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.

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