Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Four Pivotal Internet Issues as the Year Turns 2015

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler with protesters
outside agency headquarters in Washington
The death of the Internet is at hand.

Sound familiar? That’s what Internet pioneer Robert Metcalfe predicted in 1995 when he wrote that spiraling demands on the fledgling network would cause the Internet to “catastrophically collapse” by 1996.

Metcalfe, of course, was dead wrong: The Internet is still chugging along nearly twenty years later, with a predicted 3 billion users by year’s end.

Still, the Internet’s fate feels distinctly uncertain as 2015 begins. Washington is engaged in a furious debate over Net Neutrality, access to affordable broadband services is still considered a luxury for many, while governments here and abroad continue to filter digital communications to spy on everyone, crack down on dissident voices and silence speech.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of ...

OK. My Best Records of 2014. This took a while to compile, including hours of winnowing, playing over and again, and gathering feedback. Despite that, you're entitled to hate this list or love it. All I ask is that you give these a listen and then share your favorites for the year (listed alphabetically):

Monday, December 15, 2014

Read Our Lips: No New Internet Taxes

The tall tales of the phone and cable lobby keep crumbling down.

Last week we saw a string of the country's biggest Internet service providers, including Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable, admit what we've said all along: Reclassifying Internet access as a Title II telecom service won't hurt broadband investment. For years they've been claiming the opposite just to scare the FCC away from using Title II to protect Net Neutrality.

And here's another thing the cable lobby doesn't want you to know: Buried deep in the $1.1 trillion spending package Congress just passed is a provision to extend a moratorium on local and state taxes for Internet access. That moratorium is called the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), and Congress just reauthorized it through October 2015.

For weeks the cable lobby has been telling anyone who will listen that reclassification would sock Internet users with a "whopping" new Internet tax.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Obama, the Telcos and Getting Net Neutrality Right

In November, President Obama called for strong Net Neutrality protections, making good on promises to support the open Internet by urging the Federal Communications Commission "to make sure that consumers and not the cable companies get to decide what sites they use."

The president was following the lead of millions of Americans who had already urged the FCC to stop phone and cable companies from playing favorites with some websites while degrading access to others. The solution that Obama and so many others have called for? The FCC must reclassify Internet access service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

But companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to stop the FCC from taking that vital step.

And opposition to Obama's Net Neutrality statement has come from unlikely bedfellows ranging from Sen. Ted Cruz, who tweeted that Title II is "Obamacare for the Internet" (it's not) to Rev. Jesse Jackson, who claimed that the rule would take jobs from minorities (it wouldn't).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Verizon's Latest Censorship Plan Follows a Familiar Pattern

If the past is prologue, here’s what we can expect if Verizon is allowed to become the Internet’s editor-in-chief. 

On Tuesday, Daily Dot reported that Verizon is attempting to buy its way into the news cycle by creating a tech-news site,, to compete with the likes of Wired and The Verge.

But there's a twist: According to emails from the site's editors, SugarString will ban reporters from writing any stories about Net Neutrality or U.S. surveillance programs.

The site is now staffing up -- hiring editors and reporters to produce stories that Verizon hopes will appeal to mainstream audiences. In an email to a prospective reporter, SugarString Editor Cole Stryker wrote that the ban on coverage of Net Neutrality and spying "is pretty much it as far as content restrictions go. The upside is that we have a big budget to pay people well, make video documentaries and other fun shit."

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Photographing 'On the Road'

Timothy Karr. New Jersey Meadowlands, 2014.

Ever since I first picked up a camera I have photographed from the windows of moving cars. There’s something that is both familiar and foreign about the passing scenery. This push-and-pull between the permanent and the fleeting is inherently photographic while also being rooted in an art history of making landscapes.

