Thursday, December 16, 2010

Don't Let the NAB Strangle Local Radio

Community radio station advocates have fought for 10 years to free up unused spaces on the FM dial for new, local and independent radio stations. Today, Congress is on the cusp of sending the Local Community Radio Act to the president. If signed, this bill would clear the way for hundreds, if not thousands, of new FM (known as LPFM) stations in cities and towns nationwide.

But one of the most powerful lobbying forces in Washington, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), is standing in the way.

The NAB represents the interests of powerful broadcast conglomerates, the sort of companies that have drowned the airwaves in cookie-cutter playlists and talk personalities while downsizing local content. This consolidation of ownership of radio licenses helped ushered in an era of nationally syndicated radio voices including Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

In a last-ditch effort to keep their stranglehold on the public airwaves, these corporate lobbyists have strong-armed a few Senators to place holds on the bill and keep local voices off the air. They claimed that a station at 3 clicks away on the dial or closer to a bigger station would cause interference, despite years of engineering study and practice proving that this was not true.

We need more voices and choices on the air. Without LPFM stations local music and culture may disappear from the dial completely. Coverage of local politics or crises has dwindled to a point of near irrelevance. LPFM stations could create a new forum for local political discourse.

The NAB must stop blocking access to the public airwaves and make local radio a reality for millions of people.

Sign and Retweet this petition to take action right now and join the new radio pioneers at Prometheus Radio Project to return local spectrum to the locals.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Damning Praise for Genachowski's Plan

For those keeping score, the phone and cable companies seem generally pleased with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s Net Neutrality proposal.

If any questions remain about with whom the chairman has sided in the debate, read on:

Time Warner Cable:
We would like to commend Chairman Genachowski, and everyone at the Commission, who have worked tirelessly to craft what we believe to be a fair resolution to these complex and controversial policy issues. We also want to thank the many Members of Congress who, on a bipartisan basis, urged the Commission to take a less regulatory path in order to ensure that the Internet continues its vibrant growth and development.
We believe Chairman Genachowski’s proposal, as described this morning, strikes a workable balance between the needs of the marketplace and the certainty that carefully-crafted and limited rules can provide to ensure that Internet freedom and openness are preserved.
Based on our understandings, this measure would avoid onerous Title II regulation; would be narrowly drawn along the lines of a compromise we have endorsed previously; would reject limits on our ability to properly manage our network and efficiently utilize our wireless spectrum; would recognize the capabilities and limitations of different broadband technologies; would ensure specialized services are protected against intrusive regulation; and would provide for a case-by-case resolution of complaints that also encourages non-governmental dispute settlement.
Verizon appreciates the efforts of Chairman Genachowski to seek a consensus on the contentious issue of net neutrality… [W]e urge the commissioners to recognize the limitations of the current statute and the rapidly changing conditions in the marketplace and make any rules it adopts interim, rather than permanent. Specifically, the commission should consider the framework of the Waxman proposal, including its sunset provision.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A no-brainer for bipartisanship

By Michele Combs and Timothy Karr. Originally published at The Hill

As he prepares to take on the role of House Speaker, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) has pledged to bring a new era of bipartisanship to Congress. "I think the best leaders are very good listeners," said Boehner in October. "Because if you are not listening, you cannot lead."

President Obama responded in kind: "Let's go ahead and start making some progress on the things that we do agree on," he said, "And we can continue to have a strong and healthy debate about those areas where we don't."

Here’s their best chance to listen and lead together: Republicans, Democrats and nearly every one across the political spectrum agree that opening our radio dial to more local voices is good for the country.

That’s why 86 Republicans and Democrats joined together to sponsor the Local Community Radio Act in the House, where it sailed through on a voice vote. And it’s why Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) joined with Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) to introduce the act in the Senate.

Groups as different as Free Press and the Christian Coalition agree that passing the Local Community Radio Act should be a no-brainer. It would free up unused radio spectrum for hundreds and possibly thousands of new local stations. Known as Low Power FM (LPFM), these stations operate at 100 watts or less and broadcast just a few miles into local communities. They’re typically run by colleges, churches, schools and nonprofits to provide local information and perspectives not available elsewhere on the dial.

From saving lives during Hurricane Katrina to broadcasting local church services to homebound community members, these stations have more than demonstrated their importance to communities nationwide. Without them, so many of our small cities, towns and rural areas would not have a voice on the radio at all.

So what’s the problem? Last month, one senator, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), quietly placed a hold on the bill. Sen. Barrasso cited concerns that were similar to those raised by the National Association of Broadcasters, a powerful lobby that represents the interest of commercial broadcasters. But the NAB’s objections are based on misplaced notions of signal interference that were debunked long ago following an exhaustive study of LPFM broadcasting.

Barrasso’s own constituents stand to benefit greatly from the legislation; opening the radio spectrum over Wyoming would create airspace for dozens of new stations from Cheyenne to Cody. The same is true in every other state with significant rural populations.

We can’t allow the obstinacy of a few to get in the way of legislation that promises to benefit so many.

The Local Community Radio Act has only an upside. Passing it would be a meaningful step toward bipartisanship at a time when our nation desperately needs to go beyond politics as usual to a place where we can all work together.

-- Michele Combs is the vice president of communications for the Christian Coalition of America. Timothy Karr is the campaign director for Free Press the national media reform group.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Comcast Kumbaya

Comcast wants you to trust them -- to really, really trust them.

That's why the company's top lobbyist, David Cohen, convened what could best be described as a Kumbaya sing-along in Washington on Monday, to declare Net Neutrality an issue over which Washington needn't concern itself any longer.

"It's time to put this [Net Neutrality] debate behind us," he told an audience of D.C. insiders at the Brookings Institution. "Check the box and move on."

Now, don't think this means Comcast has changed its tune on the importance of the open Internet. It's still trying to kill Net Neutrality. It's just making a softer sell to convince Washington to forget about protecting the rights of Internet users.

"The courts, the FCC, and the Congress -- all valuable institutions filled with capable, conscientious people ... but few of them with the background to work out consensus on what are essentially complicated technical issues," Cohen said.

