Thursday, December 28, 2006

AT&T Yields to Neutrality, Congress is Next

In a striking victory for Internet freedom advocates, AT&T officials agreed on Thursday night to adhere to strict Network Neutrality conditions if allowed to complete their proposed $85 billion merger with BellSouth.

Ed Does Net Neutrality

Neutralized for now:
AT&T Chief Ed Whitacre

The phone company filed a "letter of commitment" with the Federal Communications Commission in which it promises to observe Net Neutrality principles for at least 24 months. Now it's left to Congress to follow the FCC's lead and make Net Neutrality permanent under the law.

According to AT&T's letter, the merged company:
"… commits that it will maintain a neutral network and neutral routing in its wireline broadband Internet access service. This commitment shall be satisfied by AT&T/BellSouth's agreement not to provide or to sell to Internet content, application, or service providers, including those affiliated with AT&T/BellSouth, any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet transmitted over AT&T/BellSouth's wireline broadband Internet access service based on its source, ownership or destination."

AT&T's concession followed more than a week of often pointed negotiations with the two Democrats on the commission, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. This was compounded by tens of thousands of letters from and Free Press activists who demanded that the FCC allow no merger without Net Neutrality.

Approval of the merger by the full commission could come as early as Friday, according to the Associated Press.

AT&T's agreement puts to rest their own executives' argument that Net Neutrality doesn't really exist. (Watch AT&T chief Ed Whitacre in action) The phone giant just committed to observing Net Neutrality and defined it in the text of its letter.

It also puts to rest the bogus argument that Net Neutrality will cripple the largest phone companies' plans to build out broadband services. AT&T agreed to this condition -- and also to offer cheaper broadband services – and yet they continue to expand their networks and offer services to the tune of $24.5 billion in gross annual profits in 2006.

AT&T's agreement to these merger terms reduces to industry spin their argument that Net Neutrality and profit are mutually exclusive.

Now It's Up To Congress

Now that the FCC and AT&T have agreed that Net Neutrality is right for the future of the Internet, it's time for Congress to forge legislation that instills this guiding principle into law.

As Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott recently said, "We are no longer having a debate about whether Net Neutrality should be the law of the land; we are having a debate about how and when."

With the help of FCC Commissioners Adelstein and Copps -- who held out for Net Neutrality against intense pressure from Chairman Kevin Martin and AT&T lobbyists -- we have won more than a temporary condition on a mega-merger. They have set the bar for the future of the Internet, and paved our path to success on Capitol Hill.

"Making Net Neutrality a condition of the largest merger in telecommunications history sets an important precedent," Scott said on Thursday. "It's now up to the new Congress to craft a forward-looking broadband policy that will bring the benefits of the Internet to all Americans. For free speech, democratic participation and economic innovation to thrive online, Net Neutrality must be the law."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Huge Victory for Real People as Telco Bill Dies

The gavel has fallen on the 109th Congress marking the demise of entrenched corporate efforts to legislate away our Internet freedoms -- and a stunning victory for real people who want to retain control of the Internet.

The fate of Net Neutrality has now been passed to what appears to be a more Web-friendly Congress.

Our Coalition pledges to work with new Members to craft policies that ensure all Americans can access the Internet and enjoy the unlimited choices it has to offer.

The end of this Congress -- and death of Sen. Ted Stevens' bad bill -- gives us the chance to have a long overdue public conversation about what the future of the Internet should look like. This will not only include ensuring Net Neutrality, but making the Internet faster, more affordable and accessible.

'Huge Victory for Real People'

As the 109th comes to a close, Coalition members today praised our efforts in 2006 and discussed ways we can work towards a better Internet:

"This is a huge victory for real people and a clear signal to the next Congress that standing up for big bold ideas is a winning political proposition," said Eli Pariser, executive director of Civic Action.

Companies like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth and Comcast spent more than $150 million to push Congress to gut Net Neutrality. But in the end, they couldn't overcome widespread public opposition.

"The people’s attention to the issue of Net Neutrality is more powerful than any legislation — and this year proves that," said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia University Law School and author of Who Controls the Internet.

'It's About Fairness'

Network Neutrality has been part of the Internet since its inception, ensuring that the service providers who control the "pipes" don’t interfere with content based on its ownership or source. "Net neutrality is just about fairness and a level playing field," said Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist. "It's that simple."

"Industry will be back with their money and phony grassroots groups," said Jeannine Kenney, senior policy analyst at Consumers Union. "But next time around, with a public now well-informed of what's at stake, we hope Congress will take up broadband policy that advances consumer -- not just industry -- needs."

The more than 850 groups in the Coalition also include the National Religious Broadcasters, the Service Employees International Union, the American Library Association, Educause, Gun Owners of America, Future of Music Coalition, Parents Television Council, the ACLU, and every major consumer group in the country. These are supported by a community of more than a million small businesspeople, bloggers, MySpacers, YouTubers, activists and citizens.

"As an activist and new media advocate, I am encouraged by our prospects in Congress for protecting the egalitarian spirit of the Internet and all people's unfettered access to it," said Christopher Rabb, founder of Afro-Netizen. "This fight has even greater impact on underserved communities, particularly among African-Americans, who rarely own or control the content we consume in mainstream media."

'The Fight for Net Neutrality Has only Begun'

While the defeat of HR 5252 is a major step forward, the future of the Internet remains in jeopardy until Congress passes meaningful, enforceable protections for Net Neutrality. Such legislation will be a top priority for members of the Coalition when the legislators return in January.

"Despite a Congress deeply in the pocket of telecom lobbyists, the public banded together to stop attacks on our free and open Internet," declared Michael Kieschnick, president of the Working Assets. "In 2007, we will continue the fight to preserve this precious public good by making Network Neutrality the law of the land."

"The potent combination of grassroots support and the facts stopped a bad bill," said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America. "But the fight for Net Neutrality has only begun."

Friday, December 08, 2006

New Congress Hostile to Ma Bell's Man at the FCC

Incoming congressional leaders are taking a bleak view of efforts by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to push through a series of Internet and media rulings before the Democratic Congress gains oversight of his agency.


FCC Chairman Martin (right) in bed with corporate lobbyists

Neutrality. To accomplish this he's turning screws on one commissioner, Robert McDowell, pressuring him to violate professional ethics, "un-recuse" himself and rubber stamp the $82 billion deal.

McDowell had opted out of the vote citing a conflict of interest because he used to work for one of the stakeholders in the merger debate.

But that wasn't good enough for Chairman Martin. The former Bush-Cheney errand boy reportedly has his eyes on the North Carolina governor's mansion and he's yearning to deliver on promises to the telecommunications giants that he hopes will return the favor when the time is right. (In the last cycle, AT&T gave 66 percent of their political patronage to Republican candidates.)

If forced, McDowell would cast Martin's deciding vote for the AT&T merger.

Today tens of thousands of Internet freedom activists are taking action to stop Martin's plan. They're signing on to a public letter to Congress, which states in part that:
"The federal government must not permit the reconstitution of Ma Bell without first protecting consumers and the public against anti-competitive activities and market failure. No public interest goals are served by handing out favors to large corporations without any safeguards to maximize public benefit."
You can sign the letter by clicking here.

Martin's move has drawn fire from some of the most powerful politicians in Washington. Tuesday, incoming leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committee that oversee the FCC, John Dingell (D-MI) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) both sent letters to Chairman Martin.

