Tuesday, December 16, 2008

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

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

Say what?

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

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

Journal Story: Much Ado About Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

The Public Mandate

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

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

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

Obama in the Driver's Seat

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Barack's Broadband Roadmap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Good

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

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

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

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

Lighting the Way

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

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

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

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

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

Internet for Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 08, 2008

Internet for Everyone -- Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

This is where you come in.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Their work here has been tremendous.

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

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Protect an open Internet by enforcing Net Neutrality

  • Break up media conglomerates and return stations to local control

  • Stop propaganda, fake news and radio payola

  • Open more public airwaves to high-speed Internet access

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Net Neutrality on Deck

There's been heavy traffic over the Net Neutrality wires since the November 4 Election of Barack Hussein Obama, and it's not just because the president-elect was so outspoken in support of the principle while on the campaign trail.

There has been a sea change in Washington since then, as the wonks, tech pundits and lobbyists align themselves with new leadership and the likelihood that Net Neutrality could become law soon.

Holding to His Pledge

Obama in the Front Seat
Within two days of the election Obama’s transition team laid out his science and technology agenda at www.change.gov, prominently highlighting the work that SavetheInternet.com members have prioritized for more than two years now.

According to the agenda, an Obama administration will hold to its campaign promises and "protect the openness of the Internet."

"A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history. It needs to stay that way," Obama’s agenda states. "Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet."

Soon thereafter, former Vice President Al Gore told CurrentTV that he was "all for" Net Neutrality.

Gore 'All For' It
"I just think that it’s unacceptable to have the folks that control the pipes to get into anything that smacks of controlling the content, or favoring their content over other content," Gore said.

Legislation for 2009

And just yesterday, a top staffer for Sen. Byron Dorgan told the media that the senator plans to introduce Net Neutrality legislation in the new Congress.

"We feel that legislation is definitely necessary," Frannie Wellings, telecom counsel to Dorgan said during a conference in Washington. (Disclosure: Wellings worked at Free Press before joining Dorgan’s staff)

Dorgan is influential as one of the highest-ranking members of the Senate Commerce Committee.

AT&T's New Tune?

Obama, Gore and Dorgan’s support is no surprise. What’s "mind blowing" according to some in the media, is AT&T’s apparent change of heart.

At the same conference, AT&T’s lead policy VP, James Cicconi, said, "There's a lot of people who now believe that companies like AT&T are not plotting to overthrow the open Internet concept."

"It's against AT&T's economic interest to block or slow Internet content, because customers demand an open Internet, he added. "Our core asset is our network," he said. "We get paid for carrying bits."

This is from the same company whose former CEO called all of us "nuts" for wanting to use his “pipes” without paying a special access fee.

"There has been no larger, stauncher opponent of Net Neutrality," a surprised Jason Lee Miller writes about AT&T's recent switch.

"Hasn’t [Cicconi] heard his bosses speak about it?" Miller asks, describing their earlier “desire to discriminate between content providers,” and their willingness to spend tens of millions of dollars on "K" Street firms that "actively lobbied against any such openness."

That was then. This is now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Other Vote -- Victory at the FCC

Big Win for an Open Internet

Yesterday The Seattle Times Published my op-ed on "white spaces." Read it here. I was on Democracy Now! in the morning talking about the anticipated vote at the FCC later in the day. Check it out. The vote went our way -- in our own landslide for a better Internet. Here's our post-vote wrap at SavetheInternet.com.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NAB Goes Back to the Future

As the fight over "white spaces" heats up, the technophobes at the National Association of Broadcasters are clinging to outdated scare tactics to protect us from the monsters of innovation.

Be Very Afraid

Stirring up fears about technological advances is a well-worn page in the broadcasters’ playbook. The NAB opposed satellite radio, cable TV, and even the VCR when they were first introduced, calling them a threat to the future of over-the-air television.

Well the future has arrived once again. This time it's in the form of a technology that uses vacant airwaves to connect millions of people to high-speed Internet services.

White spaces technology works, as evidenced by an exhaustive study by FCC engineers. It can be used without interfering with television signals, they concluded. But don't tell that to the NAB. They'd rather Washington gave in to their extravagant tales about creatures and ghouls determined to kill your TV.

Sound familiar? In 1974, the NAB attempted to frighten us away from cable television with a PSA that's was as over the top then as are their claims about white spaces today. (play the clip above)

It didn't work in 1974. Hopefully, the FCC will learn from the past and dismiss the NAB's latest round of fear mongering as yet another bad TV rerun.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Debates Still No Place for Average Joes

Joe the Plumber may have played a role in last night's debate, but average "Janes" and "Joes" were left on the sidelines.

As the lights dimmed on the fourth and final debate of the 2008 season, one thing has become clear: These types of debates are vestiges of a bygone TV era. Tightly scripted formats and media middlemen aren't what public discourse should look like in the age of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

With the digital world at our fingertips, we the people have come to expect a seat at the table. The Commission on Presidential Debates -- the party-controlled organization that dictates debate formats -- remains reluctant, however, to offer up a chair.

Plumbing the Internet

The candidates clearly struggled last night to strike a common chord with stories of Joe, a real-life plumber from Holland, Ohio. But in their efforts to evoke him, Joe came across as little more than a middle-class caricature propped up for their rhetorical benefit.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of other "Joes" were submitting debate questions to Google's "moderator," Twittering about the debates at "Hack the Debates" and rating the media's performance at RatetheDebates.org.

The spirit of democratic discourse was thriving on the Web's rough and tumble social networks, in spite of the canned speeches being delivered at the same time over the mainstream networks.

"Four years from now, the public's use of the Internet to connect with each other and organize around like-minded interests will force the candidates and the debate commission to significantly abandon the limited format of televised debates," said Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum.

Rasiej, along with a bipartisan coalition of organizations, is urging people to abandon the debate commission's model and move away from "the scarcity model constraints of TV" toward the open abundance model of the Internet.