To whom, then, should we turn to look out for the public interest? Why, the industry itself. According to Cohen, "real self-regulation" with the assistance of an industry-formed advisory group is the answer.

Minding the Hen House

The advisory group Cohen has in mind, known as BITAG, was quickly cobbled together by Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Microsoft, Intel and other major industry players in June 2010 -- just as the Federal Communications Commission was starting to craft rules to safeguard Internet users from an industry push to exert more control over Web content and applications.

Never mind that BITAG's list of charter members includes the biggest violators of Net Neutrality -- not least of all, Comcast.

To that end, Cohen skimmed over Comcast's covert campaign to block peer-to-peer users on its network -- for which it was sanctioned by the FCC.

Cohen would like us to forget that it was Comcast that was caught red-handed blocking lawful Internet traffic in 2007, and that then lied about what it was doing. It was Comcast that tried to evade scrutiny by obstructing public participation in an FCC hearing investigating its Internet blocking. And when the FCC forced the company to stop discriminating against its customers, without even levying a fine, it was Comcast that sued on a technicality to avoid any accountability.

But in an effort to whitewash its record of underhanded activity, Cohen claimed that the public reaction to this debacle taught the company a lesson about being better self-regulators.

"In retrospect," he said, "we made the wrong decision for the right reasons." Though those who were blocked from sharing barbershop quartet music and the King James Bible might remember things differently.

Bygones, said Cohen, who now claims Comcast was vindicated and can be trusted with the fate of your Internet -- and of NBC Universal, which it hopes to acquire.

Fear and Self-Loathing in Washington

"Unfortunately, the national debate around Net Neutrality and an 'open Internet' has been almost exclusively driven by lawyers," declared Cohen (who is a lawyer). In fact, Comcast hates lawyers so much that the company employs at least 100 of them from 30 different D.C. firms to lobby Washington to get its way.

All of Cohen's lip service about consensus would be more palatable if his company hadn't poured so much money into astroturf front groups and lobbyists determined to undermine all efforts to encourage fair competition and a level playing field online.

The only thing you can trust about Comcast is that it seeks to boost its bottom line and serve shareholders by any means possible. That's the nature of corporations. And naturally, the public shouldn't expect corporations like Comcast to look out for its best interests.

Public policy is designed for that role -- to make it profitable for corporations to behave in ways that don't harm the rest of us. The only thing that will keep Comcast honest is clear rules of the road and a real watchdog such as the FCC to enforce them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Who Will Head MSNBC if Comcast Takes Over?

And Why That Poses an Even Bigger Threat to Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann is back, and for his many fans, including the 300,000 who petitioned MSNBC to reinstate him, it would seem a return to form.

But Olbermann's dispute with the brass at MSNBC may only serve as a prelude to more troubled times.

MSNBC's parent company, NBC Universal, is likely to be taken over by cable giant Comcast, should regulators sign off on the $30 billion deal. If history is any guide, this merger poses an even bigger threat to the future of MSNBC personalities like Olbermann and Rachel Maddow than the recent dustup that temporarily sidelined the host.

That's why tens of thousands have already urged the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice to stop the merger. They cite a multitude of reasons the takeover would bring them harm, including higher prices and fewer choices in programming and services. Indeed, such concentration of media power leads to a less vigilant news media, a muted marketplace of ideas and fewer consumer options at a time when are demanding more.

Add to this the dim but real prospect that MSNBC's new boss will be even less welcoming than the current one to commentators that rock the boat. Just consider the candidates in line to take over MSNBC:

Steve Burke, Comcast's Chief Operating Officer

According to The Street, Steve Burke will take NBC's CEO spot from Jeff Zucker should the merger be approved. In an e-mail to colleagues, Zucker said: "Comcast will be a great new steward, just as GE has been, and they deserve the chance to implement their own vision."

That vision - in the hands of Burke - might not be to the liking of MSNBC's stable of talent. Burke has deep ties to the Republican Party. According to Public Citizen, Burke raised at least $200,000 for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. Prior to that, he served on the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology under Bush, at a time when the administration was undermining scientific consensus on topics including climate change, stem-cell research, and even the relationship between corn syrup and rates of diabetes in children.

As a top science adviser to President Bush, did Burke condone administration efforts to bury scientific findings that challenged official policy? What would he do when comments or reporting by Olbermann or Maddow challenge Comcast's corporate dogma?

Peter A. Chernin, Former Second in Command at News Corp.

Peter Chernin was a major fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Clinton, according to the New York Times, which also reports that he may be on the short list to take over NBC operations should Comcast get the nod.

For years, Chernin has co-owned a restaurant on Martha's Vinyard with Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts. More recently, he was tapped by Roberts to become a "special adviser" to Comcast on the potential merger.

Chernin's close ties to Clinton, Roberts and Rupert Murdoch indicate his biases may be more corporate than political. But it was during his tenure at Fox that the network looked the other way as many of its personalities actively -- and financially -- supported Republican candidates and Tea Party causes.

Chernin once asked Roberts whether he planned to interfere in editorial content at MSNBC -- a question that Roberts refused to answer.

Eileen Dolente, Senior Director, Comcast Multimedia Content Development

Odds are slim that Eileen Dolente would be picked to head MSNBC programming. But her record at Comcast offers a disturbing glimpse into the cable company's mindset regarding speech that interferes with business as usual.

As director of programming for Comcast's news division, CN8, Dolente fired host Barry Nolan. His crime? Nolan had protested a major award being given to Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly.

Nolan was "appalled" that an award would be given to O'Reilly. He dashed off e-mails stating that O'Reilly's "indiscretions, inaccuracies, and prejudices disqualify him for such a lofty honor."

Dolente was appalled that one of her hosts would share such an opinion, and within a week of the award ceremony, she showed Nolan the door. Documents filed in a subsequent lawsuit revealed that the mutual business interests of Comcast and News Corp., which employs O'Reilly, were a major factor in Nolan's firing.

What position would Comcast take should MSNBC personalities launch a similar attack on a valued business partner? If Dolente takes the helm, past may become prologue for MSNBC.

