The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Moira Vahey, 202-265-1490 x 31

Free Press Urges New York City Council to Support Open Internet


Testifying before the New York City Council today, Free Press
delivered signatures from more than 4,000 New Yorkers calling for
strong open Internet rules. The City Council is considering a
resolution (712A-2007) urging the federal government to protect Net

"We are greatly encouraged that the New York City Council is taking
the lead on the vital issue of Net Neutrality and believe this
resolution will send a strong message to Washington and serve as a
model for other cities across the country," said Timothy Karr,
campaign director of Free Press, who testified at the hearing. "The
right policies will continue to advance the most democratic
communications technology ever devised. The wrong policies will
jeopardize this openness and hasten the global decline of U.S.
broadband services. We need to pass the right policies right now."

Thousands of Free Press activists also sent letters this week to
members of New York's congressional delegation, urging them to
co-sponsor the Internet Freedom Preservation Act (H.R. 3458) and
support the work of the Federal Communications Commission to institute
rules that would protect the open Internet.

Full Text of Karr's Comments:

Free Press is grateful for the opportunity to testify before the New
York City Council today. As public advocates, Free Press strongly
supports policies to protect an open Internet. We are greatly
encouraged that the Council is taking the lead on the vital issue of
Net Neutrality and are supporting efforts in other cities to follow
your example.

On Tuesday afternoon we asked Free Press members from New York City
to send a note to Congress about the City Council's efforts. In little
more than 48 hours, more than 4,200 New Yorkers put their names on a
letter that "applauds the City Council for considering this resolution"
and calls on Congress to stand behind a strong FCC ruling. I am
delivering a copy of their signatures to the Council with my testimony.

The FCC is weighing a Net Neutrality rule that will determine
whether the Internet will remain a tremendous engine for free speech,
innovation and equal opportunity. There is a great deal of passion
surrounding this issue as much is at stake for the tens of millions of
Americans who rely upon the Internet every day.

Despite the debate, I don't believe anyone on today's panels or in this room would dispute these two notions:

First, over the past 40 years, the Internet has emerged as an unprecedented tool for:

  • spreading innovative ideas,
  • increasing public participation in our democracy, and
  • fostering economic opportunity, even in the most overlooked communities.

Second, I don't believe that we would disagree that we need sound
public policies to encourage faster, more open and affordable Internet
access for everyone in the country.

The right policies will continue to advance the most democratic
communications technology ever devised. The wrong policies will
jeopardize this openness and hasten the global decline of U.S.
broadband services.

We need to pass the right policies right now.

A lot has changed since I testified before you on Net Neutrality in 2007:

  • We have a new President who has repeatedly pledged "to take a back seat to no one in [his] commitment to Net Neutrality;"
  • President Obama appointed the principle architect of his Net Neutrality agenda, Julius Genachowski, to head the FCC;
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Commerce Committee Chair Henry
    Waxman have become outspoken supporters of the FCC's efforts to pass a
    strong Net Neutrality rule.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, more than 1.6 million people
    across the country have contacted their elected representatives urging
    them to support Net Neutrality.

Unfortunately, though, a lot has stayed the same, too:

In the first three quarters of 2009, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and
their trade groups spent nearly $75 million and hired more than 500
lobbyists to discredit an open Internet.

And that's just the money we know about. They have also funneled
untold sums to phony front groups, think tanks and populist-sounding PR
campaigns. As we've seen with the health care and global warming
debates, any effort at reform will come under a relentless assault from
deep-pocketed institutions that prefer the status quo.

The money against Net Neutrality is being spent to lock in incumbent
control in America. The present phone and cable duopoly provides 97
percent of fixed broadband connections into American homes. More and
more users are staring to use these connections to create and share
media, and in response these companies have moved rapidly to
reverse-engineer the openness that's the hallmark of the Internet.

The Internet's True Marketplace of Ideas

The history, however, is clear. The Internet was born in a
regulatory climate that guaranteed strict nondiscrimination. Internet
pioneers like Vinton Cerf and Sir Tim Berners-Lee always intended the
Internet to be an open and neutral network. And nondiscrimination
provisions have governed the nation's communications networks since the

Originally the Internet's physical wires were regulated separately
from the content flowing over them. The reason for this was simple: to
keep monopoly owners of infrastructure from using their power to
distort the Web's free market.

This "common carriage" protection worked brilliantly. For two
decades, the Internet thrived with low barriers to entry, equal
opportunity and consumer choice. Remove Net Neutrality, and this
marketplace tilts in favor of the network owners. And that's what is

After intense corporate lobbying, the FCC pulled the carpet from
beneath this marketplace of ideas, in 2005 removing the
nondiscrimination protections that guaranteed Net Neutrality.

Soon after, the top executives of phone and cable companies
announced their intention to change the Internet forever. In the pages
of the Washington Post, BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal, they spoke
of plans to become the Internet's gatekeepers and begin discriminating
against content that doesn't generate extra income for them.

Internet Policy: Who Benefits?

Some will argue before you today that the Internet has prospered
free of regulation. This is a red herring. The Internet has always had
baseline consumer protections written into law.

The real question isn't: "Should we regulate the Internet?" Without
forward thinking broadband policies, America's economy will suffer. The
real question should be: "For whom do we create this policy?"

The phone and cable companies have held Washington's policymaking
process in their grip for far too long. But for all their talk about
"deregulation," the cable and telephone giants work aggressively to
force through regulations that:

  • protect their market 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 now up to the FCC to pro-actively reinstate Net Neutrality.
Without this anti-discrimination rule, phone and cable companies will
have both the incentive and ability to shut the doors on our 40-year
experiment with open media.

We need to protect the open Internet as the essential infrastructure
of our time. It is the social tool with which we will build a more
prosperous, open and just nation. Free Press is encouraged by the
Council of the City of New York efforts to adopt Resolution No. 712. It
will have far reaching implications.

Free Press was created to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media. We believe that positive social change, racial justice and meaningful engagement in public life require equitable access to technology, diverse and independent ownership of media platforms, and journalism that holds leaders accountable and tells people what's actually happening in their communities.

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