People Aren't Props

Over at RatetheDebates.org many of the 2,700 citizen "raters" thought last night's moderator, CBS anchor Bob Schieffer did a decent job -- but he didn't do enough to challenge the candidates' spin. More than 64% of McCain's supporters and 58% of Obama's supporters said he needed to hold the candidates accountable when they didn't tell the truth.

This concern has been consistent in prior debates with many raters reporting that the debate format limited the public's ability to engage in the discussion, while not allowing enough leeway for a departure from scripted answers.

"I'm not really sure that it is necessary to have an audience at all, since they weren't allowed to talk and had to remain neutral," said one rater. "Why have people there at all? We only see them as the candidates walk in."

"I would like for the audience to be able to respond by clapping when they agree with the candidate's position," responded another. "It makes debates much more lively."

"Questions should be drawn from a pool that are submitted and voted upon by citizens either online or by other means," another citizen wrote. "This would achieve a closer approximation to what people really want to know without filtering."

Several other panelists called for instant fact-checking of answers so candidates could not take advantage of the format to spin issues and avoid real answers. "We should have fact-checkers going during the debate so we know when one candidate is lying," suggested one. "The average American does not have the time to fact check everything the senators say."

Learning from Twitter

Last week's town hall format with Tom Brokaw was supposed to put the public front and center. But Brokaw only selected a handful of questions from more than 6 million e-mail and Internet submissions.

Rules set forth in a 31-page memo drafted by the campaigns and agreed to by the debate commission prevented questioners in the studio audience from asking follow-up questions or even showing emotion. Their microphones were cut immediately after their questions were asked and the cameras weren't even allowed to focus on their faces as the candidates responded.

One rater from the Oct. 7 debate said that it's not a town hall meeting "if the 'town hall' is not allowed to participate in the conversation other than by reading prepared questions."

With luck, 2008 will be the last year that the Commission on Presidential Debates gets to set the rules of the road. Voters are already joining forces online to demand interactions with the candidates that are more democratic, transparent and accountable to the public.

It's time the networks, parties and their co-conspirators at the commission followed our lead -- or got out of our way.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

AT&T Promises Not To Spy on You... Sort of

You would think that AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner execs had turned a page and formed a new front in defense of your online rights.

Late last month, they lined up before the Senate to mouth principles that would, in their words, ensure that Internet "consumers have ultimate control over the use of their personal information and guards against privacy abuses."

The issue spins around the use of a content-filtering technology called "deep packet inspection" or DPI, which allows network managers to inspect, track and target user Internet content as our information passes along the Information Superhighway.

Headlines following the Senate hearing struck a reassuring note, declaring these companies were taking a stand with consumers and "keeping their distance" from DPI.

But we did our own packet inspection and found that the telcos' actions often speak louder than their testimony.

Breaking and Entering

DPI forms the cornerstone of plans to police the Internet and profit from Web content. Using DPI companies like AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner would be able to decide whether a packet can pass or be routed to a different lane on the Superhighway. It lets them pry open user's trunks, erect new tolls and sell off or bar privileged access based on what they find inside.

CicconiCicconi: Trust AT&T. We Won't Spy on You.
"Simply put, Deep Packet Inspection is the Internet equivalent of the postal service reading your mail," Public Knowledge founder Gigi Sohn said during the September hearing. "They might be reading your mail for any number of reasons, but the fact remains that your mail is being read by the very people whose job it is to deliver it."

In January, AT&T lobbyist James Cicconi said the company was testing Web technology so that it could scour user traffic.

The company's stated goal was to help the copyright cops in the recording and motion picture industry stop illegal sharing of music and movies. (This is why these same companies have also formed a bulwark against Net Neutrality rules that would prevent such snooping.)

But once the technology is in place, AT&T can use it to inspect so much more.

Internet Troopers

DPI is already being used by other governments, including China and Burma to prevent politically sensitive information from making it in or out of their countries.

AT&T could easily tweak this same technology to let Ma Bell peer into all of your Internet use.

And if history is any guide, the communications giant is not to be trusted with our most privileged information. Americans have already been subjected to the National Security Agency's domestic spying program courtesy of AT&T.


Verizon is similarly flirting with DPI -- and has a similar history of abuse.

"To be clear, Verizon has not used -- and does not use -- packet inspection technology to target advertising to customers," Thomas J. Tauke, Verizon's top lobbyist told worried senators during the September hearing. "And we have not deployed the technology in our wireline network for such purposes."

TaukeDoubleTauke: Let Me Manage You.
But note Tauke's careful parsing of terms.

DPI is not being used by Verizon to target advertising, but the Verizon exec left the field open for other applications. "Packet inspection can be a helpful engineering tool to manage network traffic and enable online services and applications consumers may wish to use," he said.

Indeed, Verizon has reportedly been seeking technology vendors who can help it fulfill these gatekeeper ambitions.

But you won't hear that from the company's executives themselves.

Telcos Mum on Plans to Filter

According to an April report in the Washington Post, Verizon, AT&T and other providers were reluctant to reveal the extent of their Web filtering, but the companies that sell the technology -- companies such as NebuAd, Phorm and Front Porch -- were more forthcoming.

Front Porch collects detailed Web-use data from more than 100,000 U.S. customers through their service providers. At the time, NebuAd had agreements with providers covering 10 percent of U.S. broadband customers, chief executive Bob Dykes told the Post.

But what's good for their business is clearly bad for the public's Internet.

With billions of dollars at stake in controlling your online experience, it's little wonder that these companies see DPI as the Holy Grail of Internet profits.

It's also no surprise that they're having troubles telling us the whole truth about their plans to use it.

= = = =
UPDATE: Stacey Higginbotham of GigaOm reports on Verizon's notion that free market pressure alone will protect consumers from abuses. Seems that line of argument sunk with the stock market earlier this month.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Taking the Town Out of 'Town Hall'

John McCain's supporters seemed happy with the ground rules of the second presidential debate in Nashville. Barack Obama's supporters seemed happy with the results. But many were troubled by the debate organizers' claim of true public participation in Tuesday's forum.