Monday, November 08, 2010

As the Firewall Crumbles

From time to time the editors at the Washington Post push out an opinion that doesn’t quite pass its own smell test.

As a business, the Washington Post Company owns properties that extend well beyond the newspaper itself. As a prominent newspaper, the Post claims to have built a firewall that protects its editors and their decision making from the interests of this larger entity.

But on occasion these interests ram up against the public’s right to know – and the editors' stated obligation to serve that right. And the results aren’t pretty.

September 28, 2009:
In print: The Washington Post editorial board complains that the FCC's push for Net Neutrality protections is "heavy handed" and “unneeded.”

The back story: The Washington Post Company owns Cable One, a cable and Internet firm active in 19 states which stands to benefit financially by breaking Net Neutrality and discriminating in favor of some online content and against other. The Post editorial fails to mention this conflict of interest.

The Post ombudsman: No comment.
August 22, 2010:
In print: The Washington Post editorial board opposes new rules on for-profit universities proposed by the Department of Education, writing that these rules "make no sense."

The back story: The Washington Post Company owns Kaplan Inc., Kaplan University and other for-profit schools of higher education that would benefit financially from fewer regulations of their “industry.”

The Post ombudsman: No comment.
October 25, 2010:
In print: The Washington Post editorial board writes that the merger of Comcast and NBC “should be allowed to proceed” and that regulators should “be skeptical of the critics' claims” that the deal represents higher prices, fewer choices and less access for consumers.

The back story: The Washington Post Company not only owns Cable One, but also six television stations, a long list of print publications, plus, Foreign Policy and other online sites. The proposed Comcast-NBC merger could serve as a model for the Post Company’s future growth as a conglomerated media interest. While the editorial discloses the company’s ownership of Cable One, it failed to disclose how greatly its aggregated interests influence the Post’s position on this issue.

The Post ombudsman: No comment.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fox News Tries to Foreclose on Sesame Street

The high-pitched pundits of Fox News Channel have had their sites aimed at NPR nonstop since the radio network sacked analyst Juan Williams last week for likening all Muslims to terrorists.

They've not only tried to turn Williams into some kind of media martyr (though it's hard to feel too sorry for a guy who was unemployed for about 20 minutes before signing a $2 million deal with Fox) but have gone so far as to stalk NPR President Vivian Schiller on the streets of D.C.

The Williams' hullabaloo has dominated the headlines, but Fox News and its Republican allies are hunting much larger game: Big Bird.

Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove and Megyn Kelly, among others, have taken to the air calling on Congress to wholly defund public broadcasting. They don't just want to silence NPR, but to pull the plug on every network, station and program that gets public support -- from PBS to Pacifica. They want to freeze out Frontline and foreclose on Sesame Street.

On The Factor, O'Reilly called for "immediate suspension of every taxpayer dollar" going to public media. "We're going to get legislation," he said. "We're going to freeze it down, so they don't get any more money."

On cue, Sen. Jim DeMint (R -S.C.) promised to introduce legislation that would do just that: zero out $420 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which supports stations that offer important public affairs programs such as The News Hour with Jim Lehrer and All Things Considered. Eliminating funds would kill the successful "Ready to Learn" program, which supports children's shows, including Sesame Street, Arthur and Dragon Tales.

"There's ... no reason to force taxpayers to subsidize liberal programming they disagree with," DeMint said late last week.

What We Get from Public Media

The right's gamble here is that their efforts to paint public broadcasting as the voice of encroaching socialism will fire up the passions of some Americans, a week before many of us head to the polls.

"NPR is a public institution that directly or indirectly exists because the taxpayers fund it. And what do we, the taxpayers, get for this?" asked Sarah Palin.

Well, according to poll after poll, the taxpayers believe that they get a lot -- not just the educational programming that brings us Big Bird, but also hard-hitting journalism that the much of the commercial media have abandoned.

According to the nonpartisan Roper polling firm, Americans rank PBS as the second "most valuable" service taxpayers receive for their money, outranked only by national defense. Moreover, a majority of the public believe the amount of federal funding public broadcasting receives is "too little."

Comparatively, this is true. The United States already has one of the lowest levels of federal funding of public media in the developed world -- at just $1.43 per capita; Canada spends $22 per capita; England spends $80; people in Finland and Denmark spend much more. And it's no coincidence that the nations with highest public media funding seem to do a far better job producing journalism that challenges government and corporations and upsets the status quo.

And maybe that's what scares Palin's crew the most. Perhaps their goal in all of this, as has been suggested elsewhere, is not to slash funding for public broadcasting but to scare public broadcasters into presenting news with a slant more favorable to the right.

Why Bashing Big Bird Will Backfire

Whatever the rationale, their tactics are a proven loser.

Every time PBS and NPR have come under attack, the American public has risen up in protest to defend -- not defund -- it. A similar right-wing push in 2005 failed after more than a million people contacted Congress demanding that full funding be restored. Attacking public media also ended up hurting Nixon in the 1970s, Reagan in the 1980s, and Newt Gingrich in the 1990s.

In just a few days, hundreds of thousands of people already have mobilized in defense of Big Bird and better journalism. You can add your voice here.

Here's hoping this time we don't just stop yet another assault on public media, but actually start solving the structural problems with the system that has left it underfunded and overexposed to these types of political shenanigans.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Genachowski's Choice

It's put up or shut up time on Net Neutrality. That’s what Rob Pegoraro wrote in the Washington Post earlier this week.

And he’s right.

The fate of the open Internet now rests in the hands of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The chairman just needs to muster the courage to do right by the millions of Internet users who demand an Internet of, for, and by the people.

Rep. Henry Waxman tried last week to craft a bipartisan compromise on Net Neutrality only to have his bill deep-sixed by hostile Republicans on the Commerce Committee, who are eager to smother the open Internet should voters hand them a majority in November.

Waxman passed the issue back to Genachowski with clear instructions to “move forward” and reassert the agency’s authority to protect consumers against content blocking efforts by the likes of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

FCC No Brainer

Genachowski now simply needs to buck up. His next step would seem a no brainer to anyone viewing the issue from beyond the Beltway: reclassify broadband under Title II so the FCC can protect Internet users against corporate censors.

