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Net Neutrality or Bust: Media Reformers Petition FCC on Eve of Big Vote

Daniel Celvi

Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will finally vote on the Obama administration's proposed Net Neutrality policy, which has sparked frenzied lobbying efforts—from both corporations and public advocacy groups alike. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said last month that he is in favor of adding two more principles to the FCC's current regulations of internet service providers (ISPs). These principles would ensure that ISPs like Comcast and AT&T don't discriminate against particular websites or web applications, and practice transparent network management processes. That could be a big win for the general public, as it would prevent ISPs from actively blocking access to any website for reasons other than random network management, and would force those ISPs to disclose their management practices. Both of those measures would promote free and innovative uses of the web. On Wednesday, net neutrality supporters got a big boost from Rick Boucher, chairman of the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, who voiced support for the proposed FCC policy. "The FCC is moving in exactly the right direction," Boucher said. But corporations are on the offensive to make sure that doesn't happen. "[P]roviders say the increasing volume of bandwidth-hogging services, like video sharing, requires active management of their networks," Reuters reported. In a speech at SUPERCOMM 2009, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, Verizon Chairman Ivan Seidenberg blasted net neutrality, claiming it would favor one set of competitors—specifically search engines such as Google—over others, such as Verizon. Seidenberg claims that new regulations would favor one competitor over the other too much. Corporations have abused their ability to restrict access before, critics say, setting a precedent for the FCC to ensure that ISPs don't censor websites and applications. Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, noted in testimony given to the FCC that Comcast used its position to block access to the web application Bittorent. While an infamous application for use in pirating copyrighted materials, Bittorent also serves a large legal purpose by allowing users to send large files quickly. Wu—chair of Free Press, the media reform organization—goes on to say that if the FCC allows companies to block access to applications such as Bittorent, it "will be the tip of the iceberg." Free Press is asking net neutrality supporters to sign a statement pushing the FCC to approve the policy. The organization has collected 1.6 million out of its goal of 2 million. To add your name to the list, go here. UPDATE: Joel Bleifuss, the editor and publisher of In These Times, has signed the following petition, which was has been circulated by Free Press: Dear Chairman Genakowski and members of Congress, We, the undersigned, ask you to stand with us in favor of “Net Neutrality.” Freedom of the press is a central tenant of our democracy and the Internet is today’s printing press. As journalists we understand that Net Neutrality is at its core about people’s access to information. The future of journalism in America depends on an open and free flowing Internet. Opponents have suggested that a Net Neutrality rule would give the government the power to “become the Web’s traffic cop, shutting down free speech on the Internet.” Nothing could be further from, the truth. Without rules to prevent discrimination, Internet service providers will be free to choose whose online voices are more important. Network Neutrality promotes the widest dissemination of all forms of news and information. This openness is the reason the Internet has unleashed a tidal wave of new journalism efforts and innovative reporting projects. As more and more news and information moves online, we need to ensure that the flow of information on Internet is free and unencumbered. With Net Neutrality we can support newspapers’ transition to the digital era, and at the same time foster a new cadre of voices online. Net Neutrality ensures that innovative local news websites and nonprofit reporting projects can be accessed just as easily as legacy media sites. Net Neutrality encourages journalists to pioneer new tools and modes of reporting and lowers the bar for citizens to participate. It is about creating a level playing field for all voices. The future of journalism is bound up in the future of the Internet. To function effectively, our modern democratic society must protect these central public goods. We need news and information to fill and guide a marketplace of ideas for an informed citizenry. And we need universal access to a communications network to participate in that marketplace as both audience and speaker. Without strong Net Neutrality protections, Internet companies can block certain Web sites, or slow down and obstruct certain applications. These actions would have a chilling effect on free speech and freedom of the press online. Protecting freedom of the press can’t stop online. We call on the FCC to take action now to affirmatively safeguard the free flow of information on the Web before it’s too late. Signed,

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