Thursday, September 13, 2007

Uncovering DOJ's Hit Against an Open Internet

Net neutrality supporters today submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Justice to shed light on their recent hit job against net neutrality.

The request, submitted by Free Press, the media reform group that coordinates the Coalition, seeks to uncover whether industry lobbyists or White House politics had a hand in the Justice Department's unusual, and unusually late, action.

Lame Duck Alberto

Gonzales: Mum for Now

On Sept. 6, the FCC received an ex parte filing nearly two months after the FCC's formal comment period on net neutrality had closed, raising significant questions about timing and intent. The filing encouraged the FCC to allow phone and cable companies to filter Web traffic and wall off parts of the Web for those that pay an extra toll.

Prying Open Justice

"We want to know what motivated the Department of Justice to oppose net neutrality this late in the process," said Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press and author of the request.

"The filing lacks any evidence of serious investigation into this critical issue and fits into a pattern of politically motivated decisions coming out of the Justice Department. We want to know if the Bush administration's lawyers reached out to any of the thousands of groups, businesses or individuals who support net neutrality -- or if they only talked to industry lobbyists at AT&T and Verizon."

The DOJ ruling raises legitimate concern that powerful corporate and White House gatekeepers are working together to dismantle Internet freedoms and impose their will upon the Web.

Between the White House and AT&T

The Justice Department filing parroted phone and cable industry arguments against net neutrality. It's also part of an emerging pattern of collusion between the White House and those companies that control access to high-speed Internet service for more than 96 percent of residential users in America.

In late 2006, the DOJ's antitrust division rubber-stamped AT&T's takeover of BellSouth -- the largest telecommunications merger in history -- without seeking any consumer protections. The FCC ultimately required AT&T to respect net neutrality for two years as a condition of approving the deal.

Last month the U.S. Director of intelligence revealed that the government and AT&T had conspired in far-reaching efforts to spy on Americans without legal warrant -- efforts for which the Bush administration is now seeking to give immunity from prosecution to AT&T and other phone companies.

Lastly, the filing came during Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' final days at the helm of Justice -- raising concerns that the departing attorney general was seeking to deliver last-minute favors for White House allies.

Short Changing the Public on Universal Access

The Bush administration has fallen well short of its goal of universal access to the Internet by 2007, instead opting for policies that support the duopoly of cable and telephone companies and stifle free market competition.

Actions taken against privacy and the open Internet by AT&T, Verizon and the Bush administration are precisely why we need to make net neutrality the law. The lack of broadband competition has given giant companies like AT&T enormous power to advance their own interests -- at a huge public expense.

By replacing duopoly control with healthy competition on open and free networks we can achieve universal and affordable high-speed access for everyone. Net neutrality would protect Americans from the types of Internet gatekeeping favored by the White House and their phone and cable allies.

Today's FOIA request could dig up more evidence of efforts in Washington to dismantle basic Web freedoms and distort the Internet for financial and political gain. It's now up to the Justice Department to respond.

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