Sadly, the view from the eighth floor of the FCC – which has been circled by industry lobbyists for months – is not so apparent.

Pegoraro wrote:
The issue here is simple: Should the government prevent Internet providers from discriminating for or against legitimate sites, services and applications?
That's not a theoretical risk. Telecommunications firms and some networking experts have argued for the right to charge other sites more for faster delivery of their data or put the brakes on some online uses that they feel clog their networks.
The FCC can save us from a future where corporations privilege certain content over others by following Genachowski’s original plan unveiled in 2009 and “write a simple set of net-neutrality rules,” concludes Pegoraro.

“An agency chair has to make tough decisions which, more often than not, contradict the desires of the largest companies with stakes in the outcomes, Free Press President Josh Silver told NPR last night. “Julius Genachowski is terrified of making those decisions.“

We’ve Got Your Back, Julius

Delivering on Net Neutrality isn’t that frightening. Genachowski just needs to call a Commission vote to restore the FCC as a watchdog of our online rights. He has the legal clearance, political cover and momentum to make this vote happen. He just needs to be reminded of that:

1. Congressional leadership: House Commerce Committee Chairman Waxman told Genachowski to "move forward under Title II." Support for FCC action has also been voiced by leading Democrats on the Commerce Committee, including Reps. Anna Eshoo, Ed Markey and Jay Inslee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has given Genachowski the nod, calling Net Neutrality, reclassification and universal access “priorities for us”;

2. Opinion leaders in media: Pegoraro’s Washington Post column was just one among the clamor of voices in media calling for action. The editorial boards of major daily newspapers, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the San Jose Mercury News and USA Today, have called for FCC action;

3. Genachowski is the swing vote for a majority of FCC Commissioners in favor of Title II and Net Neutrality. Both Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps have indicated that they favor this move. To get it done, Genachowski simply needs to call the vote;

4. President Obama has publicly urged Net Neutrality protections on at least seven occasions. He appointed Genachowski with the understanding that this would be job one at the FCC;

5. In 2009, the FCC's commissioned a Harvard study, which concluded that Bush-era deregulation created a latticework of local broadband monopolies and stuck Americans paying more for some of the slowest Internet speeds in the developed world. The study concluded that reclassification would restore our global Internet leadership;

6. And, most importantly, more than two million Americans have demanded that Washington protect the open Internet from blocking and discrimination by corporations.

The chairman can put a clear Net Neutrality standard on the books by calling a commission vote and reclassifying.

The move has the added benefit of giving clearance for the agency to proceed on plans to bridge the nation’s digital divide and invite more consumer choice into a broadband marketplace dominated by too few players.

All of our efforts to make this happen have come to this moment, right now, and to this chairman, Julius Genachowski. He simply needs to step up.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

AT&T’s Latest Tactic: Rewrite History

AT&T can’t seem to get its story straight on Net Neutrality. For years, company spokespeople had claimed that the issue was a "solution in search of a problem."

Over the last week, they’ve unwittingly defined the problem and it is … AT&T.

As recently as 2008, Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s top lobbyist, painted threats to an open Internet as a non-issue, and certainly not something requiring intervention by the Federal Communications Commission.

"I think people agree why the Internet is successful," Cicconi said at the time, adding that threats to openness were largely imaginary. "I don't think government can anticipate these kinds of technical problems. Right now, I think Net Neutrality is a solution in search of a problem."

Fast forward to September 2010, and Cicconi has become a poster child for the problems he once denied.

Getting 'Prioritization' Wrong

Last week one of his deputies, Robert Quinn, filed a letter with the FCC claiming that the company’s plans for implementing "paid prioritization"– or privileging delivery of certain Internet content for a price – would not undermine an open Internet.

AT&T even went so far as to attack Free Press for, in their words, being dogmatic in disputing this claim. By way of evidence, AT&T wrote the FCC that prioritization is in keeping with the Internet’s fundamental openness – supported by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the international body that develops and promotes Internet standards.

But soon after AT&T made this claim, the IETF's chairman disputed it. "This characterization of the IETF standard and the use of the term 'paid prioritization' by AT&T is misleading," IETF Chairman Russ Housley told the National Journal.

And Housely is not alone. Leading technologists at the Open Technology Initiative and Center for Democracy & Technology (along with a slew of technology beat reporters) have labeled AT&T efforts to justify prioritization “misguided” and “misleading.”

Mixing Up Its Message

From past statements, it seems that even AT&T disagrees with itself.

Way back in 2009, Cicconi said that Internet “discrimination that impacts consumers negatively is something unreasonable." He later complained:
[Net Neutrality] is an important reality check for government: You’re pushed to achieve a Utopian end people have dreamed up, but that’s not how government works. Government works to solve problems … and nobody has made a convincing case that there is a problem here that needs the government to step in.
So what’s really happening here?

AT&T wants to slow down most Internet traffic so it can charge a few deep-pocketed companies for priority access. That is certainly something the IETF never envisioned and does not endorse, because it goes against the openness that has been central to the Internet’s success.

AT&T calls this scheme paid prioritization. But their misleading definition of it is just another way to wiggle out of the non-discrimination principles that have powered the Internet for decades.

Think about it. Cicconi has long claimed that Net Neutrality threats don’t exist and therefore don't require government intervention. Now AT&T seeks to demolish Net Neutrality, but it has to downplay paid prioritization to square the circle.

In other words, instead of calling Net Neutrality “a solution in search of a problem,” now they’re saying: “Problem? What problem?”

Doing the Right Thing

This campaign of disinformation shows that network operators will say anything to get what they want – even if it includes misleading regulators about crucial Internet policy.

On Wednesday, Free Press joined with several other public interest groups to demand that AT&T lobbyists retract inaccurate statements made to the FCC about paid prioritization.

History should be AT&T’s guide.

For two years, the company operated under Net Neutrality rules as a condition of its merger with Bell South. Under that agreement, AT&T said that it would not "provide or sell to Internet content, application, or service providers ... any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet ... based on its source, ownership or destination."

Under these conditions, the company increased investment in new networks and grossed profits in the tens of billions of dollars – without prioritization.