These are some of the findings of the third Citizens Media Scorecard rating the 2008 presidential and vice-presidential debates. An online panel of more than 2,800 volunteers was recruited by Free Press to "score" the conduct of moderator Tom Brokaw during the "town hall" styled debate.

Where's the Town in Town Hall?

Brokaw selected some questions from audience members and from more than 6 million e-mail and Internet submissions.

But a large portion of the questions were his own, and at times the audience members seemed more a backdrop to Brokaw than protagonists in the debate.

Republican McCain has long insisted that he prefers the town hall format for political debates. And, according to the panel, his supporters share his preference. Almost half the McCain partisans (48% vs. 24% for Barack Obama supporters) judged the town hall format in Nashville to be superior to the moderated format 11 days prior in Mississippi.

Checking the Spin

"Brokaw's balance of issues received high marks from partisans of both candidates," according to Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report, who designed the Scorecard and analyzed the responses Tuesday night. "And their complaints about bias were in perfect balance too."

In the view of the panel, however, Brokaw's decision not to fact-check the candidates or challenge their spin was a problem: 83% of Obama supporters and 75% of McCain supporters wanted to see more challenging follow-up questions from the moderator.

"Like other moderators before him, Brokaw allowed the senators to avoid answering questions and meander to their own comfort zones," said one volunteer rater.

"[Brokaw] kept saying their answers were too long, but didn't focus enough on what they were saying," said another.

More Town Hall, Less Wax Museum

Writing for Tech President, Micah Sifry called the Town Hall format a "bust" for not more directly involving the public in the initial and follow-up questions. Sifry recommends having a follow-up round of public questions, "so the public and the candidates could dig deeper, and get past the soundbites."

"The pre-agreed rules that prevented the studio audience from asking follow-up questions or even showing emotion, made the 'town hall' style presidential debate more like a wax museum animatronic replica of a town hall," he wrote. "What a shame."

One debate rater said that it's not a town hall meeting "if the 'town hall' is not allowed to participate in the conversation other than by reading prepared questions."

"What makes a town hall meeting useful is the reaction of the audience," another panelist wrote. "This would have given us a chance to see how each candidate reacts immediately to public opinion."

Brokaw's Bias? Depends on Whom You Ask.

Despite the format, Obama's supporters were more likely to say their candidate won in Nashville (92% vs. 76% of supporters who rated the Sept. 26 Mississippi debate) whereas McCain's supporters saw no improvement (84% said he won both).

There were few complaints about Brokaw's bias towards one candidate or the other. Most of the members of each group of supporters found no favoritism (74% of Obama's, 70% of McCain's); a minority saw evidence of it, almost always against their preferred candidate (25% and 26%).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Chicken Little Lobby Comes To New York

An unusual skirmish over the future of the Internet is being waged this week in the velvet cloaked chambers of New York City Hall, where city council members are weighing whether vacant television airwaves should be opened to the Internet.

It’s unusual because spectrum policy of this sort is not often discussed beyond the confines of the Federal Communications Commission and meetings with experts and lobbyists inside the Beltway.

That New York’s City Council decided to take up spectrum access speaks more to the long reach of D.C. lobbyists than it does to the actual oversight of the Council.

white spaces
The powerful lobbyist in question is the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The issue is the use of television “white spaces,” vacant frequencies between TV channels.

New technology can open white spaces to powerful high-speed Internet services -- sending open and ubiquitous broadband signals over mountains and through buildings, potentially connecting tens of millions of Americans to the Web.

Scare-mongering at the NAB

White spaces may become available for use after television broadcasting goes digital in February 2009.

While almost everyone else sees its tremendous potential to serve the public good, the NAB wants to hoard this spectrum.

According to the NAB’s chicken-little lobbyists, white spaces spell the death of television as we know it.

One of them parachuted into New York on Monday to sow fear and misinformation about others using these airwaves. Television screens could go black, he told the City Council; emergency communications could get garbled. The miracle of modern communications would come to a screeching halt. Let anyone other than his employers and their corporate allies gain access to this public spectrum and the sky will fall.

For New York City in particular, the NAB and their sudden allies in the theater lobby are predicting an especially ominous future. In a time when the city has failed to recoup the tourism lost since 9/11, the lobbyists are warning that Broadway shows -- a consistent income earner for the city -- could be disrupted as white space devices interfere with the wireless mics worn by the actors, singers, dancers and stagehands.

When Politics Trump Innovation

As you may have guessed by now, white spaces are very political. And when NAB lobbyists muddy up the debate the political process is not pretty, and rarely productive.

But that’s their intention.

Put clearly, the issue boils down to this: The fight over white spaces pits those who have access to spectrum, and want to keep it for themselves, against those who don’t, and want spectrum to be used to serve other purposes as well.

In the middle of this fight is developing technology, which should make this spectrum useful for more than just TV, without causing interference to anyone. FCC engineers are sorting out the technical specs at the moment. And it’s only a matter of time before they see to it that the haves and the have nots will be able to enjoy this spectrum in ways that benefit us all.

The NAB doesn’t want that. Working with New York’s theater lobby, they have managed to get the City Council to draft a resolution that mangles the issue and throws up all sorts of static about opening up these airwaves to innovation.

Corporate Welfare Bums

It’s a tactic not based in the facts about white spaces, but in the history of a powerful corporate lobby that’s skilled at freezing out innovation that might threaten its near complete control of a valuable slice of airwaves.

For decades NAB members -- deep pocketed commercial broadcasters -- have benefited immensely from free, government-granted access to these airwaves. Now that they’re being asked to grant equal access for the Internet, they’re contriving doomsday scenarios to scare folks off – including the good members of New York’s City Council.