My road pictures usually occur as I’m shuttling one of my daughters to or from New Jersey regional soccer games — an activity that has become a cliché of suburban life in America. Yet being “on the road” has more romantic associations with the era of Kerouac and Kesey. I often like to imagine myself as suspended between these two worlds.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Why Phone and Cable Companies Want to Kill the Internet’s Most Democratic Right

Originally published by PBS MediaShift

Net Neutrality — the principle that protects Internet users’ free speech rights — is censorship.

Did you get that? You did if you happened to be reading the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages. Former Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell recently wrote a screed claiming that Net neutrality supporters have taken a turn “toward undermining free speech.”

And McDowell is not alone. Since the FCC announced its plan to make a new ruling regarding the open Internet, Washington has been overrun with phone and cable lobbyists whose sole mission is to convince the agency that real Net Neutrality rules are downright un-American.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Press Freedom Groups Pressure President Obama to Do Better

Sound advice: "The police should not be bullying or harassing journalists."
A seemingly innocuous industrial park in the Utah desert has emerged as a hot spot in the fight for press freedom.

Built under a shroud of secrecy, the Utah Data Center is the NSA’s data storage and processing facility — a place that maximizes the agency's surveillance capacity, which includes the ability to track the phone calls of U.S. reporters and store their metadata for a lengthy period of time.

While whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the extent of the government’s mass surveillance programs in 2013, news of the harassment and monitoring of journalists under the Obama administration predates the Snowden leak.

Friday, September 05, 2014

What's FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Really Afraid Of?

While millions of Americans, a nationwide coalition of mayors, and thousands of startups and small businesses called for real Net Neutrality protections this summer, the FCC’s boss remains holed up in the agency’s Washington headquarters, reluctant to engage the public on the issue.

There was no vacation for the Internet this summer.

While many Americans slipped away to the beach, Internet users were busy defending the openness of a network that has become this era’s engine for free expression, ingenuity and just about everything else.

The threat comes from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has proposed rules that would fundamentally change the workings of the Web — leaving its fate in the hands of a few powerful phone and cable companies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Net Blocking: A Problem in Need of a Solution

For years a lineup of phone and cable industry spokespeople has called Net Neutrality “a solution in search of a problem.”

The principle that protects free speech and innovation online is irrelevant, they claim, as blocking has never, ever happened. And if it did, they add, market forces would compel Internet service providers to correct course and re-open their networks.

In reality, many providers both in the U.S. and abroad have violated the principles of Net Neutrality — and they plan to continue doing so in the future.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Biggest Lie About Net Neutrality

One of the most persistent lies told in Washington is the notion that common carriage is a heavy-handed regulation that transforms innovative businesses into antiquated, government-run utilities.

Any mention of restoring this time-tested principle to the Internet causes fits among phone and cable industry lobbyists.

It's a debate now raging throughout the record number of comments filed at the Federal Communications Commission, which has put the issue of common carriage back "on the table" as it weighs new rules to protect Net Neutrality.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The ‘Shocking’ Truth About Net Neutrality

It’s rare for liberals and conservatives to find common ground in this era of political brinkmanship. That’s why it’s been refreshing to see a strong national consensus in support of Net Neutrality, the principle that protects free speech and innovation on the Internet.

Republican Alabama Representative Spencer Bachus, a champion of First and Fourth Amendment values, recently spoke out in favor of such protections, suggesting that the FCC treat Internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon as common carriers, and prevent companies from blocking, censoring or discriminating against Internet traffic.

Big Telco Loves Fake Net Neutrality

Wheeler with protesters outside the FCC.
What do you get when you mix a cable lobbyist with a federal regulator?

You get FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. What you don’t get is Net Neutrality.

Wheeler's proposed rules for protecting the open Internet fall so spectacularly short on protecting the open Internet that all of the major phone and cable companies are lobbying Washington to support them.

On Wednesday, Mike Masnick of Techdirt looked at comments filed in the FCC proceeding by Comcast, Verizon, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and other industry representatives. His conclusion: “[A]ll of the major broadband players are pretty clear that they really, really like the FCC's plan.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Safeguarding Free Speech in the Digital Age

Net Neutrality protests in June outside the FCC
A version originally published by Other Words

Representative Spencer Bachus stands out among conservatives.

