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.

Makes sense, no? It does to the millions of people who have been flooding the Federal Communications Commission with letters, petitions and phone calls in favor of Net Neutrality. To protect Net Neutrality they have urged the FCC to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers. Congress granted the FCC the authority to do this.

But don’t tell that to Phil Kerpen, the D.C.-based operative who makes it his business to fan the flames of partisanship and spread misinformation in the service of corporations.

Kerpen, who recently served as policy director for the big-business advocates at Americans for Prosperity, wrote in a recent commentary that it was “shocking” that Bachus would support a “liberal” idea that would “bring about total government economic control on the Internet that has never previously existed.”

In Kerpen’s version of reality, Net Neutrality “means the Internet ceasing to be a place of widespread innovation and competition and becoming something more like the old Ma Bell phone system, or your local water or power utility.”

While Kerpen is entitled to his views, he should at least be honest about them.

First, Net Neutrality is not a government takeover of the Internet. It’s the fundamental principle that prevents your phone or cable company from deciding which sites will work the fastest — and which won’t work at all. This principle was baked into the DNA of the Internet at its inception: Users get to decide where they go on the network.

A common-carrier rule would protect this free and decentralized flow of information. It doesn’t mean that the government would seize control of the network; it preserves the very democratic idea that the Internet is a space shared and shaped by its millions of users.

Second, common-carrier classification would not transform Internet service providers into government-run utilities. Common-carriage rules are, well, common throughout the private sector. United Airlines is a common carrier. Disney’s rollercoasters are common carriers. Your cellphone voice service is a common carrier.

None of these are government-run utilities.

In communications, common carriage is about protecting free speech over private networks. It’s a rule under which private communications companies have grown and prospered.

Moreover, telecom carriers invested 55 percent more to upgrade networks and services during the period when they were classified as common carriers than they have in the years since the FCC removed common-carrier rules from broadband services. Businesses invest and profit as common carriers.

Kerpen doesn’t want you to know this. In his alternate universe, common carriage stifles investment and silences free speech.

A lot more people see it as necessary to fuel innovations and protect our Internet rights. For them Net Neutrality is “the First Amendment of the Internet,” and rightly so.

We need more politicians like Bachus — leaders who are brave enough to speak out against the phone and cable lobby and in favor of these everyday Internet users’ rights.

Rep. Bachus, don’t worry about fear mongers like Phil Kerpen. You stood up for the Internet. Now the Internet has your back.

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