The broadcast companies owe their existence to governmental largesse, including multi-billion dollar FCC licenses handed to them for free. Now they’re biting the hand that’s stuffed them to the gullet in a bid to protect their government granted fiefdoms.

Politics should not stand in the way of innovation, especially technology that could bring vast benefits to so many.

The sky isn’t falling. White spaces should be opened for everyone.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

White Spaces for New York

Follow is my Sept. 29 testimony before the New York City Council:

Free Press is grateful for the opportunity to testify before the Council today. We have nearly 500,000 members nationwide. More than 17,000 of them are New Yorkers, living within the five Burroughs. As public advocates on Internet rights, we strongly support policies that ensure everyone has access to a fast affordable and open Internet.

As you may have guessed by now, “white spaces” are very political. And when lobbyists muddy up the debate the results are rarely productive. In reality, it boils down to this: The white spaces issue pits those who have access to spectrum, and want to keep it for themselves, against those who don’t, and want spectrum to be used to serve other purposes as well. These purposes include high-speed Internet access for those who have been bypassed by the broadband incumbents – or who simply cannot afford access.

In the middle of it all is developing technology, which (despite what you have heard from some of the spectrum haves here today) can and will meet acceptable and certifiable standards of non-interference. Federal Communications Commission engineers are sorting that out at the moment, as they should. And we can all foresee a day in the not-so-distant future when both the haves and the have nots will be able to enjoy this spectrum in ways that benefit us all.

Politics should not stand in the way of better technology, especially technology that could bring vast benefits to so many. So let’s put the politics of white spaces aside for a moment to look at the problem, and the opportunity.

The Problem: U.S. Broadband Falling Behind

The divide is wide. Since Internet access became publicly available in the 1990s, America has failed to deliver the Internet's tremendous benefits to everyone. As a result, millions still stand on the wrong side of the "digital divide."

Since 2001, the United States has fallen from fourth in the world in broadband penetration to 15th in the world today. Worse, our growth rate over the past year ranks us 20th out of the 30 countries.

The divide is economic. In America, only 35 percent of homes with less than $50,000 in annual income have a high-speed Internet connection. Moreover, nearly 20 million Americans live in areas that are not served by a single broadband provider; tens of millions more live in places where there is just a single provider of high-speed Internet service.

And it's racial. Broadband's promise is not being realized equally across all racial and ethnic groups in our country. Only 40 percent of racial and ethnic minority households have access to broadband, while 55 percent of non-Hispanic white households are connected.

American consumers pay far too much for far too little compared to citizens in other countries. We have the eighth-highest monthly rates for broadband service among leading developed nations. In real terms, this means Internet users in Japan pay about half the price for an Internet connection that's 20 times faster than what's commonly available to people in the United States.

In New York City, these problems are acute. A July 2008 report for the city by Diamond Management & Technology Consultants found that nearly three out of four low-income New Yorkers lack a high-speed Internet connection in their home. That's more than 666,000 households, according to the report, or literally millions of New Yorkers. The problem is concentrated in public housing, and especially among public housing residents over the age of 65 -- less than 5 percent of whom are connected to broadband.

The Opportunity: Unlicensed White Spaces in New York City

Free Press analyzed the availability of frequencies in the television band for the five Burroughs of the city (see attached). We found that after the February 2009 digital transition there will be ten vacant channels in New York City.

That means that 20 percent of the entire TV band will be sitting idle. This is amazing given the usual spectrum crowding that occurs in heavily populated areas. By way of contrast, in Juneau, Alaska, 74 percent of the same band will be vacant.

Still, 20 percent is a lot of airspace and it can be put to good use.

White spaces are especially suitable for low-power broadband use. Better than WiFi, white spaces are capable of transmitting high-speed Internet signals great distances and through concrete buildings.

Important, if we were to limit this spectrum to licensed use, there would be NO white spaces for use in New York City – none at all. This is because unlicensed use permits low-power smart devices, such as those being created by engineers at Phillips and Motorola. Licensed use does not.

This underscores an important point: Licensing of this spectrum in New York City means no new broadband providers. Opening white spaces on an un-licensed basis represents one of the last, best hopes we have to deliver vital broadband services to New Yorkers who need them most.

For the promises of the Internet to be met, we need to make sound decisions that encourage faster, more open and affordable access for everyone. The successful use of new broadband technologies are vital to the future of our country, whether you live in Juneau, Alaska, New York City or all places in between. Opening white spaces for unlicensed access is the right decision for the right technology.

It's important that the Council of the City of New York not stand in the way of this important innovation. As it is written, this resolution is not only unnecessary, but also a step in the wrong direction.

Instead, we urge you to ask the FCC to decide in the public's best interest, and that is to move rapidly to open white spaces for everyone.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Better than Lipstick on a Pig

If you feel that pigs with lipstick and Paris Hilton have hijacked our political discourse this election season, you're not alone.

Mainstream news shows have devoted too much attention to trivia, and too little to information that voters say matter most.

This Friday's presidential debate with Jim Lehrer of PBS moderating may be a chance to get the media back on track. But if past is prologue, we can expect another parade of the petty.

Media Matters analyzed the 2,304 questions asked during the 31 primary debates earlier this year. Of these, only 9 percent of the questions addressed the economy -- counted by Americans as the most important issue today, followed by the war, healthcare, energy policy and jobs.

Meanwhile, debate moderators piled on the fluff, asking questions about personality and other "non-substantive" matters more than 30 percent of the time.

The final Democratic primary debate, with ABC News' Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, was a low point. The moderators devoted the first 45 minutes to questions about flag pins, former pastors and candidate sniping before raising a single question about Iraq or the economy.

Free Press hopes to help remedy this during this Friday's debate. We have devised a "Citizens Media Scorecard" that will allow thousands of debate watchers to "score" the performance of the media moderators during the final four presidential and vice presidential debates.

These real-time ratings will be analyzed by esteemed media researcher Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report and immediately fed back to hundreds of political and media reporters as soon as the debates are finished -- allowing the public to weigh in before the media spin cycle gets out of control.