Representing Alabama’s 6th district, he’s built his Republican political reputation as a supporter of fiscal responsibility, limited government and constitutional rights — with special attention to the First and Fourth Amendments.

Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to hear this southern Republican speak in favor of net neutrality, the principle that preserves free speech on the Web. “There shouldn’t be fast lanes on the Internet,” Bachus told Politico after a House Judiciary Committee hearing last month.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Shedding New Light on Dark Money

July 1 is a bright summer day for most of the nation, made even more so by a new tool designed to shed light on the dark money behind political advertising this year.

On Tuesday, every major broadcast television station in the United States is required to post online information about the political ads that they air. These broadcasters were already required by law to keep a "political file" on site at their stations.

Now, this file will also be maintained at the Federal Communications Commission website -- with stations posting copies of contracts showing who these political advertisers are, how much they're spending on ads, and where and when their ads air.

This includes files from the nearly 2,000 local broadcast stations in 210 broadcast markets nationwide -- a planned expansion on a 2012 ruling, which initially required only the top affiliates in the largest 50 markets to disclose online.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Big and Fast, Open and Affordable

My testimony before the New York State Public Services Commission tonight:

Hello my name is Timothy Karr. I am from Free Press, the public advocacy group that fights for everyones’ rights to connect and communicate.

Free Press has 55,000 members who call New York their home.

I first moved to New York City 25 years ago. At that time the Internet was in its infancy. It had just been made available under an open protocol. And this gave millions of everyday users the power to share information, create websites and connect with one another.

From there the network grew into a truly World Wide Web -- a people-powered engine of economic opportunity and free speech.

For more than a decade I have represented the interests of these Internet users.Wherever they are in America, people have told me one thing: They want an Internet that is big and fast, open and affordable.

I’m here tonight to tell you that this merger would accomplish none of this.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to Tell If Your Member of Congress Is a Crony Capitalist

Last Tuesday, Rep. Eric Cantor learned the hard way that crony capitalism comes at a political cost. In a decisive 10-point upset, Cantor’s Republican primary opponent David Brat defeated the Virginia congressman after charging that he was “trying to buy this election with corporate cash.”

Few inside Washington thought charges like this would stick; for decades they’ve opened their campaign coffers to millions of dollars from Fortune 500 firms without fearing any consequences at the ballot box.

Since arriving on Capitol Hill in 2001, Cantor has received corporate contributions extending from Bank of America to Verizon and beyond. Only four other lawmakers took in more corporate cash during the most recent election cycle.

In exchange, Cantor became big businesses’ “ace in the hole.” According to TIME, big banks, energy and defense industries, insurance firms, and phone and cable companies knew they could rely on Cantor to put their interests before those of his constituents back in Virginia’s 7th District.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Time to LOCK CAPS and Save the Internet

As with many complicated issues making news, it often takes a comedian to sort things out in ways most of us can understand.

Last night John Oliver, host of the popular news-comedy show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, informed the world about Net Neutrality in ways that were both nutritious and hilarious. Yes, funny broccoli.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Dirty Secret Behind Rep. Latta's Anti-Net Neutrality Bill

Support for Net Neutrality has spread — in the streets, in Silicon Valley and at kitchen tables and coffee shops around the country.

But the more traction it gets nationwide, the more vicious the attacks on the open Internet have become. Most all of these attacks are generated by lobbyists and public relations flacks on the payroll of powerful phone and cable companies.

While they aren’t winning many converts to a corporate controlled Internet among the general public, they have found a few allies on Capitol Hill.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Reject This Anti-Competitive Deal: Opposing View

Originally published at USA Today

AT&T wants to spend nearly $49 billion to buy DirecTV. If you throw in DirecTV's debt, this deal would cost AT&T a whopping $67 billion. Earlier this year, Comcast proposed a merger with Time Warner Cable that would cost the company a total of about $70 billion.