Dingell's letter demanded an explanation, and stated that he wants the merger handled "without compromising the ethical standards of the independent agency or the individual Commissioners involved." Inouye questioned Martin's rationale for forcing the vote, and urged him to negotiate with the Democratic FCC commissioners.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) wrote the chairman: “When public servants have identified and recused themselves from legitimate conflicts of interest, they should be commended for upholding the highest standards of public integrity.”

Will Martin hear the recent public outcry against political patronage and corruption (loudly delivered via the polls on Nov. 7) and bow to new leadership in Congress?

We'll find out later this month when the Commission is due to move on the merger. In the meantime, keep an eye on Martin as he maneuvers for special interests in a policy climate that has suddenly turned more hostile to his mix of politics and big business.

Friday, December 01, 2006

SavetheInternet Party for the Future

Eight months ago, very few of us had heard of Net Neutrality, and the Coalition didn't even exist. Now, not a day goes by without someone sending me a YouTube video, song, blog post or news clipping supporting Net Neutrality.

The Coalition has enabled more than a million Americans to speak out on the issue, moving Net Neutrality to the forefront of the debate over the future of the Internet.

We have stunned the phone and cable lobby and scuttled its plan to strong-arm Congress and make AT&T and Comcast the ultimate gatekeepers to online content.

By stopping Senator Stevens' massive handout to the network giants, we have opened a path to creating a more democratic broadband framework for 2007 and beyond.


Tom Morello at the 2003 Conference

You're Invited

We're now pleased to invite you to a blowout party to celebrate this historic accomplishment and begin the conversation on where we go from here.

On January 11 in Memphis, many of the more than 6,000 bloggers, YouTubers, Politicians, musicians, celebrities, activists and citizens who form the core of Coalition will come together on the eve of the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis.

We've booked the Gibson Guitar Factory from 9 p.m. until closing. They'll be a DJ, booze and dancing. We'll be projecting dozens of videos created by YouTube activists throughout the year.

Internet for Everyone

During the party we will unveil's blueprint for the future of the Internet -- a plan not just to secure Net Neutrality in the next Congress but also to build momentum behind a vision of a faster, more accessible broadband for everyone -- returning our country to the digital forefront.

The party will help kick off the National Conference for Media Reform, which is about establishing media reform and Internet freedom as winnable political issues.


2005 Conference Workshop

Speakers on hand over the long weekend include Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bill Moyers, Arianna Huffington, M-1 from Dead Prez, Helen Thomas, Jane Fonda, Davey D, Robert Greenwald, Dan Gillmor, Paul Reickhoff, Matt Stoller, Amy Goodman, Cenk Ugyur and others.

Victory in 2007 and Beyond members will participate on panels and workshops on online organizing, blogger activism, Net Neutrality, the future of the Internet, and to meet face to face, strategize and build momentum for winning Net Neutrality as a new Congress returns to Washington.

Panel topics include:
  • Going Viral -- The power of social networks to make change and circumvent the mainstream media.

  • SavetheInternet -- The success of the campaign and the challenges ahead in 2007. (with Free Press)

  • Universal Broadband -- Making high-speed Internet available for all.

  • Citizen Journalism -- Blogs and beyond, making an impact in the new media landscape. (with Dan Gillmor)

  • Media Reform and the Vote

  • The Press at War and the War on the Press (with Helen Thomas)

  • Trust or Verify -- propaganda and the press

  • Media Watchdogs – (with Media Matters)

  • From Computer Screens to the Streets -- activism in a wired world (with MoveOn)

Join us in Memphis. Celebrate the future of the Internet on Thursday and stay for a weekend of partying and plotting.

= = = =
Update: Bloggers can learn more about getting credentials for the weekend by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Michigan Residents Take Shot at AT&T Lame Duck

Having failed in efforts to pass federal legislation against Net Neutrality, powerful phone companies are now determined to take away Internet freedom at the state level. As reported in today's Los Angeles Times, the Coalition is organizing state-by-state to fight this effort.

Michigan is one of the first states in the Coalition's ongoing campaign to save the Internet from restrictive control by phone companies.

At a rally today inside the State Capitol a broad more than 50 local members of the Coalition joined local Michigan groups to speak out against a “lame duck” vote on the "Michigan Video Franchising Bill" (HB 6456) and demanded that state senators protect the future of the Internet for Michigan residents and businesses.

The event was attended by more than a dozen local media outlets (links to local reports to follow)

The Video Franchising Bill is a revision of Michigan's telecommunications laws being pushed by AT&T. The bill would allow the telecommunications giant to gut consumer protections, cherry-pick which communities receive high-speed broadband and video service, dodge local community access requirements, and ignore Net Neutrality -- the fundamental principle of the free and open Internet.

A committee vote on the bill could happen as early as Wednesday

Click here, to help stop this bill in Michigan.

This is simply a bad bill, written by phone company lobbyists. AT&T tells legislators and the public that it will expand access to the Internet. What they don’t reveal is that unless Net Neutrality protections are added, these corporations will be able to abuse their role as gatekeepers to the Internet — deciding which Web sites open quickly on your computer.

Here's what some had to say about today's rally:

David Pettit. Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM)
“It is critical to our democracy that our two most popular media outlets -- TV and the Internet -- remain diverse and robust marketplaces for ideas. If this bill is allowed to go forward, it will diminish local programming and destroy today’s fair and equal Internet.”

Andrew McLaughlin, Google Sr. Policy Counsel
"Consumers should benefit from full competition. What we're asking for is very simple: protect the consumer by making sure telephone and cable companies don't restrict the services that are available. Google would never have grown beyond a garage project if Internet providers had been able to block or slow access by individuals. It is essential for Michigan to preserve the Internet as an unmatched platform for innovation and job creation."

Mark Cooper, Director of Research at Consumer Federation of America
“This bill would make it easy for big telecom companies to ignore Michigan’s underserved areas and ‘cherry-pick’ only the most profitable customers. To create a level playing field for all consumers, Michigan needs policies that build high-speed broadband and video networks in all communities.”

Laurie Cirivello, Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center
Public access stations - and the local communities that depend on them -- would be hit especially hard by Michigan’s proposed video franchising legislation. “Provisions in this bill could silence the voices of over 400 community organizations that use public access in Grand Rapids alone.”

Other participants in today’s press conference included the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) Michigan Chapter and the Michigan Chapter of the Alliance for Community Media.

Following the press conference, the local groups and Coalition members delivered more than 18,000 petitions supporting Net Neutrality and urged their state senators to vote against the Michigan Video Franchising Bill.

Monday, November 20, 2006

On Net Neutrality: Congress Wakes Up to a Watchful Public

Capitol Hill
In the coming weeks, major communications companies and their high-spending lobbyists will do everything they can to dismiss the Nov. 7 political result and re-assert their control over the business of policymaking.

But what happened that Tuesday has much deeper ramifications for phone and cable efforts to set the agenda.

In 2006, political corruption tipped over into public view.

It wasn't just the glaring exposure of dirty-dealings by Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay and their cronies -- but of the depths to which greed has become a part of the system. Abramoff was just one fellow traveler along a money trail that led from K Street to Capitol Hill and back again.

The revolving door of congressional staffers-cum-industry lobbyists is a part the same corruption of our democracy that has become loathsome to voters.

K Street
The phone and cable lobby is a major player in this scheme. In the past 10 years, telecommunications, broadcasting and cable companies have spent more than half a billion dollars on campaign contributions, political action committees, PR firms and high-spending lobbyists to push through self interested policies.

These regulations – offering massive tax breaks, relaxed ownership rules, and unfettered control of the public airwaves -- all came at the public's expense.

On the issue of Net Neutrality, companies like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth and Comcast outspent public interest advocates on a scale of 500 to one – pushing Congress to remove the longstanding nondiscrimination rules that enabled the Internet to become the greatest vehicle for free speech and economic innovation.