Debates are marquee moments in American elections. The few journalists selected to participate -- and the media narrative that follows -- will play a defining role in determining our next president.

Before Americans close the curtains on this election, we deserve real political discourse from our media. If the news organizations aren't up to the task, it's up to us to hold our media -- and through them, our leaders -- accountable.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why DC Lobbyists Fear 'White Spaces'

What if I told you we could use empty TV channels to connect millions of people to the Internet?

The technology exists to do just that. But a powerful corporate lobby is standing in the way with a multimillion-dollar misinformation campaign aimed at Congress and the Federal Communications Commission.

This month and next Washington will face a critical choice: Use new technology to open the Internet for everyone, or side with the lobbyists and prevent millions from getting connected.

This latest front in the battle over the future of the Internet is about "white spaces" -- empty frequencies between TV channels on the public airwaves.

white spaces
If you remember the days of rabbit ears on your set, white spaces are the static between the network channels as you turned the dial.

New technology can open this unused spectrum to powerful high-speed Internet services -- sending open and ubiquitous broadband signals over mountains and through buildings, potentially connecting tens of millions of Americans now left off the grid.

Washington Smoke Screens

Here's the problem: The National Association of Broadcasters and cell phone companies want to hoard this publicly owned resource. Their lobbyists have been blitzing Washington with misinformation to prevent white spaces from being used to benefit millions of people.

Unfortunately, many key decision makers in simply lack the bandwidth to look into white spaces technology and decide for themselves. Instead they rely upon the lobbyists who come knocking with lies and spin meant to paint this technology as a danger to mankind.

But broadcasters are simply blowing smoke to protect their FCC granted broadcast fiefdoms. As a result, we're being kept from using airwaves that could help fill one of the biggest holes in our national infrastructure.

Spanning the Divide

Too many Americans have been left on the wrong side of the digital divide -- sidelined in a nation that increasingly demands high-speed Internet access to get things done, keep up in school and find out what's happening in the world. The answer to this problem is right in front of us.

This week tens of thousands of people have signed a letter urging Congress and the FCC to skewer the industry spin and serve the public by opening white spaces to unlicensed, high speed Internet services.

Members of the Wireless Innovation Alliance (including Free Press) have declared Wednesday "White Spaces Day." We will bring your letters to the Hill and deliver them to your member of Congress.

Unless we urge Congress and the FCC to push back against industry and open up white spaces, Washington could side with the lobbyists and deny us one of our last, best opportunities to build a better Internet.

It's a familiar story. Big media companies use any means possible to squash new ideas that threaten their control over information.

It's time we changed that status quo and opened up white spaces for everyone.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

St. Paul in the Hot Seat over Journalist Arrests

Journalists and St. Paul citizens assembled outside St. Paul City Hall today to deliver more than 60,000 letters to Mayor Chris Coleman and prosecuting attorneys demanding that they immediately drop charges against all journalists arrested this week as they covered the Republican National Convention

By Friday morning, dozens of journalists, photographers, bloggers and videomakers had been booked by the Ramsey County Sheriff's office in what appears to have been an orchestrated round-up of media makers covering protests during the convention.

"From the pre-convention raids to the ongoing harassment and arrests of journalists, these have been dark days for press freedom in the United States," said Nancy Doyle Brown of the Twin Cities Media Alliance, who delivered the letters on behalf of the nonpartisan media reform group Free Press.

Stories That Will Never Be Told

She was joined by a crowd of local activists and journalists, including Amy Goodman and Nicole Salazar of Democracy Now!, KFAI-FM radio host Andy Driscoll and Mike Bucsko, executive director of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild.

"Tragically, there are stories that the world needed to hear this week that will never be told," Brown said. "They won't be told because reporters working on them were sitting in the back of squad cars, were stripped of their cameras, or were face down on the pavement with their hands cuffed behind their backs."

On Thursday, the final night of the convention, it appears that authorities ratcheted up their attacks on both protesters and credentialed journalists, lobbing tear gas and percussion grenades into crowds and arresting student journalists, local TV photographers, Associated Press reporters, and two MyFox journalists, among others.

Other journalists have also been pepper-sprayed, and reporters with I-Witness were held at gunpoint during a "pre-emptive" raid aimed at disrupting protesters last weekend.

Mayor Chris Coleman has refused to reply to my repeated calls and e-mails asking for his response to allegations that journalists were specifically targeted by authorities.


A crowd of journalists -- many of whom were arrested earlier in the week -- entered City Hall and delivered the letters into the hands of St. Paul Deputy Mayor Ann Mulholland and City Attorney John Choi, who briefly told them that the legal system will sort out their concerns.

The mayor and public officials "need to do a post-mortem to examine the circumstances" of these arrests, said Bucsko, who represents reporters at the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I hate to think that journalists were being targeted," adding that it appeared that "there was discrimination based upon their jobs."

The signatures were collected in less than 72 hours as people nationwide expressed their outrage over St. Paul's attempts to stifle the many journalists documenting events surrounding the tightly scripted spectacle in the city's Xcel Center.

Wellstone's Worst Nightmare

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, The Newspaper Guild, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters Without Borders, the Society for Professional Journalists and the Writers Guild of America, East have also sounded the alarm over the unusually harsh treatment by city authorities.

"The city of St. Paul has a black eye right now, and I must say that Paul Wellstone would be rolling in his grave," said Denis Moynihan of Free Speech TV, who spoke outside City Hall today.

"Mayor Coleman must salvage the damaged reputation of the state and the city by dropping charges against all journalists immediately."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

St. Paul Mayor and Media Mum on Journalism Crackdown

In St. Paul this week, a new generation of media makers is under assault by the city's mayor and law enforcement officers.

These local officials think freedom of the press extends only to their allies in mainstream media.

For the rest of us, practicing journalism is a crime.

