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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep up the great reporting Karr! I've been reading your site on my news feed for over a year. :)