To do away with these freedoms, the phone and cable lobby will continue to paint issues like Net Neutrality as "unnecessary government regulations" and dismiss the groundswell of public support for this issue as the handiwork of a few "liberal groups."

The public tolerance for this type of "Astroturfing" was tested in 2006. More than 75 percent of respondents to a September CBS/New York Time poll thought that most members of Congress "are more interested in serving special interest groups" than "serving the people they represent."

As much as anything, last week's vote sent a message to Congress to stop currying favor with moneyed interests and return to governing in the public interest.

Near the top of this new agenda will be restoring Net Neutrality. Many in Congress came to this realization after receiving more than a million letters from concerned citizens urging them to maintain a free and open Internet.

Whereas before, the phone companies had been confident that Congress would simply sign-off on industry-written legislation. Now -- as the 109th Congress comes to a close -- no member can vote with the telecom cartel without feeling the full heat of public scrutiny.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Net Freedom Fighters to Take Charge in Congress

Efforts to save the free and open Internet are a political win according to Nov. 7 election results. And the outlook for better, more public-spirited Internet legislation is now quite good.

Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) -- both strong supporters of Net Neutrality -- are set to take command of telecommunications policy when their party reclaims majority power in the House in January.

According to a report today in Broadcasting & Cable, Dingell said that he will take a new crack at a telecom reform bill, and that it would "clearly" have to better address Net Neutrality and the public interest in general. "Our duty is not just to the Bells, but to good public policy and to protecting the public interest," he told reporters.

Dingell is expected to be seated as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, the panel that oversees phone, cable operators and Internet companies.

Markey in Charge
Markey will take the helm of the key Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee. He has been an outspoken champion for Net Neutrality. New telecommunications legislation by Dingell and Markey in 2007 would likely include Net Neutrality mandates from the outset.

The victory vindicates soon-to-be-majority leader Nancy Pelosi, who decided over the summer to elevate Net Neutrality in the Democratic Party platform -- a risky move after many a Washington prognosticator declared it a dead issue. Not so.

In the Senate all pro-Net Neutrality Senators won decisive victories in their states. This list includes members of both parties:
>> Sen. Akaka won in Hawaii with 61%
>> Sen. Bingaman won in New Mexico with 70%
>> Sen. Cantwell won in Washington with 58%
>> Sen. Clinton won in New York with 67%
>> Sen. Feinstein won in California with 60%
>> Sen. Kennedy won in Massachussetts with 69%
>> Sen. Menendez won in New Jersey with 53%
>> Sen. Nelson won in Flordia with 60%
>> Sen. Nelson won in Nebraska with 64%
>> Sen. Snowe won in Maine with 73%

They will be joined by newcomers Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Sherrod Brown, (D-Ohio), Jim Webb (likely-D-Virginia) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) who have also come out in support of Net Neutrality.

Over the year, more and more politicians came to realize that the public was paying attention to this issue. The blogosphere caught fire and helped shift the momentum in Washington on this issue.

Whereas before, the big telephone companies and their coin-operated lobbyists were confident that Congress would simply roll over and do their bidding, today, no member of Congress can vote with the telecom cartel without full public scrutiny.

The major telecommunications bill pending in the Senate is a massive giveaway to the phone and cable companies, and should be blocked during the lame duck Congress. It’s time to start from scratch in 2007, and begin having a genuine public debate about what the future of the media and the Internet should look like.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Senators Ready Assault on Open Internet

Stevens and his bill
If national polls are right, the upcoming midterm election could bring a dramatic shift of power on Capitol Hill. But that may not save us from a last-minute assault on Net Neutrality by members of the outgoing Congress.

The issue of Net Neutrality has become the most contentious piece of a massive telecommunications bill pending in the Senate. Net Neutrality is the longstanding principle that keeps phone and cable companies from discriminating against the content traveling over their wires.

At issue is whether giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon should treat all packets of Web information the same or whether they would be allowed to charge extra fees to guarantee that certain Web sites run faster than others.

These discriminatory tolls would have a chilling effect on the egalitarian Internet, by tilting the net's historically level playing field to favor those companies that pay the most.

It's a predatory scheme has little to do with the free market, It's more like a mafia shake down writes Columbia Professor Timothy Wu. “While it’s one way to earn cash, it’s just too close to the Tony Soprano vision of networking: Use your position to make threats and extract payments.”

In 2006, the nation's largest phone and cable companies have spent more than $100 million on D.C. lobbyists, think tanks, ads and campaign contributions to strip Net Neutrality from the latest rewrite of the Telecommunications Act (H.R. 5252). But this legislation stalled in the Senate after more than a million people contacted Congress opposing its lack of safeguards.

Today, a grassroots movement that barely existed at the beginning the year is on the verge of toppling one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. But all that could change in the lame duck session.

Confronted with his failure to gain popular support for his telecom bill, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens is determined to force the bill to the floor after votes are counted on Nov. 7 — and before the next Congress convenes.
If Stevens’ succeeds it would be an affront to the millions of Americans who have spoken out in favor of Net Neutrality — and against plans by AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to seize control of the Internet.
The Coalition is keeping a special eye on this lame duck session. But we need your help. You can: Stevens and outgoing Senate Leader Bill Frist didn’t bring this bad bill to a vote before the elections because it was political dynamite. After Nov. 7, though, many are ready to deliver on promises to their high-spending friends in the telecom lobby. Americans need to stay on alert against any such lame duck maneuver.

It’s time for Congress to tear up this bad telecom bill and start over in 2007 with new legislation that protects Net Neutrality and the free and open Internet.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NY Times Op-Ed: Stranger than Fiction

Former FCC Chairman William Kennard threw a rabbit punch at Net Neutrality in a strange and questionable op-ed in the New York Times Saturday.

What makes this writing so strange is Kennard's notion that we can best help underserved communities by giving aid and comfort to the "merely rich" companies that routinely overlook them.

What makes the op-ed so questionable is that Kennard supports anti-Net Neutrality legislation without fully disclosing his own financial interests in its passage.

Let's start from the top.

Ignoring the 'Merely Poor'

Somehow Kennard treats the fight over Net Neutrality as a distraction to improved access for all:
"Unfortunately, the current debate in Washington is over “net neutrality” — that is, should network providers be able to charge some companies special fees for faster bandwidth ... Policymakers should rise above the net neutrality debate and focus on what America truly requires from the Internet: getting affordable broadband access to those who need it."

His solution, the nation's largest phone companies – whom he calls the "merely rich" -- should be unfettered by regulation so that they can bring better broadband to previously under-served communities.

Kennard's argument conveniently ignores the past eight years -- under a regulatory regime created in part by Kennard's decisions -- during which access to the Internet for most Americans has become controlled by a handful of companies. During the same time, increases in cost per bandwidth have priced many communities out of the market.

In the years since Kennard helped established the regulatory framework, the United States has fallen from first to 16th in the world in broadband penetration, according to the International Telecommunications Union. It's gotten so bad that The U.S. has gone from 1st in the world to rivaling, as he puts it, Slovenia.

A Problem of His Making

That's bad enough. But then Kennard's piece gets stranger than fiction.

He was the Chairman of the FCC at the time that DSL and cable modems began to roll out. Had he explicitly defined broadband as a common carrier (and hence formally subject to nondiscrimination requirements) and had the FCC produce an iron clad record to support that position, it is quite probable that we would never have opened the opportunity for the network operators to use Kennard's loopholes, as AT&T Chairman Ed Whitacre explained, to craft plans for a discriminatory tax on Web sites.