While reports of brutal police arrests and home invasions are still coming in, by Tuesday night the picture became clear. Dozens of journalists, photographers, bloggers and videomakers had been arrested in an orchestrated round up of independents covering the Republican National Convention.

Targeting the New Press

The list of those detained ranges from the well-known (Democracy Now's Amy Goodman) and well-established (Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke) -- to the bootstrapping bloggers and video makers who are covering local protests for TheUptake.org, Twin Cities Indymedia, I-Witness and other outlets.

Police -- with firearms drawn -- raided a meeting of the video journalists and arrested independent media, bloggers and videomakers. Journalists covering protests have been pointed out by authorities, blasted with tear gas and pepper spray, and brutalized while in custody.

St Paul PoliceDemocracy Now's Goodman reports that a U.S. Secret Service agent ripped her press credentials from her neck the moment she identified herself to him as a member of the media. Her producers emerged yesterday from their jail cells bloodied and scarred, reporting unusually harsh treatment at the hands of local and federal authorities.

Mayor Coleman's Silence

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman hasn't responded to repeated phone and e-mail requests for comments on the targeting of journalists. Instead he praised the work of Police Chief John Harrington and painted those arrested as a small band of outsiders and vandals intent upon committing felonies against the good people of his city.

In less than a day, more than 35,000 people have signed a letter from Free Press (my employer) to Mayor Coleman condemning the arrests and demanding that he and local prosecutors immediately "free all detained journalists and drop all charges against them."

But when Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald pressed Harrington and Coleman to respond to widespread reports of journalist arrests, Harrington claimed ignorance while Coleman stood silent at his side.

Police spokesman Don Walsh intervened only to say that "arrest have been made" and that all those arrested were involved in criminal activities and not "simply non-participants."

Strib Forgets About Free Speech

In a bizarre editorial on Tuesday, the Minneapolis St. Paul Star Tribune hailed the police crackdown as "appropriate," blaming unrest on outsiders from beyond the Twin Cities.

"Many of those arrested in St. Paul weren't carrying IDs or wouldn't give their names. Those who were identified came from Lexington, Ky.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Portland, Ore., and dozens of other U.S. cities," they wrote. "These weren't the sons and daughters of Highland Park and south Minneapolis."

The Star Tribune itself is owned by out-of-towners from Avista Capital Partners, a New York City private equity firm specializing in energy, healthcare and media investments.

Other than a brief story about Goodman's arrest, the paper has failed to report on the apparent targeting of independent reporters, even though groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have sounded the alarm.

Sweeping Real Journalism Under the Carpet

Here we have every indication of an orchestrated assault by federal and local law enforcement agencies to stifle independent sources of information. As shocking as this conduct is, more disturbing is the fact that the mayor's office and the local daily seem so unconcerned.

It's not difficult to understand why. With local leaders making every effort to roll out the welcome mat for mainstream media and the GOP, they'd rather sweep beneath the carpet those pesky independents who are showing us a side of the spectacle that is less scripted for prime time.

As an elected representative, Mayor Coleman should take a stand on behalf of a free press, rein in aggressive and violent tactics by local law enforcement, stop the targeting of journalists and immediately drop all charges against them.

As a powerful news organization, the Star Tribune should know better, and should be sticking up for a free press, regardless of the form it takes.

For now, the democratic spirit of journalism is alive not in the Star Tribune newsroom, but among the video-blogs and cellphone reports that are bubbling up from outside the convention.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Networks Sleep While Democracy Burns

Sometimes mainstream media reveal their failures in displays so stark that it makes the job of media critics too easy.

NBC, ABC and CBS frequently forget to serve their viewers, to be sure, but certain miscues are a special boon for bloggers and media reformers, who work tirelessly to show that the titans of the mainstream consistently miss the most important stories of our time.

Network coverage of the political conventions this week and next is a case in point, as American politics takes a back seat to mainstream media reality.

The "Big Three" have decided that democracy is bad for business, and are treating viewers to excited hormones (ABC's "High School Musical"), miniskirts (NBC's "Deal or No Deal") and bachelor hi-jinks (CBS's "Two and a Half Men") instead of Democratic and Republican convention coverage in Denver and Minneapolis.

Citizens v. Consumers

At PBS, where "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" still thinks of its audience as "citizens rather than consumers," the conventions will be covered from gavel to gavel. ABC, CBS and NBC are yielding little more than an hour of prime time on most convention nights.

This is the sad reality of a corporate media that prefer laugh-tracks and the bottom line to political discourse.

While the networks yuk it up with sitcoms and teen libido, the message they're sending the American public is that the most important political gatherings of the last four years don't merit the nation's full attention - and certainly matter less than the standard prime-time fare offered up on any other night.

Television and the Age of Apathy

The damage goes beyond that: In the era of television elections voter turnout has been stuck between 50 and 55 percent. Over the same period, many young voters (aged 18 to 24) have increasingly passed on voting altogether - there's been a steady decline in youth turnout, despite spikes during the 1992 and 2004 general elections.

Even when they tune in network news, the public is spoon-fed coverage that rarely reflects the viewing public's political interests.

NBC, ABC, CBS and their cable counterparts overwhelmingly portray the elections as a horse race pitting TV-ready personalities against one another. Obama is the inexperienced firebrand, McCain the seasoned, straight-talking maverick. This drama may play well on the small screen, but it accomplishes little towards informing voters about the candidates' political views.

According to MediaTenor research from the 2004 presidential elections, less than 5 percent of networks newscasts dealt with candidates' positions on policy issues, such as health care, education, the war in Iraq, the economy and employment -- even though American voters consistently rank these topics as the "most important issues for the government to address."

The same pattern can be seen on the news in 2008. Candidates are not being identified according to their stances on the issues, but by their posture of the day. As a result, too much coverage emphasizes immediacy and spin over substance and issues. Who's up in the latest polls? Who scored the latest zinger on the campaign trail?

In 2004: Worm Munching Trumps Obama

In the face of this critique, network executives have circled their news vans and lobbed criticism at the conventions themselves.

