Tuesday, December 16, 2008

WSJ Gets It Wrong: Net Neutrality Still in Front Seat.

We are now on the cusp of making history for an open Internet. But don't tell that to the Wall Street Journal, which today published an article that portrayed the movement for Net Neutrality as losing steam.

Say what?

Obama: 'Backseat to no one'
In addition to the millions of Americans who have taken a stand in support of Net Neutrality, we have an incoming president who has pledged to "take a back seat to no one" in his commitment to Net Neutrality.

Morevover, several new members of Congress pledged their allegiance to Net Neutrality while getting elected. They all agree that the Internet should remain free and open to all users -- that we should be able to visit any Web content without network operators or others blocking, impairing or degrading our connection.

Journal Story: Much Ado About Nothing

It’s no surprise then, as we are about to make history, that powerful forces are aligning to stop this fundamental change from happening. The Wall Street Journal story paints support for Net Neutrality as ebbing, confusing a Google plan to utilize “edge caching” technology as a fundamental violation of Net Neutrality by one of its biggest corporate supporters.

According to Google, the “secret” program referred to by the Journal is nothing more a content caching technology that has been going on for years. There is no prioritization, they write, nor is there an ISP choosing fast lanes and slow lanes. Hundreds of companies do this to move content geographically closer to end-users.

Google has been a moving target for phone and cable industry lobbyists and their hired shills. “The Wall Street Journal is playing vessel for the latest attack,” writes Karl Bode of Broadband Reports.

“It's a nice win for whichever cable company leaked the news as it paints Google as a hypocrite ahead of next year's renewed fight over network neutrality legislation,” Bode continues. “However, the Wall Street Journal is intentionally distorting Google's proposal for political effect.”

(David Isenberg goes one step further, saying the Journal story set off his special detector.)

The Public Mandate

If Google or any other tech company were secretly violating Net Neutrality, there would be an absolute and cataclysmic backlash from the grassroots and netroots who have made Net Neutrality a signature issue in 21st Century politics. The Internet community would come crashing down on their heads like Minutemen on Benedict Arnold.

Those covering this issue love to portray Net Neutrality as clash of corporate titans. But it’s not up to AT&T, Comcast -- or Google -- whether we have Net Neutrality. It’s up to the public, and we’re not giving up the fight for a free and open Internet.

The Journal story also implies that President-elect Barack Obama has softened his support for Net Neutrality. Where’s the evidence of that? Oddly, the journal doesn’t actually ask Obama or his transition team to comment.

Obama in the Driver's Seat

We do know this though. The president-elect has made numerous public statements on the campaign trail and published a detailed policy document placing Net Neutrality as his top priority. He’s explicitly opposed paid “quality of service” arrangements and was also a co-sponsor of the Dorgan-Snowe bill that is the strongest Net Neutrality legislation ever proposed.

Contrary to claims of the Journal that Net Neutrality forces are receding, we are actually closer now than ever before to victory. We have arrived at the moment when Net Neutrality has its greatest appeal, clearest need, and best chance of becoming law.

Our opponents will try to divide and distract us. But now is not the time to retreat but to move forward.

= = = =
UPDATE: On Monday, SavetheInternet.com asked its activists to write President-elect Obama and ask him to re-affirm his commitment to Net Neutrality. Later in the day he did. Read the report at "Talking Points Memo."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Barack's Broadband Roadmap

In a Saturday morning YouTube address, President-elect Barack Obama gave the nation a first glimpse at his administration's stimulus plan - and connecting everyone to the Internet was a main route on his roadmap to economic recovery.

"Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they'll get that chance when I'm President," he said. "Because that's how we'll strengthen America's competitiveness in the world."

That closing the digital divide ranks so highly on Obama's economic agenda might come as a surprise to some.

Obama: "Every child should have a chance to get online"
But like rural electrification and Interstate highway systems in the 20th century, Internet connectivity should be thought of as infrastructure that will light the way to 21st-century prosperity.

And it is not merely a matter of national pride. Getting more people connected is an issue with life-or-death consequences. Just 24 hours before Obama's speech, the U.S. Labor Department released figures showing an alarming unemployment rate of 6.7 percent. More than 533,000 jobs were lost November alone -- the worst job loss in 34 years.