So, Net Neutrality has never been a problem for AT&T. But AT&T is now a problem for Net Neutrality.

And that's precisely why the FCC needs to intervene.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chairman Genachowski. Can You Hear Us Now?

News last week that Google and Verizon's had reached consensus on a "legislative framework" for Net Neutrality was met with near universal disdain. Not only was the deal slammed by those inside and outside of Washington, it cratered from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.

The criticism didn't end with the Google-Verizon announcement. It extended to the F.C.C. and its indecisive chairman, Julius Genachowski, who seems content to take a back seat to industry as companies like AT&T, Verizon and Google carve up the Internet for themselves.

Here's a survey of prominent editorials that were written to prod Genachowski to get back in the front seat (alongside President Obama), salvage his reputation and champion public policy that protects the Internet's democratic nature against corporate overlords:

The Washington Post, October 2:
“This "Title II reclassification" ... doesn't require a permission slip from Congress. A simple majority vote of the FCC's five commissioners will do, and three of them have publicly argued for net-neutrality rules. ”
New York Times, August 14:
“The F.C.C. has been searching for a way to ensure an open Internet since April ... In May, the commission proposed to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, the right definition for this era. This process must be allowed to proceed.”
Boston Globe, August 17:
"But at the moment, the choice appears to be between having major industries self-regulate their Internet behavior, and having the FCC regulate it. Given that the Google-Verizon proposal seems helpful primarily to Google and Verizon at the expense of an open, innovation-friendly Internet, it’s time for the FCC to step in.”
USA Today, August 18:
"Although the Verizon-Google proposal looks all but dead for now, it's the latest example of how the Internet is under assault by those who would erect tollbooths on what is now a freeway. It is also clear evidence of how the FCC needs to set up clear rules to prevent Internet service providers and device makers from controlling what content people can access."
San Jose Mercury News, August 12:
"The FCC has the power to change the situation, and this deal provides a catalyst. It can swiftly assert its authority to ensure open, nondiscriminatory high-speed Internet access for Americans for both wireless and wired services. We urge the commission to deliver on the president's promise. Don't let these giant galoots shaking hands in the corner distract you -- you have a job to do."
Seattle Times, August 13:
"Google's mission is doing evil by consolidating its already too-large share of the digital advertising market and picking up the scraps left behind by Verizon and other Internet service providers.It is time the FCC not worry about the interests of huge corporations and focus on good public policy instead. Kill the Google-Verizon scheme before it gains traction."
San Francisco Chronicle, August 10:
"...the Google-Verizon pact isn't even close. They need to go back to the drawing board and get support from consumer groups and Internet users instead of just broadband carriers and web giants. The FCC also needs to step in immediately, by reclassifying broadband under a section of the telecommunications code that's subject to more scrutiny - and therefore less ability to discriminate."
DailyFinance, August 17:
"Genachowski now faces a choice, and his legacy as chair rests on his decision," says Karr. "Will he be true to Internet users and restore the agency's power to protect an open and accessible Internet? Or will he buckle to pressure from the phone and cable companies and look the other way as they undermine the Internet's democratic nature?"
Seattle Times, August 12:
"The FCC must assert its regulatory prerogatives over broadband and seek clarifying authority where the rules need to be sorted out. The FCC is not an agent of the industries it oversees. President Obama and Chairman Genochowski need to remember whom they work for. The customers will not forget."
Rep. Jay Inslee, Daily Kos. August 16:
"This affects us all, and we all need to join together to stop it. We need everyone involved if we're going to stand up to corporations the size of Verizon and Google. This is the FCC's job right now, and their lack of strong enforcement is unacceptable. The free-flow of ideas and innovation online is in danger."
GigaOM, August 12:
"...the vacuum we now have in regulating high-speed Internet access has led these companies to divide things up among themselves. The FCC is being disintermediated, in effect. The Commission needs to act quickly to protect entrepreneurs, innovation, and consumers."
Ars Technica, August 18:
"Given the possibility that Republicans could retake the House, it looks unlikely that Congress will take any action in support of neutrality for the next few years.Over at the FCC, Genachowski has been slow to act, and has said little on the Google/Verizon proposal. But net neutrality rules are now quite clearly up to him."
So, will the media deluge penetrate the eighth floor offices of the F.C.C chair? Will Genachowski proceed with his earlier pledge to restore the agency's authority, promote universal access and protect Net Neutrality? Or will he buckle to pressure from the phone and cable companies?

Either way, he is the swing vote for a majority of the commissioners. So the fate of the Internet -- as the most open and democratic media in history or as a closed network controlled by the few -- is now Genachowski's to determine.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Petition Chairman Genachowski to Do His Job

In 2009, President Obama nominated Julius Genachowski to chair the Federal Communications Commission with the understanding that he would make protecting Net Neutrality and promoting universal broadband access his top priorities.

But the chairman has failed to live up to expectations. His chief of staff is now brokering a deal with corporations that could take control of the Internet out of the hands of the people who use it and put it into the hands of powerful companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Google.

Does Genachowski really think that his job is pleasing powerful corporations — and not serving the public? Does he really want to let Google and Verizon break the open Internet so they can rebuild it as a gated community that only serves their bottom line?

The chairman’s actions (or lack of them) need to be held to a full public accounting. It’s time he explained why he seems to be caving to corporate special interest, betraying President Obama’s wishes, and ignoring the people he was put in office to serve:

Here are three things you can do:
Net Neutrality is far from dead. This chairman just needs you to help him find his backbone so he can get back to work.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Corporate Deal to Control Your Internet

--Originally published by The Seattle Times

Washington is under siege over Net Neutrality.

On the one side, elected officials and regulators have heard from millions of citizens demanding that Washington protect this rule that preserves the Internet’s open architecture.

On the other is a lobbying juggernaut that seeks to dismantle online openness so that phone and cable companies can rebuild the Internet as a gated community that serves their bottom line.

The problem is that policymakers in the middle aren’t holding the line for the public. They seem content simply to cut a deal between companies with the most political and economic clout.

If that doesn’t worry you, it should.