Kennard could have made Net Neutrality more enforceable and capital would have adapted itself to that framework. Instead, he put his fingers in his ears and refused to deal with the problem. This permitted the network operators to organize their legislators, lobbyists and shills to eventually lead us to the path we have taken now.

It could be Kennard’s fault that we’re in this Net Neutrality battle at all. To come out now in the pages of the New York Times describing Net Neutrality as a distraction is supreme irony, since he's partially the reason that we’re even debating the issue today.

Getting 'Merely Richer'

It gets weirder still. Kennard (and by extension the Times) attempt to cover his post-FCC tracks by disclosing only that "some companies" in which he invests at The Carlyle Group could benefit from passing legislation without Net Neutrality.

For their part, the Times states simply that Kennard sits on the newspaper's board.

But shouldn't they have mentioned that he also sits on the boards of directors of Sprint Nextel Corporation, Hawaiian Telcom and Insight Communications (a cable provider) -- companies that have lobbied to kill Net Neutrality?

It seems, as Larry Lessig puts it, "unseemly" when a FCC Chairman "moves to the boards of the companies he used to regulate, and then uses the op-ed page of a paper on whose board he now sits, to argue for the poor by pushing the agenda of the 'merely rich.'"

Ignoring the Grassroots

Kennard wrongly paints this crucial policy debate as a clash of corporate titans. He writes:
"This is essentially a battle between the extremely wealthy (Google, Amazon and other high-tech giants, which oppose such a move) and the merely rich (the telephone and cable industries). In the past year, collectively they have spent $50 million on lobbying and advertising, effectively preventing Congress and the public from dealing with more pressing issues."

It's true that the phone and cable industry opposes Net Neutrality It's also true that big Internet companies like Google and eBay support protections for Net Neutrality under the law. But the story doesn't end there.

Our unprecedented alliance represents more than 800 pro-Net Neutrality groups from across the political spectrum – including the ACLU, the Christian Coalition, the American Library Association and every major consumer group in the country. hasn't taken a penny of corporate money from the big Internet companies or anybody else. More than a million real people have signed a petition supporting Net Neutrality at or on the Web sites of coalition members, generating hundreds of thousands of calls and letters to Congress.

Thousands of bloggers have linked to this site -- many of them posting free ads to counteract the expensive misinformation campaign launched by Astroturf (fake grassroots) groups like Hands Off the Internet and TV4Us.

The debate over Net Neutrality isn't being fought between corporate Titans alone. It pits the special interests of the few (phone and cable companies) against a vast grassroots effort involving Americans from every corner of society.

Kennard conveniently ignores the word-of-mouth campaign that has lifted the crucial issue of Net Neutrality from obscurity and thrown a wrench in the phone and cable giants' plan to overhaul our telecommunications laws behind closed doors.

The debate over Net Neutrality should be a broad, public conversation about what the future of the Internet will look like. By portraying this issue as corporate infighting, Kennard appeases his colleagues among the "merely rich," but he fails the rest of us.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Should AT&T Decide the Future of the Net?

YouTube's video site beat out Google's because the Internet provided a "level playing field" upon which a video-sharing startup could compete with a major player based on its merits alone.

Stanford Law professor Larry Lessig wrote in yesterday's Financial Times that "the owners of pipes delivering video content to users on the internet did not prefer one service over the other. The owners of pipes simply passed the packets of data to users as the users chose."

Lessig, who is a charter member of the Coalition, describes this as a perfect example of the ways the free market is nurtured by Net Neutrality. Net users are free to pick the product of their choice based on the quality of the service and NOT on the discrimination of their network provider.

YouTube beat out Google Video because of its superior video technology and social networking tools, NOT because its executives had struck a special deal with AT&T to favor its Web site over others.

It's simple. Provide a better product and let the customers decide.

Isn't that one of the most basic tenets of a free and competitive marketplace? Not according to AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and their well-heeled army of legislators, lobbyists and shills.

Network owners want to tip the Internet balance towards themselves and their corporate allies. They want to charge select companies a “premium” rate to have their sites flow more efficiently to customers. Those who can't pay the proposed telco tax would be shut out. Their Web gatekeeper scheme allows companies like AT&T – and not the consumer -- to pick which sites and ideas succeed in the online marketplace.

Do you want AT&T to decide the future of the Internet?

Writes Lessig:
"[I] f network owners are permitted to set up internet toll booths, imposing a special tax on providers of content and applications, then it will be the new innovators who bear the burden of these taxes most heavily. The point is obvious when you think about the history of YouTube. Had network owners been charging an access premium, investors in an upstart like YouTube would have had good reason to think twice. All taxes are a barrier, but this tax would be a particularly high barrier to innovation."
If we had real competition among broadband providers, the free market would sort these sorts of things out. Providers that discriminate would lose customers to those that protect Net Neutrality. But in the US broadband landscape competition is dying.

Lessig cites figures from Free Press' recent report "Broadband Reality Check II," which shows that there are fewer competitors offering broadband connectivity today than there were just six years ago. According to the report, four companies account for a majority of all consumer broadband; 10 account for 83 per cent of the market.

Another study by the Government Accountability Office found that the median number of providers available to a given household is just two. That's right. Most Americans have access to two or less broadband providers. That's all. Cable and DSL systems dominate, holding more than 98 percent of the broadband market.

There simply is not enough competition between different technologies to produce any kind of deterrent to discrimination. Without Net Neutrality, the telephone and cable duopoly will leverage its market power over the network to gain control over the content and application markets, establishing a handful of giant companies as the gatekeepers of the Internet.

Net Neutrality legislation "will make sure that the one bright spot in the internet economy – the one place where vigorous competition continues – will be protected," Lessig concludes. "Congress needs to remove the incentive to keep broadband in its currently hobbled state. A thin rule of network neutrality could help do just that."

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.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Mega-Merger vs. Internet Freedom

Earlier this week, the Justice Department went AWOL on protecting a free and open Internet for tens of millions of Americans. Now it's left to three men and one woman at the Federal Communications Commission to approve or scuttle the proposed AT&T-BellSouth merger.

At issue is whether the AT&T colossus should be allowed to gobble up the nation's third-largest phone company in its relentless march to re-assemble the Ma Bell monopoly. But the stakes are much higher today than when – prior to its 1984 antitrust break up – just one phone monopoly ruled the nation's copper wires and rotary phones.

Big Ed
In 2006, AT&T is poised to control all electronic media – not just telephones, but TV, music and the Web – that will enter homes via its same Internet "tube." The corporate giant – led by monopolist-in-chief Ed Whitacre – sees Net Neutrality as a major obstacle to this multibillion-dollar scheme. Without Net Neutrality, he’s free to toss the open, egalitarian Internet out the window.

A Bigger AT&T Is Bad for the Net

On Wednesday, the Justice Department stunned public interest advocates by green-lighting Whitacre's massive deal without any conditions or judicial review. The FCC as early as today could give a final approval. FCC Chair Kevin Martin has already indicated his willingness to follow the DoJ's lead and rubber stamp the $78 billion deal without protecting Internet freedom.

In Martin's view, the proposed merger does not raise a significant threat to Internet choice or Net Neutrality. Regrettably, this view ignores the enormous market power that a new AT&T would wield. The merged entity would become the principal – in most cases only – DSL provider in 23 states.

Martin has also ignored prior statements by executives of both companies. In interviews with the Financial Times, Washington Post and Business Week, Whitacre and BellSouth executives have outlined plans to consolidate their control over the Internet by erecting new online toll booths and discriminating against Web sites that don't pay their "special service" fees.