The Internet could prove to be our path to economic salvation. A 2007 study by the Brookings Institution and MIT found that a one-digit increase in U.S. per-capita broadband penetration equates to an additional American 300,000 jobs. If our broadband penetration were as high as a country like Denmark, for example, we could expect more than 3 million additional jobs in America.

Making Good

In making this pledge to connect everyone, Obama has bravely stepped into an Internet void left by his predecessor. Over the past eight years, the United States has fallen from fourth to 15th in the world in terms of high-speed Internet adoption. More than 40 percent of American homes are not connected to high-speed Internet services.

The Bush administration has been in the habit of making high-minded promises about the Internet while delivering massive handouts to the cable and phone giants who seem more interested in padding profits than building out connections to those who need them most.

In his Saturday address, Obama promised to install computers in classrooms and extend high-speed Internet to under-served areas. These goals echo those expressed by candidate Obama on the trail in 2008 and on his transition Web site www.change.gov.

President Bush made a similar sounding pledge in 2004 without delivering. The challenge for Obama -- and all of us -- is to dig into the details and really get the work done.

Lighting the Way

At Free Press, we have some ideas. Our policy shop just released a guide to media reform for the new administration and Congress, which can help forge a path to a better Internet.

The document calls upon the next Federal Communications Commission to set new speed standards for broadband; collect meaningful data on deployment; transition the Universal Service Fund toward digital infrastructure; and open networks to stimulate broadband competition.

Reforming the ways we allocate spectrum for Internet use is also a centerpiece. New ideas about sharing vacant airwaves and prying open existing networks should be prioritized. With more Americans using cell phones than the Internet, we need to make sure that our evolving mobile experience includes an open Internet as much as possible.

The Free Press document urges the new administration to lay the groundwork in Congress for new telecommunications law that recognizes the growing convergence of communications platforms.

"The existing statutes were designed for a bygone era -- when different services and technologies had different regulatory frameworks," it states. "Now we are in the era ... where virtually all media and communications move on the same digital networks. The law must catch up with technology and the market."

Internet for Everyone

Obama seems to get it more than his predecessor, and his screen-side chat strikes a hopeful note. Sadly, there is still a huge mass of Americans who couldn't get online to hear it.

On the same day of Obama's YouTube pledge, InternetforEveryone.org -- a broad-based initiative to connect every American to a fast, open and affordable Internet -- had its first interactive town hall meeting to address this problem.

Hundreds gathered in Los Angeles to discuss ways to close the digital divide. This discussion will be combined with feedback from upcoming town hall meetings and delivered to the Obama administration and Congress as a tangible plan of action.

Obama is going to need to listen to those beyond the Beltway to best build a better Internet for everyone.

His pledge gives us the chance to have a long overdue public conversation about what the future of the Internet should look like. This is where the rubber meets the road on the information superhighway -- and it's Obama's best chance to deliver on his promises of change for millions.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Internet for Everyone -- Los Angeles

Follows are my opening comments for our first InternetforEveryone.org town hall meeting, which occurred on Saturday, December 6 in Los Angeles:

Thank you all for coming in out of the Los Angeles sun today. I grew up in rain-soaked Seattle so seeing this bright, warm city in December is always an inspiration for me.

We’ve invited you here today to join us in an important conversation about the Internet.

It’s a conversation that’s happening at a very exciting time in America.

2008 has been a year of political awakening. A little more than a month ago, on Election Day, millions of people who had not once set foot inside a voting booth showed up.

But it didn’t start there. For many of them, their newfound participation was forged in a new online political arena, one that – for the most part – accepts all comers, welcomes all points of view and turns away no dissent.

The Internet has only been around for a generation, but in that time it’s made possible an amazing transformation in politics – one that’s driven from the bottom up, by the people who come online every day.

What you’re doing here today is a part of this transformation. It’s a transformation in our democracy.

But we’re not here today simply to praise the Internet but to look to those people in the United States who have been left off the grid. New political involvement, economic opportunity and free speech still remain out of reach for millions of them.

We want to learn more about the challenges that they face so we can meet this 21st century problem with a 21st century solution.

Over the past year, InternetforEveryone.org has been building a national coalition of public interest groups, consumer advocates, educators, and political and business leaders.

Through our work together, we have learned one thing: When it comes to the Internet, views are as diverse as the millions of Web sites that are scattered across the network.

Some see the Internet as their opportunity to innovate, imagine and invent. Others need it to connect with family and friends living just next door, or as far away as Vietnam or Argentina.