For the enormous amount of money AT&T and Comcast are shelling out for their respective mega mergers, they could deploy super-fast gigabit-fiber Internet services to every single home in America. But these companies don't care about providing better and faster services, or connecting more Americans to the Internet.

These mergers are about eliminating the last shred of competition in a communications sector that's already dominated by too few players.... (Read the full commentary at USA Today)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Make or Break Moment for the Internet

Coauthored with Craig Aaron. Originally published at MSNBC. 

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission cast a vote that could reshape the future of the Internet. They decided to proceed with a proposal that if implemented would let Internet service providers charge content companies for priority treatment, relegating other content to a slower tier of service.

At stake is Net Neutrality – the fundamental principle that ensures that when you go online you can read, watch or download whatever you want without your phone or cable company deciding which sites will work the fastest (or not at all).

Net Neutrality is a big part of what has made the Internet an unrivaled space for free speech and economic innovation. We want to keep it that way... (Read the article at

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Breaking the Cycle of Internet Repression

Originally published at PBS MediaShift

“If you want to liberate a society,” said Egyptian Arab Spring activist Wael Ghonim, “just give them the Internet.”

In retrospect, Ghonim should have qualified his statement to include the kind of Internet free societies need. For as online tools have become standard issue for protest movements worldwide, governments have heightened efforts to remake digital networks as a means of censorship and surveillance.

Today, the optimism about free speech and the Internet that emerged during Egypt’s 2011 uprising has been dashed by the Morsi and Sisi regimes, which have silenced online and traditional media and imprisoned dozens of journalists.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Song for the FCC: Don’t Blow Us Up

If you think explaining tech policy is difficult, try putting it to music and lyrics. That’s exactly the challenge that faced musician and artist Jonathan Mann, who last week composed a song urging Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to ditch his plan for a payola Internet.

For the last five years, Mann has been composing a song a day. “Don’t Blow Up the Internet” is his 1,939th. In it he asks the FCC’s five commissioners whether they work for the public — or for Internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

“Don’t blow up my home. History will judge. Are you going to kill creativity, or help give it a nudge?”

Mann, who graduated from the California Institute of the Arts in 2006, says the open Internet is “integral” to his work as an artist. He submitted “Don’t Blow Up the Internet” to the FCC last week and is hoping the commissioners will listen in — and maybe even sing along.

I caught up with him over the weekend:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Strike Two: Obama's Second FCC Chairman Fails on Net Neutrality

When President Obama pledged to appoint a Federal Communications Commission chair who would protect Net Neutrality, we had no reason to doubt he'd find the right person for the job.

Obama campaigned in 2008 as a strong champion of the open Internet, saying he'd "take a back seat to no one" in safeguarding Net Neutrality.

Now the president is on his second FCC chair, and neither has proven himself up to the task.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

New Post at Bill Moyers & Company

(via Moyers & Company)
Tim Karr is the senior strategist for Free Press, an advocacy organization that works to change media and technology policies, promote the public interest and strengthen democracy. He contributed this post for our “Take Action” section. “If large…

Friday, March 07, 2014

A Free Press Crusader on the Crimean Front Lines

Mijatovic meets with journalists Wednesday in Simferopol
Within three days of the takeover of the Crimean parliament, Dmitry Polonsky, a leader of the pro-Kremlin Russia Unity Party that seized power, urged a rally of supporters to watch only pro-Russian state TV.

All other outlets, he said, are spreading “mendacious” lies about Russian interference in Crimean affairs.

But forces aligned with Polonsky and the Kremlin did more than just switch the channel. Over the past 72 hours, armed men stormed Ukraine’s 5 Kanal TV, Black Sea TV and One Plus One TV and took the stations off the air. Those outlets are now transmitting pro-Moscow news from Russia’s Rossiya 24 TV.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

President Obama Confident FCC Will Use Authority to Save Net Neutrality

President Barack Obama on Friday affirmed his strong support for Net Neutrality and expressed confidence that the Federal Communications Commission will use its authority to protect the open Internet.

