held April 8-10 in Boston: “just give us some sign that the FCC is putting the brakes on a system that is spinning dangerously out of control.”

Copps’ fiery speech was only one of many highlights at the NCMR, which was attended by thousands of people that are passionately interested in changing media. Some of the most inspiring moments included panels on music journalism and localism; comics as journalism’s future; race as a media issue; and how old-school journos are adapting to today’s new media world; and performance artist Sarah Jones inhabiting a range of different characters at the opening plenary.

Truthout’s Susie Cagle has an illustrated recap of NCMR here, and an archive of GRITtv’s segments from the conference is available here.

House Disapproves of Net Neutrality

In a follow-up to an earlier story, Truthout’s Nadia Prupis writes about an April 8 resolution by Congress to repeal the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations. The vote, which passed 240-179, was largely partisan, with only six Democrats crossing party lines to support it. Republicans characterized the FCC’s regulation of the Internet as a “power grab,” questioning the agency’s authority to establish guidelines for cyberspace.

But Democrats countered that the resolution “disables a free and open Internet” and is an attempt to stifle innovation in the tech sector, a charge which is disputed by right-wing nonprofits like FreedomWorks. As Prupis reports, however, that group has received funding from both Verizon and AT&T, and the telecommunications companies “stand to benefit if the law is overturned.”

Despite the partisan rhetoric, the vote was largely symbolic, as the Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to endorse the resolution.

Tea Party: Net Neutrality = ‘Media Marxism’

As Mother Jones‘ Stephanie Mencimer reports, Net Neutrality has also come under fire from the Tea Party. Mencimer points out the irony of such a stance, noting that while an open Internet allows “even the smallest, poorest tea party group… the potential to reach a large audience,” the right-wing activists “inexplicably equate net neutrality with Marxism.”

Tea Party spokesman and Virginia Senate candidate James Radtke is quoted as saying “Net neutrality is an innocuous sounding term for what is really media Marxism.” He goes on to call it “an ideological attempt by those on the left to control the greatest means for the distribution of information ever devised.”

Yet Mencimer points out that much of the netroots activism practiced by the Tea Party has relied on an open Internet, unrestricted by ideological content, which Net Neutrality is intended to protect.

“The tea party’s position on net neutrality,” she writes, “has seemed counterintuitive, given just how badly conservative activists could be screwed by the big cable and phone companies should net neutrality rules be repealed. The whole movement has been organized online, making the Internet’s level playing field a crucial element to its success.”

Wireless Mega-Mergers and Ethnic Communities

New America Media’s Jehangir Khattak details how the AT&T/T-Mobile mega-merger could impact ethnic communities. The skinny: Ethnic populations “could be confronted by reduced service access and higher costs,” Khattak writes.

Khattak outlines the basic provisions of the merger and AT&T’s spin; according to the company, the deal could bring 4G LTE technology to 95 percent of the U.S. population. He also speaks with several members of the ethnic press, who voice concerns that the deal might allow the telecommunications giant to “control the quality of services, such as by dictating the available applications, software or the amount of data they’d allow to be transferred.”

Another concern: the “arcane,” “jargon-ridden” tech-speak of media policy is difficult for immigrant populations to decipher.

Khattak also notes that Genachowski’s compromise on Net Neutrality suggests the FCC Chairman is “unlikely to take the hard line, pro-regulatory stance… expected of him” by ethnic media advocates.

Google Under Federal Scrutiny — Again

Also in Truthout, Nadia Prupis reports that Google has come under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice, which are considering launching an antitrust probe against the popular search engine.

As Prupis writes, “The DOJ recently approved Google’s $700 million deal with travel company ITA Software, but antitrust regulators are concerned that the acquisition may threaten competition in the travel information industry; specifically, the FTC is worried that Google could use the software to direct users to its own sites, depriving similar web sites such as Orbitz, Kayak and TripAdvisor of fair competition.”

The FTC’s interest in the case comes on the heels of DOJ’s antitrust division filing a civil lawsuit to block Google’s acquisition of ITA, citing concerns that airfare websites should have access to ITA’s software to keep competition “robust.” Though Google reportedly agreed to license that software to competitors, the FTC’s concern indicates that serious questions remain about Google’s potential to unfairly dominate the market, should the deal go through.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.