For 17-year-old Antonio Reyes living in nearby San Fernando Valley it’s a chance to fill out college applications and fulfill his dream of becoming a pediatrician.

But one of the strongest messages that we have heard from all the members of Internet for Everyone is this:

Now, is the right time to take America’s Internet to the next level … to open the doors of Internet opportunity to everyone, and make sure that every child in this nation can get connected.

This Town Hall Meeting serves to respond to this message, to seize upon this historical moment and to advance a very important issue.


This is the first in a series of national InternetforEveryone meetings. The purpose of these meetings is two fold.

First, we need to create a framework for a national broadband plan. This framework will be built on feedback collected from you today and during other meetings happening in the coming months across the country.

It will be delivered to the new Obama administration and Congress in Washington as a people-powered guide to a better Internet.

Our second objective is not only to convey this public vision, but to promote a tangible plan of action.

This is where you come in.

We hope to inspire you today to take actions that will advance the goals of Internet for Everyone. In the room here today, and in the discussions you’re about to have, you’ll find ways to get involved and spread the word.


Before I turn over this meeting to our great facilitator Diane, I’d like to draw your attention to the four principles of Internet for Everyone.

When we began to organize this coalition we settled on these four principles as the building blocks for a better Internet in America.

They are Access, Choice, Openness and Innovation. We describe each in the discussion guides that are at your table and will explore these principles in some detail as we work through today’s agenda.


Finally, before we start, I just want to thank a few people in the room for helping make today possible.

We’re grateful for the assistance of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications.

We’re also pleased that the Communications Workers of America and that Southern California ACLU are supporters of this meeting. We’re grateful to Congresswoman Maxine Waters from the nearby 35th District who will be joining us to make some remarks later today.

Throughout the day you’ll notice the InternetforEveryone staff who have made this meeting possible. They are supported by a team of volunteers and facilitators, whom you’ll get to know as well.

Their work here has been tremendous.

And most importantly, I’d like to thank you the participants. Thanks for taking the time to participate here, fully.

For my part, I promise that your efforts today will be heard – not just by others in this room but by those newcomers in Washington, D.C., who have promised to deliver on change. Making this a reality is my commitment to you.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

No Ifs, Ands or Butts, the New FCC Must Focus on Neutrality

The Denver Post today urged a new Federal Communications Commission to get its mind off of "buttocks" and onto more serious issues like Net Neutrality.

The editorial board was referring to a case now before the U.S. Court of Appeals, in which the agency’s top legal minds are trying to determine whether some bare cheeks featured on a 2003 episode of "NYPD Blue" warrant indecency fines for ABC.

"This is the place to which the FCC under the Bush administration has brought us," the Post editors write. "We are hopeful that Barack Obama will appoint a new FCC chair with a moderate sensibility and a healthier respect for constitutional issues."

Obama: Net Neutrality will be top concern of my FCC chair
Obama is expected to appoint a new FCC chair at any moment. While there's been a flurry of speculation over his choice, no clear name has emerged from the pack.

Whomever the president-elect picks for the job, the nation's new top media regulator will face more heady concerns than indecency. In 2009, we expect to see new rules protecting Net Neutrality. Other changes under an Obama administration could include reversing runaway media consolidation and stopping pay-for-play news, radio payola and propaganda.

Thousands of people have already identified these as among their priorities for the new Commission, according to an online poll posted on Tuesday.

According to the latest count, these are voters' top four priorities:

  • Protect an open Internet by enforcing Net Neutrality

  • Break up media conglomerates and return stations to local control

  • Stop propaganda, fake news and radio payola

  • Open more public airwaves to high-speed Internet access

The good news is that the incoming Obama administration's tech and Internet agenda echoes the public's wish-list. In fact, protecting Net Neutrality is number one on Obama's list of tech to-dos.

To help the new administration navigate the political minefield between campaign promises and legislative reality, Free Press' policy shop just released a presidential road map for media reform.

"Leadership on [Net Neutrality] will settle the question of the future of the open Internet, ending several years of rancorous fighting that pit consumer advocates and tech companies against network owners," according to Free Press. "The Obama administration should move swiftly to put Net Neutrality into the law as a cornerstone of 21st century telecommunications policy."

As for the current FCC's obsession with the occasional flash of indecency, it's time to turn the other cheek and get to more important work ahead.