"There’s no bigger interest to the public than maintaining a free and open Internet," writes Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge. "But, like the Justice Department, the FCC is preparing to take a dive on the issue of Net Neutrality."

Deadlocked at the FCC?

But there is a growing glimmer of hope. Since Wednesday, when the DoJ passed on the deal, more than 20,000 Free Press and activists have sent letters asking for a Net Neutrality condition to be placed on the merger. Two of the four commissioners who will vote, Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, have indicated that they will support this as part of any merger. But they still need strong public support to prevail.

The fourth, Republican Deborah Tate of Tennessee, is expected to follow Martin's lead – deadlocking the FCC at 2-2.

According to Harold Feld of Media Access Project, the only way to break the tie would be for Martin to force a fifth commissioner, Robert McDowell, to "un-recuse" himself from the process. McDowell had backed away from involvement due to a conflict of interest from his prior work for phone companies trying to compete with AT&T.

"The FCC General Counsel has the authority to declare McDowell's recusal invalid if the public interest in resolving the merger application outweighs any appearance of impropriety," Feld says. "Such a move would be extraordinary, however. To the best of my knowledge, it has never happened."

It's up to the FCC to step in where the Justice Department fears to tread; to put away rubber stamps and 11th-hour maneuvers and serve the interests of a free and open Internet and the millions of Americans who use it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Phone Giant CEO Hails Prospects for Merger

Richard P. Merryweather

Watch Our Exclusive Interview with Richard P. Merryweather, President and CEO of CT&T Com

Part I: 'Merger and Me'
Part II: 'Money Well Spent'

On the eve of the merger of the first and third largest phone companies, we sat down for a frank discussion with the mastermind behind the deal.

Moments after our meeting with CT&T Com's CEO Richard P. Merryweather, the Department of Justice green-lighted his company's plans to gobble up NorthBell -- a $78 billion deal that would create a communications colossus with access to more than 50% of the U.S. market.

Merryweather's merger goes before the Federal Communications Commission tomorrow, when it's expected to receive a favorable review from agency Chairman Kevin J. Martin. If approved, the deal would effectively re-assemble the Ma Bell monopoly that ruled our nation's communications industry for several decades.

But the merger isn't without its detractors. FCC commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein, called the Justice rubber stamp of CT&T Com's merger “a reckless abandonment of DoJ’s responsibility to protection competition and consumers.”

Public interest advocates at Free Press, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America said that it is now "imperative" that the FCC add conditions to the merger, such as network neutrality -- the longstanding principle that prevents phone companies from controlling what users do, where they go and what they see on the Internet.

"The government has been deceived before by false promises that mergers of potential competitors benefit the public," said Mark Cooper, research director for Consumer Federation of America. "It should not be fooled again."

Critics 'Whiny'

"Who could possible think that a bigger CT&T Com could be bad," Merryweather told

"This merger will bring convergence and innovation to American consumers as fast as you can say 'massive vertically integrated telephone monopoly.'"

Merryweather spoke about the work being done in CT&T Com research and development laboratories to find "new and exciting ways to repackage plain old telephone services and unreliable broadband connections so they look exciting and new."

"Competition has taught us that we must be innovative at re-branding old services in order to charge the highest possible prices. This merger will make that easier for us."

Merryweather said that public advocates and "renegade members of the FCC" who criticize the merger were "living in the past."

Merryweather praised CT&T Com's "Pay Us Twice" plan as an alternative to network neutrality. "With Net Neutrality the Internet is just too complicated," he said. "With CT&T Com's 'Pay Us Twice' and middleman services, we'll ensure that we make lots of money.

Under the rule of CEO Merryweather, CT&T Com is leading the effort to rid the books of network neutrality protections.

Soon all digital media -- telephone, TV, radio and the Web -- will enter homes via a single broadband connection. Merryweather is seeking to control this "pipe" -- and the billions of dollars at stake -- by erecting new Internet toll booths and serving only those Web sites that can afford CT&T Com's special service fees.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Stopping Big Media, One Voice at a Time

Martin in action
Last week's FCC hearing in Los Angels was an extraordinary moment in U.S. media history. People came out in overwhelming numbers to tell the Federal Communications Commission that Americans want to turn back the tide of media consolidation.

Nearly 1,000 people packed auditoriums in downtown L.A. and El Segundo; and all but one of the more than 75 people who came forward testified against further media consolidation. Over eight hours of testimony, artists, writers, producers, directors, actors, small business owners and local citizens told all five commissioners about the devastating impact of media consolidation. (Listen to some of the testimony)

The question now is whether FCC Chairman Kevin Martin will actually listen to the public outcry and stop big media.

All around him, evidence is mounting that shows the serious problems caused by media consolidation. Free Press recently released a groundbreaking study showing the shockingly low number of TV stations owned by women and people of color. Upon reading the report, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps called the FCC's failure to promote diversity in our media a "national disgrace."

This followed news that the FCC had suppressed two studies that revealed the negative impact of media consolidation -- including one that showed media concentration was disastrous for local news coverage.

Chairman Martin has pledged to hold five more public hearings before the FCC votes on any media ownership rules changes. If Martin holds to this promise and hears out the public, he will learn that a vast majority of Americans do not want concentrated media. They want local owners, local coverage, and media that represent our diverse communities.

The Coalition is working to make certain these hearings are publicized and packed to the rafters. After five more hearings like the one in Los Angeles, it would be unthinkable for the FCC to turn a deaf ear to the public and allow the Clear Channels, Disneys, Sinclairs and News Corporations to gobble up even more local media.

Media policies made in the public's name must not be made without the public's informed consent. That's why your active involvement is so important. The more all policies reflect public debate, the more likely the media system they shape will serve the people, not just powerful corporations.

Saul Alinsky famously wrote that the only way to beat organized money is with organized people. Well, last week organized people landed a haymaker in Los Angeles. If we keep up the fight, the era of corrupt media policymaking will come to an end.

Citizen Army Slays Telco Giants in DC

A ragtag army of bloggers and Internet activists have tripped up the phone and cable "Goliaths" using an arsenal of YouTube videos, MySpace sites, musical remixes, traditional grassroots tactics and innovative online organizing to make the case for Net Neutrality.

That’s how Daniel Reilly portrayed’s efforts in his lead feature at Reilly writes about ordinary people who have banded together to beat back corporate lobbyists and their allies in Congress. This broad grass- and net-roots mobilization has successfully stalled a piece of legislation that only nine months earlier was slated for quick passage on Capitol Hill.

Reilly writes:
"[T]he Net Neutrality issue surfaced from the Internet and murky halls of Congress into wider public awareness. An unlikely coalition of advocates … motivated by what they see as threats to free speech, started taking the issue to their constituents with renewed passion. [Craig] Aaron of says the strange coalition has definitely turned heads in Washington. 'For far too long, media policy has been big companies making decisions behind closed doors. Folks in D.C. got very used to making this sort of monumental decision without ever bothering to ask the public what they think about it.'"
At the beginning of the year most had predicted that the 2006 telecom bill was on the legislative fast track -- with Congress deep under the influence of hand outs from the phone and cable lobby.

According to and Arlen Communications, these companies have spent more than $100 million on campaign contributions, Beltway TV and radio ads, congressional junkets and lobbyists this year. This spending spree is part of an effort to pressure elected officials to pass regulations that would place the financial interests of companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast before those of the public.

Many elected officials were willing to reap the corporate largesse and gut Internet freedom until a loose network of Web organizers, online innovators and grassroots activists brought the Internet sell off to light.