Because the deal they’re cutting is over who ultimately wins control of online information. And it goes without saying that you’re not in the running.

Google, Verizon, AT&T and others are reportedly nearing consensus on an agreement that could radically redesign the Web, allowing the carriers to build priority access lanes that admit only large companies that can pay the toll.

Where will that leave the rest of us? Stranded on the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road, with slower service, fewer choices and limited access.

Here’s the kicker. The FCC, the one agency tasked with protecting your interests online, may be poised to sign off on this plan. The agency is reportedly convening closed-door meetings with these companies to strike a deal that would let Internet providers implement a “paid prioritization” scheme.

According to the Washington Post, the FCC’s chief of staff wanted to "seize an opportunity" to agree on ways that carriers could “manage traffic” on their networks.

If recent articles by Amazon and AT&T execs are any indication, paid prioritization would allow carriers to ransom access to their customers to the highest bidder. AT&T’s top lobbyist, James Cicconi, wrote that such extortion was "not only necessary but in the best interest of consumers."

Don’t believe it.

The beauty of the open Internet is that anyone with an idea has a chance to take on giant corporations without first having to bribe network owners for access. Net Neutrality is the rule that guarantees this openness.

It’s because of Net Neutrality that great ideas like YouTube (which began in an office above a pizzeria in San Mateo) and Twitter (which grew out of a day-long brainstorming session among podcasters) blossomed to revolutionize how we connect and communicate with one another.

The paid prioritization deal under consideration wouldn’t allow for the next YouTube. And the next Twitter would likely never make it off the drawing board.

This scheme would let companies like Comcast and AT&T favor their own video services, voice applications and social media. It would let Verizon build a wide moat around its Internet fiefdom, insulating itself from competition by upstart innovators that want to show consumers how things can be done better and more cheaply.

Columbia Law Professor (and Free Press board chairman) Tim Wu has said that letting carriers choose favorites is “just too close to the Tony Soprano vision of networking: Use your position to make threats and extract payments. This is similar to the outlawed, but still common, ‘payola’ schemes in the radio world.”

"If allowing network discrimination means being stuck with AT&T's long-term vision of the Internet,” Wu concludes, “it won't be worth it."

That the FCC would consider such a deal marks a reversal on Chairman Julius Genachowski’s earlier pledge to safeguard the open Internet.

As recently as May, Genachowski proposed to reclassify broadband access under “Title II” of the Communications Act. This move would reverse dangerous Bush-era deregulations and give the agency the authority to protect Internet users from abuse by carriers.

In a letter to the FCC, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) Supported Genachowski’s plan to reclassify. Inslee gathered support for this move from more than 30 other members of Congress who told the FCC that reclassification is the way.

Rather than abandon it to cut secret deals with corporations, the Commission should use its power to protect Internet users and preserve the free flow of communications online.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sen. Franken to the Netroots: Only You Can Stop the Corporate Takeover of Free Speech

Over the weekend, Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) made the corporate takeover of our media, and the government's acquiescence to these corporations, frighteningly clear.

Franken told more than 2,000 bloggers and organizers attending the Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas that our media system is at risk everywhere we turn -- from our free speech online to the growing power of companies who own a massive number of media outlets.

"Tonight I want to tell you that I believe Net Neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time," Franken said during a closing keynote address to conference-goers. He went on to warn of the looming merger between cable giant Comcast and NBC-Universal, saying:
If no one stops them, how long do you think it will take before 4 or 5 mega-corporations effectively control the flow of information in America not only on television but online? If we don't protect Net Neutrality now ... how long do you think it will take before [they] start favoring its content over everyone else's?
With the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision giving unprecedented rights to corporations over individuals, Franken said these merged, powerful media conglomerates will have untold influence over our democracy:
And if Citizens United is allowed to stand, how long do you think it will take for these monoliths to buy enough elections so that they effectively have veto power over anything Congress tries to do to regulate them?
Franken pointed to a grim, but realistic picture of the future, where media companies decide what we watch and read on every media platform, and control the information we're able to create and disseminate.

Franken: "Help me fight this!"
If corporations takeover the Internet, the incredible Web-based political mobilization of the last 10 years would no longer exist. "And it's not just about politics," Franken added. "After all, the Internet is more than just a foundation of the community we progressives have built. It is an incredible source of innovation, a hot bed of creativity and unbelievable producer of jobs and wealth."

This value comes from the fact that Net Neutrality has created an equal playing field on the Internet, where anyone can connect, create and innovate. Without Net Neutrality, Franken said, "It would become just a 'series of tubes' through which money could flow into the pockets of private corporations."

And if the Comcast-NBC merger is approved, it will be the first "domino" in a series of other moves that will wrestle further control of the media from the people's hands. "If it falls, the rest will soon follow. It's almost too late to stop this from happening but not quite," he said.

The government now has a role to play. Congress can mitigate the influence of corporate money on our elections. The FCC can enact rules that would protect Net Neutrality and free speech online. And the FCC and Congress can block the NBC-Comcast merger, or in the very least, put strict conditions on the company to protect local and diverse journalism and information.

But Franken also said that the real action needs to come from the public.

"I can tell you first hand that the government, the White House and the FCC have been hearing plenty from corporations on the other side of these issues and not nearly enough from you," Franken said in closing. "If you want to protect the free flow of information in this country and all that depends on it, you have to help me fight this!"