In 2004, NBC's then anchor Tom Brokaw called the conventions heavily scripted "infomercials" not worthy of news. That year, NBC fed viewers a prime-time diet of worm munching on "Fear Factor" instead of featuring the debut of rising political star Barack Obama, who took the stage in Boston, delivered an electrifying speech and launched his political prospects.

NBC was not alone. ABC and CBS also deemed that historic moment as "too scripted" for prime time.

To be fair, conventions are designed by the parties to spin their candidate before the media, but it's up to the networks to unpack the hype and deliver real political analysis and breaking news to their audience.

Turning their cameras on is a start.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Major Milestone in the Fight for an Open Internet

It's official. The Federal Communications Commission delivered its order on Wednesday lowering the hammer on Comcast for derailing Internet users' Web access and then pretending that the cable giant was doing nothing wrong.

The order, approved by a bipartisan FCC majority at the beginning of the month, demands that Comcast "must stop" its ongoing practice of blocking Internet content by year's end.

As I have written before, this action carries considerable weight.

It's the first time the FCC has gone to such lengths to assert users' right to an open Internet and Net Neutrality. And it sends a warning shot across the bow of other major ISPs that are flirting with the idea of blocking, filtering or degrading content, or favoring certain Web sites and services over others.

The FCC Delivers

"This order marks a major milestone in Internet policy," says Ben Scott, Free Press policy director. "For years, the FCC declared that it would take action against any Internet service provider caught violating the online rights guaranteed by the agency. The commission has delivered on that promise."

The order concludes the FCC's months-long investigation, which included two public hearings at Harvard and Stanford universities -- and more than 25,000 public comments.

"This clear legal precedent signals that the future of the Net Neutrality debate will be over how, not whether, to protect users' right to an open Internet," Scott says.

Comcast's Smokescreen

Comcast and its Astroturf allies swamped the FCC with filings that challenged the agency's authority and outright denied any wrongdoing. But the smackdown of Comcast's claims issued today makes clear that the agency is on solid legal footing, and Comcast clearly in the wrong.

"The Communications Act has long established the federal agency's authority to promote the competition, consumer choice, and diverse information across all communications platforms," explains Marvin Ammori, Free Press' legal counsel, who authored the 2007 complaint against the cable giant.

In 2005, the agency unanimously adopted an Internet policy statement that "extended these rights to Internet users - including the right to access the lawful content, applications and services of their choice."

That statement served the basis for the Free Press complaint, which set the wheels of the FCC churning towards Wednesday's welcome result.

A Scathing Rebuke

The FCC was unconvinced by Comcast's attempts to evade accountability. The order finds that Comcast's repeated "verbal gymnastics" and attempts to muddy the issue of blocking were "unpersuasive and beside the point."

The commissioners were especially outraged by Comcast's lies and deception. When it first got caught blocking the Internet, the cable giant "misleadingly disclaimed any responsibility for its customers' problems," according to the FCC order, followed by "at best misdirection and obfuscation."

Contrary to the spin of Comcast's lawyers, the FCC can protect the rights of Internet users, and promote openness, free speech and competition on the Web.

ISPs Don't Own the Internet

"The Internet is a world-wide system that does not belong to any one operator," wrote David Reed, a pioneer in the design of the Internet's fundamental architecture. "The design of the Internet Protocols specifies clear limits on what operators can and cannot do... Happily, the FCC recognized and exposed Comcast's transgressions of those limits."

[Read what other Net luminaries are saying about the order.]

Still, the FCC cannot act without first receiving complaints from users. Cable and phone companies would now be wise to obey the order and resist their gatekeeper tendencies.

But the public also needs to continue to keep watch over the Internet, and to call for FCC action against abuse of our Internet rights.

Friday, August 01, 2008

TKO of Comcast Sets Stage for a Better Internet

They tried to shut us out. Their flacks and shills tried to discredit us. Their media lapdogs tried to attack us. But nothing could prevent a people-powered movement from stopping one of Washington's most powerful corporations.

Today the FCC delivered a technical knock-out to Comcast. In a landmark decision, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein approved an "enforcement order" that would require Comcast to stop interfering with the use of popular peer-to-peer applications by people on its network.

The FCC Hammers Comcast

Today's FCC move is precedent-setting. It sends a powerful message to phone and cable companies that blocking access to the Internet will not be tolerated.

It also gives the FCC (one still controlled by industry-friendly Republicans) the teeth to stop powerful companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from getting between you and what you want to do online.

And it wouldn't have happened without the strong public backlash against phone and cable companies and their gatekeeper ambitions. Activists, bloggers, consumer advocates and everyday people who love an open Internet took on entrenched corporate power and won -- defying every ounce of conventional wisdom in Washington.

The Comcast Mafia

Through its D.C. mafia, Comcast had been exerting intense political and financial pressure on the FCC's Martin, who in July had announced his intention to sanction Comcast for mucking with the Web.

But the Republican chairman stood his ground , alongside Democratic Commissioners Copps and Adelstein, and instilled some hope that, even in a divided city, the public's interest can win out over partisanship and corruption.

It also follows more than two years of intense organizing by a coalition of organizations dedicated to preserving the democracy of the Internet. During this time, more than 1.6 million people sacrificed time and energy to contact Congress and the FCC, speak out at town meetings, collect signatures on street corners and on campuses, and spread the gospel of an open Internet via blogs, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.

A Movement Milestone

A people-powered movement for a free and open Internet is taking shape around issues of Net Neutrality, open access, online privacy and digital inclusion.

Today's FCC victory is a milestone for the movement, but the work of creating a more accessible, open and affordable Internet is really only just beginning.

Companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are continuing to fight Net Neutrality using lobbyists, lawyers and campaign contributions. They're aligning with powerful forces in Washington to spy on their users without warrant - and then gain retroactive immunity via Washington. They're looking working with the Hollywood industry associations to sift through information we send and download online to impose a draconian copyright regime on the Web, They're quietly snooping for data about our private online choices to turn over to advertisers.