"Two very different models are now coming to head," Aaron told Reilly. "One is entrenched lobbyists in D.C. doing what they have always done, fighting it out inside the Beltway. On the other side is this new grass-roots movement, using new communications tools and finding new ways to organize. This is people using the Internet to save the Internet."

While we're pleased to receive praise for's efforts, it's too early to declare victory for the grass roots and Net Neutrality. Members of Congress this week returned home as the 2006 election cycle enters its home stretch. It's possible, though, that Senator Stevens' will push his bad legislation through during the "lame duck" session that follows the November 7 vote.

Americans need to stay on alert. It's time to let all elected representatives know that a vote against Net Neutrality and for Stevens' bad bill, is a vote against a free and open Internet and a healthy democracy.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

L.A. Hearing Our First, Best Chance to Stop Big Media

Martin in action
The Federal Communications Commission is in Los Angeles today to test the public waters against its plan to loosen the last remaining curbs to media ownership.

If recent public comments are indication, those waters are still boiling hot since the last time the federal agency tried -- but failed -- to hand over more control of local airwaves to massive media conglomerates like Tribune Company, News Corp and ABC/Disney.

As FCC chairman Kevin Martin prepares for his first in a promised half dozen public hearings, more than 100,000 Americans have already filed comments opposing the chairman's plans to unleash a new wave of media consolidation.

But the public outcry in 2006 might not be loud enough to stop the powerful forces of corporate consolidation.

At issue is whether the parent companies of newspapers should be allowed to own TV and radio stations in the same market. If the existing rules are lifted one company sould dominate major media in a single market -- owning as many as eight radio stations, three television stations and a major newspaper. A majority of the five commissioners at the FCC have indicated their desire to sweep away the rules that would prevent this, and clear a path for “media company towns” in which local public discourse is dictated by a single national media chain.

When the FCC tried to push through similar rule changes in 2003, millions of people contacted the FCC and Congress to voice their opposition, sparking a congressional rebuke and a Third Circuit Court return of the rules to the FCC. The FCC is now seeking to rewrite the rules. While we have yet to see 2003 levels of public response in 2006, the Los Angeles hearing may ignite a broader outcry.

Martin’s latest attempt to unleash consolidation is driven by the massive lobbying of the nation's largest media companies. Their motive is to fatten their wallets and not serve the public interest. Regrettably, this powerful media lobby has the ear of many at the FCC.

This is why speaking out in Los Angeles is so important. If you live within driving distance of one or both of the scheduled hearings today, do make the effort to get to the events. The coalition has posted a number of resources (including fliers, posters, speakers' guides and parking information) that will help make your presence count. Volunteers also will be on hand to ensure that people get the chance to testify during the hearing.

Take a personal day off work, skip class, re-arrange your schedule and head to USC or El Segundo today.

Let Martin know that he can't simply ignore public opinion. Los Angeles is our best chance to set the tone for future hearings. Media concentration is bad news for the American public. It's time the FCC stopped Big Media.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Web Pioneer: No Internet Without Net Neutrality

Sir Tim
The man who invented the World-Wide-Web sees the phone and cable company plan to gut Net Neutrality as a looming threat to free speech and economic innovation in America. In a New York Times interview, Internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee said that the neutrality of the Net is "essential for democracy."

In the 1980s, Sir Tim first proposed the idea of linking documents with hypertext software pointers -- a concept that evolved, in the 1990s, into the World Wide Web.

Throughout 2006, Berners-Lee has spoken passionately in favor of protecting Net Neutrality. In yesterday's Times interview, he warned against companies, like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, that seek to remake the information superhighway into their private toll roads.

"I think the people who talk about dismantling — threatening — Net neutrality don’t appreciate how important it has been for us to have an independent market for productivity and for applications on the Internet," Berners-Lee said.

According to Berners-Lee, killing Net neutrality in the U.S. would put the country even further behind in the race to bridge the digital divide and bring cheaper, faster access and better economic opportunity to more people.

"[I]f the United States ends up faltering in its quest for Net neutrality, I think the rest of the world will be horrified, and there will be very strong pressure from other countries who will become a world separate from the U.S., where the Net is neutral," Berners-Lee told Times interviewer John Markoff.
"If things go wrong in the States, then I think the result could be that the United States would then have a less-competitive market where content providers could provide a limited selection of all the same old movies to their customers because they have a captive market."
Berners-Lee also clarifies the debate over service fees for special types of data, calling "not actually logical" people who say that Net Neutrality prevents "Quality of Service" upgrades:
"Some people say perhaps we ought to be able to charge more for this very special high-bandwidth connectivity. Of course that’s fine, charge more. Nobody is suggesting that you shouldn’t be able to charge more for a video-capable Internet connection. That’s no reason not to make it anything but neutral."
Berners-Lee echoes's position against discrimination on the Web. We don’t think that it's wrong for the network operators to be able to prioritize certain types of content. For instance, they can prioritize telemedicine over regular data files.

The Net Neutrality rules that we and Berners-Lee support concern stopping discrimination based on the source or ownership of content. If network operators favor one hospital's telemedicine site over another, that’s the problem. That’s when the network operators can turn the Web into their private fiefdoms, awarding fast-lane services to their corporate allies while shunting all others to a slow lane. Under this scenario, the free and open Internet no longer exists.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Senator Stevens Spams for the Telcos

Stevens and his bill
Sen. Ted Stevens' desperation is beginning to show. With his telecommunications legislation in the DC doldrums, the good senator from Alaska has resorted to spamming his colleagues with phone company propaganda.

From his seat at the head of the Commerce Committee, Stevens is emailing around the results of a "bipartisan poll," which, according to the senator's spin, proves beyond a whisper of a doubt that Americans love his legislation and hate Net Neutrality.

One problem though. This supposedly objective poll is a complete sham.

It was paid for by Verizon Communications and carried out by Washington lobbying and consulting firms that boast major phone and cable companies as clients.

No matter for Senator Stevens, who has no qualms once again using the Commerce Committee seal to serve the interests of his friends at the phone companies.

The resulting poll is so stacked towards one side of the debate that no serious pollster, scholar or journalist would dare touch its findings. Here's a sample question lifted straight from the poll:
Which of the following two items do you think is the most important to you:

Delivering the benefits of new TV and video choice so consumers will see increased competition and lower prices for cable TV?


Enhancing Internet neutrality by barring high speed internet providers from offering specialized services like faster speed and increased security for a fee?
As Matt Stoller wrote, "the rest of the questionnaire is similarly structured along the lines of 'do you want lots and lots of pie or would you like a kidney infection'."

What's particularly amazing is that 17 percent of the respondents chose the kidney infection.

But that's no deterrent to the many Astroturf groups that shamelessly front for the phone companies. They have trumpeted the phony survey as proof positive that Net Neutrality is a non-issue for Americans -- dismissing the more than a million Americans who have written Congress, called their representatives and turned out at dozens of pro-Net Neutrality events across the country.

In August alone, these grassroots actions convinced seven senators to announce their support for Net Neutrality -- carrying forth momentum against Stevens' deeply flawed legislation.

In the Astroturfers' version of reality, though, the future of the Internet is best left in the hands of the telco lobby -- conveniently, the same corporations that pay the Astroturfers' bills. Go figure.