Monday, May 24, 2010

50 Tweets for #NetNeutrality

Please pick, chose and retweet. Or tweet your own:

  1. Historical view on how the Internet is "telecommunications" and why carriers shouldn't muck w/content #NetNeutrality

  1. Beck's war on the FCC (and Satan worshippers) Do his followers know they're just being "entertained?" #NetNeutrality

  1. NYT: Right-wing talking points against #NetNeutrality are colorful but wrong. Oversight is needed:

  1. Cenk on how Fox News spins the astroturf line about #NetNeutralityas a "government takeover" #mediafail #p2

  1. Comcast and Verizon execs agree: #FCC Title II plan won’t impact network investment #NetNeutrality

  1. James Rucker (@ColorofChange) explains how Web openness & access are intertwined and vital #NetNeutrality

  1. Telco astroturf wouldn't spend $1.4m if they weren’t scared and they’re scared of 2mn people demanding #NetNeutrality

  1. "When all else fails, launch a scare campaign" #NetNeutrality #astroturf

  1. Rep. Cliff Stearns introduces anti-#NetNeutrality bill. And his biggest corporate contributor is ...

  1. GigaOm: "For those who want to check out telecom. lobby & agenda in bill form, read Stearns’ leg." #NetNeutrality

  1. Meanwhile at Fox, @GlennBeck links GE, NBC and @FreePress in vast conspiracy to take over the Web #p2

  1. Net Neutrality: The sum of all irrational fears: #NetNeutrality #FCC

  1. Would @GlennBeck hate #NetNeutrality as much, if he actually knew what it was? One can only wonder.

  1. Sen Dorgan & Com Copps: #FCC should move w/Internet speed to guarantee #NetNeutrality essential to dynamic democracy

  1. Can you feel the power of the netroots. 2 million for #NetNeutrality. 250,000 for Title II

  1. The nerdfighters chime in for #NetNeutrality Geeks do rule!

  1. AT&T (and friends) are still hard at work making up #NetNeutrality job loss figures (via @mmasnick)

  1. LA Times: FCC needs to step up regulation of Internet broadband service #NetNeutrality

  1. Do the numbers add up? A closer look at controversial study that suggests #NetNeutrality costs jobs

  1. Why media reform matters right now? Two must watch videos #NetNeutrality #SavetheNews

  1. The Christian Coalition takes on Glenn Beck: #NetNeutrality is not some Marxist plot: #p2 #tcot

  1. Extremists distort the #NetNeutrality issue as part of a secretly "coordinated attack" to censor people

  1. Rep. Markey makes plea for reclassifying broadband; joins 250,000 other people who have urged the same #NetNeutrality

  1. Washington Post: #NetNeutrality not a government plot. It's about ensuring your ISP can't limit what you do online

  1. Tim Wu: Net Neutrality is not dead. The FCC just needs to fix Bush-era mistakes: #NetNeutrality #fcc

  1. Watch the Pulitzer Center interview on how #NetNeutrality protects free speech and new journalism on the Web:

  1. Join the ColorofChange action in support of #NetNeutrality (pls sign and RT)

  1. Why Net Neutrality is too important to leave up to ISPs (via @gigaom) #NetNeutrality

  1. Two venture capitalists on #NetNeutrality. If we lose it, we lose companies to invest in

  1. Libraries understand that #NetNeutrality is essential:

  1. AT&T sees Net access as scarce commodity to be rationed and filtered at spiraling costs #NetNeutrality

  1. How Christian Coalition, MoveOn (and other strange bedfellows) helped Save the Internet together #NetNeutrality

  1. #FCC Commissioner M. Clyburn not neutral on #NetNeutrality:

  1. Experts warn of an ISP-controlled Internet w/o #NetNeutrality

  1. Harvard survey finds open access and #NetNeutrality vital to competition, universal access, low prices & high speeds

  1. James Rucker of @colorofchange makes the case, again, for civil rights community to support #NetNeutrality

  1. Close America's broadband gap? The phone and cable giants just say 'No' #NetNeutrality #DigitalDivide

  1. Tea Party conservatives show support for #NetNeutrality: Good to see right and left agreeing on some things.

  1. Another telco talking point against #NetNeutrality (That it costs jobs) proven false

  1. VIDEO: President Obama hits it out of the park for #NetNeutrality (pls rt)

  1. Why are some civil rights groups are on the wrong side of Net Neutrality? via @colorofchange #NetNeutrality

  1. Why Media and Journalism Scholars Support Net Neutrality #NetNeutrality

  1. #FCC Commissioner Clyburn says #NetNeutrality is in best interest of people of color – and all Americans:

  1. The conservative case for #NetNeutrality

  1. Gamers warn of "balkanized" Internet. Call for #NetNeutrality protections:

  1. #NetNeutrality is a “matter of freedom of communication... This should be a basic right of citizenship”

  1. NYU economists: #NetNeutrality fuels an open dynamic that “creates billions of dollars in value for American public”

  1. Making the case that #NetNeutrality fuels economic prosperity:

  1. I trust that the more than 30K gamers who've signed letters in support of #NetNeutrality Whom do you trust?

  1. Rush gets #NetNeutrality. It's when Google and Obama take over your "Rush Limbaugh" search results. Yes sirree

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fox Goes Wall to Wall on Tiara-gate

The supposed controversy surrounding Sunday Night's crowning of Miss America was made to order for Fox News Channel. What better than a story that mixes the Network's love of beauty queens with its penchant for stirring up right-wing anger over issues like gay marriage and immigration.

Over the air and on the web, Fox devoted much of its coverage to questioning whether Miss Oklahoma was "sandbagged" by the liberal elite for her support of Arizona's anti-immigration law. Bumped from the front page of any mention of the BP oil spill in the Gulf, new information on the attempted Time Square bombing and coverage of the Supreme Court nomination.

The messages behind those news items are perhaps too nuanced for Roger Ailes, who seems to prefer his reporting wrapped in a political message and sprinkled with conspiracy.

It also helps to have women in bikinis.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Net Neutrality: The Sum of All Irrational Fears

Would the right’s lunatic fringe hate Net Neutrality so much, if they actually knew what it was? One can only wonder.

'They will control you' -- Glenn Beck on his radio show:
We’re not going to lose this country we are losing this country. I don’t think people understand how close we are today. Today the FCC is going to turn the Internet into a public utility, which means they have the power to control and regulate every bit of it.

They just were told by a court that they cannot have Net Neutrality. They said: “Fine we can’t do it that way. We will make it a public utility.” This will control every aspect of the Internet. And if you don’t think that people who praise Chavez and his revolution as an important democratic revolution will control every aspect of this Internet.

Mark my words. Listen to this carefully. It’s not going to happen today. It’s not going to happen in the next couple of weeks. It may not even happen in the next year. But it will happen. They’ve opened the door and your rights to speak out, put things out on the Internet, to express yourselves on a blog, to be able to make a political video … gone!