Telco Doublespeak

Inside the Beltway, Big Telco and Cable are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create special rules written in their favor.

For all of their talk of "deregulation" and "free markets," cable and telephone lobbyists work aggressively behind the scenes to force through regulations that protect their local monopolies and duopolies, stifle new entrants and competitive technologies in the marketplace, and increase their control over the content that travels over the Web.

It's only recently that the well-heeled phone and cable lobby have been beaten back by a well-organized public. We are coming together in increasing numbers to see that these special interests are not allowed to set Internet policy for the nation.

The Internet's true greatness lies in those of us who use its level playing field to challenge the status quo, create and share new innovation and ideas, take part in our democracy and connect with others around the world -- without permission from any gatekeepers.

As we continue to mobilize to save the Internet, Washington should start to follow the public's lead. Change may be on the horizon for American politics, and this recent FCC decision may have offered up our first glimpse.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Two Voices at the FCC for a Free and Open Internet

It's unusual for federal bureaucrats to achieve rock star status, but two commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission have amassed an enthusiastic fan base among the emerging "Open Internet" movement.

For several years, Democratic Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps have stood up, spoke out and worked all the angles at the cavernous FCC in defense of an Internet that is open, neutral, accessible and affordable to everyone.

These are the bedrock principles of a growing movement of bloggers, media makers, online activists and organizers who are fighting for unfettered access to the Net.

Adelstein on Harp

Adelstein joins the North Mississippi All-Stars at the National Conference for Media Reform

While in the minority, Adelstein and Copps have been joined by a somewhat unlikely ally in Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. The three of them are now poised to deliver a major victory to the little guys against one of the country's biggest and most ruthless media companies.

The Making of the Movement

Adelstein and Copps' crusade on the Internet's behalf hasn't been easy.

Lining up against them in Washington is an army of hired legal guns and lobbyists working for the likes of Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. Every day, they swarm the FCC and Capitol Hill to blast away at any rule that would prevent their clients from becoming the new gatekeepers to the Web.

Who ultimately controls the Internet is a question that has galvanized millions of Internet activists in recent years.

Grassroots groups like SavetheInternet.com, Free Press (my employer), Public Knowledge, ACLU, MoveOn.org, Common Cause and Electronic Frontier Foundation see the Internet as the future of all media -at a time when more and more people are taking charge of their TV watching, music listening and other rich media experiences via a high-speed connection.

Using the Internet to Save the Internet

Millions of their supporters have used the tools of the Internet to send Washington a powerful political message: "Don't side with special interests and strip away our online freedoms."

In 2006, Capitol Hill was poised to pass a telco-friendly communications bill opposed by public advocacy groups for lacking basic consumer protections. More than 1.5 million people wrote letters to Congress, attended protest rallies across the country and organized using MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. The bill died on the Senate floor.

In 2007, the FCC was poised to hand over a valuable chunk of spectrum with no strings attached to powerful wireless companies. More than a quarter million people wrote the FCC demanding "open access" to these airwaves. The FCC attached some openness conditions before putting the spectrum out for bid.

Two DC bureaucrats stand up to the powerful phone and cable lobby, and inspire an emerging 'netroots' movement.

When Verizon Wireless censored text messages by NARAL Pro-Choice America in late 2007, they sent tens of thousands of letters to Washington. Under intense public and media scrutiny, Verizon reversed its decision and let the NARAL messages through.

New Media Democracy

"Consumers don't want the Internet to become another version of old media -- dominated by a handful of companies," Adelstein told an enthusiastic audience during a FCC hearing in Pittsburgh earlier this week. "They want choice."

In June, Commissioner Copps asked a crowd at the National Conference for Media Reform: "If you want to blog about local politics, should you really have to pay some huge gatekeeper for every reader you get? Should anyone be telling you what you can read and see and hear on the Internet? Which applications you can run? Which devices you can use?"

He pledged alongside Commissioner Adelstein to "do everything we can" to ensure that the Internet looks like "real media democracy."

Adelstein and Copps' tenure in Washington has come under a Republican-led FCC, which has routinely supported industry efforts to whittle away many of the user freedoms that are fundamental to preserving the Internet's democratic character.

The agency has become embroiled in an issue called "Net Neutrality" -- the fundamental safeguard for users' ability to go where they want, do what they choose and connect with whomever they like every time they boot up the Internet.

Net Neutrality has pitted Internet rights advocates from across the political spectrum against powerful phone and cable companies, which now control broadband access for nearly 99 percent of American users. But Adelstein and Copps have broken with the well-heeled lobbyists to take a principled stand for a people-powered Internet.

Beating Back Comcast

When AT&T announced its plans to merge with BellSouth in 2006, it was the two Democrats who attached Net Neutrality as a two-year condition of the merger and then strong armed Republican members of the commission to sign off on the terms.

Now the FCC faces a new opportunity to establish Net Neutrality as the guiding principle of the Internet.

Earlier this month Chairman Martin announced that he would recommend punishing Comcast Corp. for violating Net Neutrality and blocking subscribers' Internet traffic.

While the final order hasn't come out yet, it's worthwhile to look at how we got here. The Republican Chairman should get a lot of credit for his handling of the Comcast case, including holding public hearings on the issue.

But Adelstein and Copps have walked with the public every step of the way on Net Neutrality.

Now they stand ready to join with Martin against Comcast (Their vote is expected to happen during the August 1 monthly meeting of the five commissioners). This decision would set an historic legal precedent for all those fighting to keep the Internet free of corporate gatekeepers.

"Both commissioners have really shown their mettle on this issue," blogger Matt Stoller of OpenLeft.com said during last week's Netroots Nation conference in Austin. "Copps has been a visionary and a firebrand for the netroots. Adelstein has shown bravery by breaking with the conventional wisdom of Washington for the good of everyone else."