The public doesn't really care about Internet freedom, they say -- and hey, they've bought a poll so they must be right. As Jeff Chester wrote in his commentary in The Nation:
[N]either the poll nor the press release issued by Stevens revealed, as the Wall Street Journal did today, that Verizon had paid for the study. The role of Verizon is not surprising, given that the poll was developed by the Glover Park Group lobbying shop (along with Public Opinion Strategies). Glover Park--which is run by such high-level Democratic Party advisers as Howard Wolfson, Joe Lockhart and Carter Eskew--has been helping Verizon in its efforts to scuttle broadband policy safeguards since 2005.
Cynthia Brumfield of IP Democracy heaps more scorn on Stevens:
All of this shameless propagation of corporate-sponsored lobbying dreck reflects nothing other than last-ditch desperation by Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK), who is almost out of time to pass his telecom reform bill before this Congress is history. After intensive lobbying, Senator Stevens still doesn't have the 60 votes he needs to shut down a filibuster on the bill.
So whom should you trust on Net Neutrality?

We'll leave that decision to you. But be wary of phone company pollsters and spamming senators claiming they know what you want.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Martin Left With Powell's Untidy FCC Legacy

Originally published at

Martin in action
Michael Powell’s tenure at the Federal Communications Commission was marked by his blatant disregard for the public. Despite overwhelming opposition to his plans to gut longstanding media ownership rules, Powell faithfully served the interest of the corporate media lobby.

Thus many of us weren't the least surprised to learn this week that the Powell Commission buried at least two taxpayer-funded studies that didn’t toe the official line that bigger media is better for us all.

The first study, completed in 2004 by the FCC's own researchers, found that on average locally owned broadcasters devoted 5.5 more minutes of local news per half-hour newscast than their consolidated counterparts. It concluded that network-owned and operated stations (belonging to the likes of Disney, General Electric, Viacom and News Corp) spent considerably less time covering the communities they're supposed to serve.

Local ownership is good news for local communities, according to the study. But this was bad news for Powell. The findings openly challenged his assertions that "commonly owned television stations are more likely to carry local news than other stations." Thus instructions came down from "senior managers" to destroy "every last piece" of the study.

The second study, which just came to light today, found that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 led to the drastic decline in the number of radio station owners while the actual number of commercial stations in the U.S. increased -- a strong indicator that a handful of companies were hoarding local radio airwaves.

This study, too, was buried during Powell's rocky tenure.

This evidence still would be gathering dust at the agency were it not for whistle-blowers who secreted copies of the spiked reports to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Boxer last week waved the findings before a wide-eyed Kevin Martin, Powell's successor as FCC chairman, during his senate re-confirmation hearings.

This was worse news for Chairman Martin.

The North Carolina Republican had been hand-picked by the Bush administration to clean up Powell's failed turn at the FCC, successfully rewrite media ownership rules and let powerful network owners expand their control over local news markets. Martin previously worked on the Bush-Cheney 2000 election team that fought bitterly to obstruct the vote recount in Florida. Martin's wife, Catherine, had been a top adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. He's a shrewd political animal who many feel will parlay GOP successes at the FCC into higher office.

But Powell's untidy FCC legacy may have stalled Martin's ambitions.

Martin was caught unusually off guard during the confirmation hearings when Senator Boxer demanded that he come clean on efforts to "deep six" the first study. Consumer groups and public advocates at Free Press, Consumers Union, Media Access Project and the Consumer Federation of America called on Martin to seek an immediate independent investigation "to determine the circumstances under which the public was denied access to this important, taxpayer-funded research." An Associated Press report on the cover-up ran in more than two dozen newspapers and trade publications.

The unfolding drama has been met with a flurry of denials from FCC chairmen present and past.

Martin wrote back to Boxer repeating over and again that he knew nothing of the study: "I was not Chairman at the time that this report was drafted. I had not seen -- nor was I aware of -- this draft report ... No one on my staff had seen this report nor were they aware of it. I am not aware of any other commissioners, past or present, who knew of the report."

Powell echoed Martin, telling NPR on Friday that he "never saw" the study. "Any suggestion that senior levels of the commission spiked that report, at least from my vantage point, didn't happen," he said.

While Powell scrambles to distance himself from the cover-up -- and Martin scrambles to distance himself from Powell -- the "vantage point" for the public has become disappointingly clear.

We know now that the leadership of a federal agency is bent on deleting evidence that challenges their beliefs -- placing political expediency before the public interest.

We know that this cover-up is part of a larger scheme to clear a path for large media companies to buy up more local news outlets.

And we know that unless the public gets more involved in holding them accountable, the FCC will fulfill the wishes of the administration and its corporate allies, gutting policies that curb media companies' plans to swallow up local markets.

The good news is that now the public has a chance to have its say.

Major media companies have lobbied Martin to erase restrictions on how many newspapers, television and radio stations they can own. They want him to rewrite rules so that such big national companies as Tribune could potentially own the major daily newspaper, eight radio stations and three television stations in a single town.

Martin wants to help these companies do just that. But the chairman – as a matter of procedure – must first seek public comment to any proposed rewrite of the rules. Earlier this summer Martin kick-started the latest effort to weaken FCC protections to local control of the media. The chairman pledged to hold a "half dozen" public hearings but has so far only committed to one, in Los Angeles on October 3.

He and the agency's Republican majority are carrying forward Powell's commitment to scrap any limits to local media monopolies, but they have to at least make a show of public accountability before handing over more local outlets.

More than 40 public and consumer advocacy groups, including Free Press, Common Cause, Consumers Union, National Council of Churches and the Newspapers Guild-CWA have formed the coalition to make sure that the FCC puts on more than a show.

We have encouraged more than a hundred thousand American to make comments in the FCC public docket and hope to turn out thousands more at public hearing scheduled through the remainder of the year.

Before Chairman Martin decides we hope he will take a lesson from Powell's tin ear to popular concerns about consolidation. If Martin really wants to overcome the unsavory legacy of the Powell Commission, he must weigh all the evidence and put the public's needs first.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cover-Up: FCC Bureaucrat Buried Evidence to Protect Friends in Big Media

Big Mike
We have just learned that former FCC Chairman Michael Powell buried a federal study that found media consolidation was harmful to local news reporting.

Powell suppressed the 2004 study to protect the interests of his friends in the corporate media lobby. It revealed that locally owned stations produced more local news than those owned by media giants -- such as ABC/Disney, Fox Television, Viacom and Sinclair Broadcast Group..

Free Press received the secret study today after it was leaked to Congress. News of the cover-up comes at a time when Powell's successor, Chairman Kevin Martin, seeks to hand over control of more local news outlets to massive media conglomerates.

Powell commissioned the study in hopes it would show that consolidated ownership didn't negatively impact local communities. The Associated Press reported Wednesday afternoon that upon seeing the results, Powell ordered that "every last piece" of the study be destroyed.

The study that Michael Powell didn't want you to see: "Do Local Owners Deliver More Localism?" shows locally owned stations produced five-and-a-half minutes more local news in a half-hour newscast than their consolidated competitors -- meaning 33 more hours of local news per year. It also found that Network owned and operated stations (those owned by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) aired significantly less local news.

The report was an inconvenience to Powell's ongoing efforts to aide large media companies' that sought to gobble up more local media outlets and further consolidate their power over America's media system. Had the report seen the light of day, Powell could not deny that locally owned media do a better job of covering local news.

While Powell has left the FCC, his legacy is being carried forward by Martin. The new chairman has made it clear that he intends to side with Big Media interests in the current rewrite of FCC ownership rules.

In July, Martin kick started the latest effort to rewrite FCC rules when he asked the public to comment on his plans to let conglomerates buy up more local news outlets. You can file you comments at the FCC via this link:

The only way to stop media is through public involvement in the rule making. Act now to rollback media consolidation and defend local control of our media.