With this administration and, you know what, any progressive – even Republican – administration – they will limit your speech on the Internet and control it.If you think we could lose our rights, if you think we could lose our country, you’re mistaken. We are losing our country.
'A Neo-Marxist vision' -- Neil Stevens at
Part of Google’s drive has been in funding Free Press, a radical fringe group dedicated to the nationalization of all mass media in America.

Their neo-Marxist vision is to have people’s state commissars dictating all the news you read in the newspaper, watch on television, and see on the Internet. Obviously, they’ve been pushing hard for deem-and-pass “reclassification” of the Internet under FCC total control.

A 'Nucllear Option' -- Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity on Fox News:
With today’s announcement the FCC shows it is more interested in satisfying a left-wing political constituency than continuing sound policy...

Free Press put out a statement yesterday just minutes after the story leaked that the FCC would pursue reclassification. Remarkably, they openly stated that even the nuclear option of total regulatory control under a utility-type model is not enough for them, saying: “This is extremely welcome news. We reserve judgment, however, on whether the FCC has gone far enough.”
'Another Obama Takeover' -- House Republican Leader John Boehner on Twitter, twice:
“Obama FCC scheme would reclassify internet as a phone system in order to expand gov't power.”

“FCC plan to regulate internet will stifle innovation, kill jobs. Another gov't takeover by President Obama.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why Reform Right Now: Two Must Watch Videos

Two recent videos make a clear cut case for media reform in the digital age, and should be fixtures on the virtual shelf of anyone interested in the issue.

They help cut through the misinformation, astroturf and name calling being churned out by the phone and cable lobby.

If you're still on the fence about Net Neutrality, watch these.

The first, an April 12 presentation by Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig, walks us through the history of America's broadband downfall, laying blame at the feet of Bush-era FCC commissioners, who closed rank with companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to make a series of decisions that undermined users' control of our Internet experience.

The second, an interview between FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and PBS host Bill Moyers, looks to the future of American media and the vital role we all need to play to take back the Internet and keep communications as open and small "d" democratic as possible.

Let me know what you think:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Man. A Plan. A Problem. The Internet.

Judging from the back-slapping and high fives over at the FCC, you’d think that America’s Internet was sailing smoothly into the future. Think again.

With much fanfare on Tuesday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski delivered the National Broadband Plan to Congress, saying it will help make Internet access faster and cheaper for everyone in the United States. Getting more people connected to high-speed Internet -- from the 65 percent currently online up to 90 percent of households by the year 2020 -- is Job One, according to Genachowski.

There are a lot of good things in the plan’s 376 pages, including pledges to reform the Universal Service Fund and to re-allocate spectrum for broadband. But the plan glosses over some of thorniest problems plaguing U.S. Internet users: high prices, slow speeds and a lack of choices among providers.

Internet access in America is held captive by powerful phone and cable interests. And regardless of what the laissez-faire editors at the Wall Street Journal think, doing nothing to protect people from getting ripped off is not an option.

Genachowski has said that affordable Internet access is the nation’s sure path to more jobs, economic prosperity, democratic participation and global competitiveness.

The plan is meant as a blueprint for FCC and congressional action to address these challenges. But it has left many of the details for later, and that’s where devils lurk.

Here’s where things currently stand:
Few Choices: High-speed Internet users suffer from a lack of choice in the marketplace. According to data in the plan, 5 percent of households have no wireline providers; 13 percent of households have one, and 78 percent have just two wireline providers. In other words, 96 percent of the country has two or fewer choices for wired broadband.

Slow Speeds: Americans are paying a whole lot more and getting a whole lot less of the Internet speeds that we deserve. U.S. broadband speeds average about 4 to 5 megabits per second (Mbps) when downloading and 1 Mbps when uploading. That’s a fraction of the download speeds available to users in other countries. For example, Japanese internet users accustomed to surfing the Web at speeds of 100 Mbps at the same prices Americans pay for access to the slow lane. In Hong Kong, one provider now offers a 100 Mbps connection for $13 a month.

High Prices: Americans are at the mercy of cable and phone companies that continually jack up Internet prices simply because they can get away with it. A 2009 study by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that where there are fewer choices for broadband, prices skyrocket. A comparative global study by Harvard’s Berkman Center bears this out: The faster speeds get in America, the fewer options people have and the more expensive they become.
And it’s about to get worse. Comcast and Time Warner Cable just announced price increases; and Verizon and AT&T are flirting with an Internet metering model, which will force you to pay through the nose if you use the Internet for more than just basic e-mail and Web surfing.

The elephant in the room? The FCC plan does not propose the kind of tough measures necessary to create competition and realize President Obama’s vision of universal, fast, affordable Internet.

This lack of competition goes a long way toward explaining how the United States has become a broadband backwater – falling further behind other countries in every measure of Internet success.

It also explains how ISPs earn obscene profit margins from broadband services in uncompetitive markets. Craig Moffett, an industry analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., noted that the margin for Comcast's broadband service is on the order of 80 percent. In other words, Comcast charges customers $40 for something that costs the company $8 to supply.

Taking on the Incumbents

“It’s very important now that we move to action,” Chairman Genachowski said during a press conference on Tuesday. “You’ll be seeing a lot of action at the FCC in the weeks and months ahead.”

To connect every American to a world-class broadband network, we need more than FCC benchmarks; we need to confront the market power or the phone and cable company’s head on.

This is an immense task. The FCC and Congress must muster the courage to stand up to the narrow corporate interests that control prices, speeds and access for the vast majority of Americans.

Proposals are on the table that would open markets where few choices exist. They include calls for open access to increase competition, and Net Neutrality to protect the Internet’s fundamental openness.

Getting these reforms in place is going to be hard-going in Washington, where the phone and cable lobby still dictate policy. On these and many other key issues in the plan, the FCC has deferred the fight with industry for now.

But that fight is inevitable, and the sooner we have it the better.

Without public support and bold leadership from the FCC and Congress, the National Broadband Plan could end up skirting the biggest problems standing between Americans and a better future: entrenched phone and cable companies.