Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Telco Lobby Abhors a Vocal Public

In the six months since the Coalition was launched, millions of Americans have joined the campaign, spoken out for Internet freedom and put Congress and the phone companies on notice.

This grassroots movement barely existed at the beginning of 2006. Now we're on the verge of toppling one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.

The reason for our success? Organized and overwhelming public support for a free and open Internet.

Staying Organized and Energized

Phone and cable companies have spent more than $100 million on lobbyists, Astroturf groups, political campaigns and PR firms. But they are finding that money can't overcome organized public opposition.

Internet users have mounted a defense of Net Neutrality using blogs, YouTube videos, MySpace sites and emails to send Congress an overwhelming message of public support for a free and open Internet — and opposition to any legislation that cedes control of the Internet to the phone and cable companies.'s grassroots success has been covered in the pages of nearly every major U.S. newspaper and on innumerable blogs. According to a recent article at, our "ragtag army" has put Congress and phone lobbyists on the run.

Tonight, Oct 18, PBS stations will air "The Net at Risk," a 90-minute documentary produced by Bill Moyers, which hails our grassroots efforts to support Net Neutrality (check local listings). After the show, participate in a live Web debate featuring Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott and phone company flack Mike McCurry of the Astroturf organization Hands off the Internet. This discussion will no doubt show -- once again -- that the arguments of phone company lobbyists and shills crumble in the face of a vocal and well-organized public.

But the debate shouldn't end there.

Stopping the Lame Duck Congress

While we have stymied the Internet gatekeepers' efforts thus far, we're not out of the woods yet.

The Senate version of the telecommunications bill -- sponsored by Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska -- will not come to the floor for a vote before the Nov. 7 midterm election. But we must guard against any attempt by Congress to sneak through this legislation during the post-election "lame-duck" session. Coalition members need to keep the heat on elected officials in November and December -- before the 209th Congress gavels to a close. We need to pay particular attention to any senator who might side with the phone companies and attempt to pass Stevens' bill under the dark of night.

Keeping the Public Engaged

If Congress can't pass a communications bill in 2006, it will have to start over in January. It's possible that we will have a House and Senate that are more sympathetic to Net Neutrality. But don't expect the phone companies to simply roll over in 2007.

If we hold out against the phone companies until 2007, we'll have scored a victory "of historic proportions," according to Geov Parrish of

"Name the last time a lobby with that much power and money was stymied in its top legislative priority by a citizen movement," Parrish wrote "Offhand, I can't think of any examples at all. And this during the most corrupt, lobbyist-pliant Congress in recent American history."

Our success thus far reflects the Internet's new power to mobilize millions of people as a democratizing force. We've sent a potent message to Washington and need to go on the offensive in 2007 to ensure that Net Neutrality becomes law.

That's why the public's active involvement is so important. The more an organized public is engaged in the policy-making process, the more likely the Internet that Congress shapes will serve the people, not just powerful corporations.

If we keep up this fight, the era of corrupt media policy will soon come to an end.

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