Major U.S. Trade Group Makes Case for Neutrality

The American Electronics Association (AeA) released a report yesterday strongly supporting Net Neutrality and urging Congress: "Don't stifle competition and innovation by allowing network operators to change and distort what is currently a highly competitive system."

"The principles of Net Neutrality have created the Internet as we know it -- the most dynamic network for communication and commerce in human history," states The Case for Preserving Net Neutrality, a report by AeA, which represents 2,500 companies from every corner of the high-tech industry.

In this latest brief on market competitiveness, the AeA calls on Congress to "safeguard the competitive nature of the Internet by allowing consumers and content providers to connect with each other in an open marketplace, providing consumers with equal access to all content."

According to the report, the only way to do this is for Congress to prevent companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from abusing their market power by imposing discriminatory new surcharges that favor the content from companies and Web sites that pay them the most.

Allowing the nation's largest phone and cable companies to tilt the market in favor of larger and better funded content providers would "undermine the fundamental principles of open and free exchange of information across the network," according to the AeA report.

Despite the spin now emanating from the phone and cable company PR firms, the threat is very real.

Big Ed
AT&T chief Edward Whitacre Jr. (pictured right), claimed last year that Internet content providers plan to start charging extra for use of "my lines." BellSouth’s Chief Technology Officer, William Smith, told reporters that his firm should be able to charge content providers to prioritize their content. Verizon's Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg told the Wall Street Journal of company's plans to start charging Web sites more so they "don’t sit on our network and chew up our capacity.”

Flat Out Lies

The report explodes the telco myth that content providers aren't already paying for access, conservatively estimating that the largest service providers receive at least $13.1 billion annually in bandwidth fees from 7.3 billion business Internet subscribers.

This is direct contradiction to telco spinmeister Mike McCurry, who in an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun claimed that Google’s access to bandwidth doesn’t cost the company a dime -- an assertion that Tech Dirt's Michael Masnick called "a flat out lie."

Neither McCurry (pictured right) nor the army of lobbyists that the phone and cable companies have unleashed upon Washington can be trusted in this argument against Net Neutrality.

Telcos already profit handsomely from charging companies for their share of bandwidth. Now, they want to add surcharges that are based on the ownership or source of content -- a concept that would result in a tiered Internet, weighted towards the largest companies and against the sort of Web innovation that typically bubbles up from below.

According to the AeA report:
"By tiering the Internet based on who pays the most to prioritize their content, the telecom industry is creating a system of haves and have-nots: those that can afford the premium for preferred treatment and those that cannot.

"A tiered system for broadband services is already in place, but it is based on the bandwidth purchased by the consumer and content provider, who both are already paying for Internet access. This current system allows consumers equal access to any legal content they choose and gives even the smallest content provider the chance to compete in a robust marketplace. This system treats all packets equally."

Companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast will stifle the competitive marketplace if they're allowed to discriminate based on who can afford to pay their planned premiums.

The phone and cable companies seek to strip away the egalitarian idea on which the Internet was founded -- which rewards the best concepts or Web sites -- and shift power to the larger companies that can outbid competitors for preferential treatment.

The AeA report provides guidance for those in Congress who are willing to stand with the public and protect the Internet from such predatory and anti-competitive schemes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New Report Skewers Telco Spin on Competition

Why has the United States fallen behind the rest of the world in accessible and affordable broadband service?

The answer, according to a report released by Free Press, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union, is marketplace failures wrought by phone and cable companies' near monopoly control of last-mile broadband markets.

The 44-page report, Broadband Reality Check II, exposes the truth behind America's digital decline: A marketplace controlled by the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast has left Americans with higher prices, slower speeds and no meaningful competition for high-speed Internet service.

It exposes the falsehoods behind phone companies' repeated claims that the U.S. has a diverse marketplace, with myriad broadband choices for the consumer.

It decisively skewers the notion -- put forth by telco executives and their high-paid shills -- that "fierce competition" precludes Net Neutrality protections.

According to Broadband Reality Check II, a few cable and DSL providers account for 98 percent of the residential broadband market. Over 40 percent of U.S. ZIP codes have one or fewer DSL or cable modem providers providing service. In most cases, these are limited to services offered by just one or the other of the nation's largest phone and cable companies, all of which have stated their steadfast opposition to preserving an even playing field on the Internet.

"Our markets lack the competition to bring lower prices, higher speeds, and universal access. Our policies lack the imagination and potency to create real change," wrote the report's author, Derek Turner, research director of Free Press. "Meanwhile, Americans pay more money for less service than a dozen other nations. A third of U.S households are still stuck with dial-up, and another third lack Internet access of any kind. Our broadband problem is becoming a crisis."

Broadband Reality Check II also finds:
  • The 14 other OECD nations saw higher overall net growth in broadband adoption than the United States from 2001 to 2005.

  • Consumers in other countries enjoy broadband connections that are far faster and cheaper than what is available here. U.S. consumers pay nearly twice as much as the Japanese for connections that are 20 times as slow.

  • U.S. broadband prices aren't dropping: Cable modem prices are holding constant or rising, and DSL customers on average are getting less bandwidth per dollar than just a year ago.

  • The market share of "third platform" alternatives like satellite, wireless and broadband over powerline technologies has actually decreased over the past five years.
The report contradicts the rosy picture painted by the Federal Communications Commission, by exposing the agency's failure to rein in broadband monopolies -- an industry-friendly regulatory approach that has left Americans with higher prices, slower speeds and no meaningful competition for high-speed Internet service.

To remedy America's Broadband decline the report recommends that Congress "restore the non-discriminatory, open-access principles — such as Net Neutrality — that enabled the birth and historic proliferation of the Internet."

This is the last thing the nation's largest phone and cable companies want to hear. They have already spent more than $100 million on Washington lobbyists, ads and PR flacks to push legislation through Congress that will gut Net Neutrality and further consolidate their control of the marketplace.

In press releases after press release, public utterances and op-eds, these companies and their shills build their argument on a myth of competition.

Their script goes something like this:
  • "Why would phone and cable companies ever discriminate online?" [They conveniently ignore AT&T, Comcast BellSouth and Verizon executives who have stated their intention to do just that.]

  • "The marketplace for broadband is highly competitive." [They cite FCC stats that have been widely discredited -- by Congress and, even, the FCC.]

  • "If we discriminate online, consumers will simply choose another provider." [They willfully turn a blind eye to thoroughly-researched data that show minimal to no other broadband choice in markets across the country.]

  • "Net Neutrality legislation is heavy-handed new regulation." [They ignore its history as one of the Internet's guiding regulatory principles, which has made the Web a dynamic engine for new ideas, innovation and free speech.]

  • "Net Neutrality hurts consumers." [They can't recall that every major consumer group in the country supports Net Neutrality legislation and opposes the phone and cable companies' stance on the issue.]
"The simple fact of the matter is that the average consumer is lucky to have two providers and many don't even have that," said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America. "And what happens with two is that these corporations quickly figure out that it is not in their mutual interest to compete down prices and give consumers a better deal."

Despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary, phone company shills -- such as the disingenuously named -- continue to parrot claims that broadband choice is "diverse" and "expanding rapidly." Yet, without real data to stand upon, these industry frontmen offer little more than a flimsy fa├žade of wishful lies, which they hope to prop up long enough to earn themselves yet another paycheck from AT&T.

But they're dead wrong. Net Neutrality is hardly government intrusion into the open marketplace of the Internet. It is a simple antitrust rule that keeps Internet companies from exploiting a lack of competition at the consumer's expense.

As more and more Americans come to the Side of Net Neutrality, Congress should abandon the shills and support it too.