Related Stories:

What Does Proposed AT&T and T-Mobile Merger Mean?

Sens. Cantwell and Franken Push Net Neutrality Bill

A Disturbing Vision for the Future of the Internet

 

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Photo courtesy of smallritual via flickr
Written By Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

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18 comments

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8:29PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

FCC= Full Corporate Control Savvy?

7:29PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

I love this.

The real Marxists, censorship nuts, people with something to hide are all opposed to net neutrality.

Being opposed to net neutrality automatically means that one has something to hide that they really do not want anyone to know about. Net neutrality means that they have control over the flow of information, just like Soviet Russia, Cuba, Iran, Libya, China and any of the other Communist/fascist/theocratic countries on the planet.

Those people do not need to be controlling the flow of information. Al that they represent is a clear and present danger to our American way of life.

3:20PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

also not mentioned is.....most of the companies involved, have 'rammed' their customers, have gotten tax,business rebates,was payed to install equipment they never did do, and over charged customers.
These are the companies that want to own all the internet.
This merger does not make me feel all warm and cosy.

3:09PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

As always the repubathugs and their cronies and &ss backwards and stupid about everything, pushing for that police state. They are a bigger threat to democracy than any terrorist. Traitors!

1:56PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

Take your freakin' hands off the internet. This may be the ONLY thing I believe should be essentially unregulated outside harmful activity like virus', trojan horses, ID theft, etc.

1:13PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

As long as there's money to be made, the corporations will keep pushing from every direction they can find until they own it and can charge as much as possible for it. Even then, people will be forced to sit through commercials that can't be shut off and invasive information gathering. The corporations and the government are joined at the hip now; if things keep going as they are, soon enough there won't be any difference at all. Full-blown fascism is what both are aiming for, after all.

As for the Tea Party, as usual they're aiming at their own feet; they specialize in voting against their own interests. "...an ideological attempt by those on the left to control the greatest means for the distribution of information ever devised." To them, a means of communication that's totally open and free is by definition "controlled by the Left." They say they want freedom - but only for themselves, and even that isn't what they'll end up with as long as they align themselves with the Radical Right. They just don't get it that a truly "free market" means that the biggest and richest get it ALL, and that ISN'T them. It's a perfect path to monopoly for the rich and hobbles for everyone else, exactly what's happening now in business.

Ian

1:02PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

Net neutrality could still exist despite mergers like AT&T with T-Mobile. BUT it would require carefully considered and worded legislation that prevented net favoritism, and which prevented any service provider from blocking any site due to its political or ideological content.

I suspect the Teabaggers' concerns with net neutrality stem from their belief that the neutral net doesn't put their own sites at the top of the list in every political search. They think it's Marxist to make truth, fact, and rational thought equal to their own ideology, and so blame those who support allowing searchers to reach the truth for their own lack or credibility.

12:56PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

Listen you can talk all the razzle dazzle politi-talk you want and the fact remains that its too late to act like the internet is property to be divided among those who have by hook or crook planted claims. The damage to the economy alone if a few powerful groups were able to claim control over who gets to see or experience what on the net would be huge. I wouldn't know where to begin to show how many businesses or even industries have grown to depend or even are based on the mass populace having access. There is a reason why TV and radio was available to the general public in the past and we need to remember the same reasons still are true.

It may feel safe to to believe that the big controllers have your best interest at heart and will not mess with your world but its simply not true. In regards to telecom there have been mergers that should never have been allowed, there are more in the works now. There is literally very little left of competition in terms of braudbrand, there are agreements that have been made in complete disregard to the public trust, with out public knowledge and for this reason many people are stuck using one provider if they want high speed that is comparable to cable.

The FCC has simply not been doing its job. The number of times the subjective term "reasonable" is used in the new FCC guidelines for net neutrality makes it basically a set of fluff rules that leave way too much to interpretation.

11:08AM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

If this is so important, why doesn't the Corporation for Public Broadcasting provide broadband?

10:38AM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

Given that the internet is essentially people posting their own 95 theses to the church door, we must be vigilant to ensure that everyone has access to a church door - not necessarily the same church door however.

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