“I have been a strong supporter of Net Neutrality. The new commissioner of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, whom I appointed, I know is a strong supporter of Net Neutrality,” the president said in response to a question posed by Art Hernandez of Tempe, Arizona during a live video chat.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Obama's January 31, 2014 Net Neutrality Comments

Question from Art Hernandez in Tempe: 

… I have two daughters who currently live on the east coast and as you might expect I can't afford to visit them as frequently as I'd like to. So the only opportunity that we get to spend time together is through the Internet on video chats such as this one.

My question today has to do with Net Neutrality and the recent US court of appeals ruling almost disregarding the rule of a fair and neutral Internet.

I'm curious to know if you support Net Neutrality and how you feel about the court's decision and how that decision will impact the U.S. Economy and the Internet as we currently know it?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Coming Clean on Net Neutrality

I’m relieved that Net Neutrality’s opponents have finally come clean.

Sort of.

For years a lineup of phone and cable industry mouthpieces had called Net Neutrality “a solution in search of a problem.” The principle that prevents online censorship and blocking by service providers is irrelevant, they claimed, as these companies would never lift a finger to harm the open Internet.

But then they changed their tune.

In September’s oral arguments in Verizon vs. FCC, Verizon admitted that it did indeed plan to charge new Internet tolls and favor certain content at the expense of other sites and services.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Information Counter-Revolution

Photo: Sasha Maksymenko

Many people in Kiev awoke Tuesday morning to a frightening text message on their phones. “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance,” it read.

Using cellphone technology, Ukraine’s dominant carriers have reportedly helped the government pinpoint the locations of their customers. Anyone with a cellphone in the vicinity of recent protests was added to a government watch list and sent the intimidating text.

The incident is just one in a growing number of attacks on Internet users. It’s a troubling sign that the information age has entered a new era — one where our rights to connect and communicate are under constant siege by governments and corporations.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Net Neutrality Solution

In the wake of this week's devastating court decision on Net Neutrality, a consensus is emerging as to how the FCC can clean up its mess.

Tuesday's federal appeals court decision stripped the agency f its ability to stop companies like AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner Cable from blocking websites and degrading Internet access.

More and more people are calling for a specific fix: To protect the open Internet, the FCC must reclassify broadband access as a telecommunications service.

The New York Times editorial board wrote on Wednesday that the court decision against the Open Internet Order could turn the Internet into a domain controlled only by powerful corporations:
"If this ruling stands, broadband providers would be free to strike deals with companies like Netflix and Apple to pay to have their movies, software and other data streamed to customers faster than or ahead of other content. Such deals would hurt smaller businesses or start-ups that cannot afford to pay for preferential treatment."
During oral arguments, Verizon's top legal counsel told the courts that this is exactly what the company plans to do. Their intentions are no secret, despite contradictory statements made this week by ISP executives and their lobbyists, who say we should trust carriers not to tamper with the Internet.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Will Murdoch Succeed in Burying his Past?

It’s a new year for News Corp. But the recently rebranded media colossus can’t seem to shake off a 2013 hangover.

Rupert Murdoch is plotting his empire’s expansion — growth that could include purchases of Tribune Company newspapers and, reportedly, Time Inc. But will 2014 be the year that the media mogul, who’s skilled at reinventing himself and burying old mistakes, is finally held to account?


The News Corp phone-hacking scandal became front-page fodder in the summer of 2011, but its principal defendants went before British courts just last fall. In the months since the trial began, we‘ve learned more about the alleged “culture of corruption” that pervaded News Corp’s London operation, infecting many top executives. The outlook for former Murdoch colleagues Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson looks bleak.

Murdoch has distanced himself and his companies from these and other lead actors in the scandal — with the possible exception of his son James. And he just plunked down a multi-million-dollar sum for a 30-year lease on new headquarters at London Bridge, indicating his intent to stick around.