The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), earlier this summer, issued a Notice of Inquiry on its new “Open Internet,” proposals. Better known as “net neutrality,” FCC leadership has made it clear they intend to use the power of the federal government to regulate broadband service on the Internet.
To remind our readers, the policy of net neutrality means that internet service providers must treat all data sources equally, making it unlawful for companies to allow some content to be transmitted faster.
The FCC is moving ahead with its inquiry in spite of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia stating the Commission did not have regulatory authority over the Internet. In their June 17 press release, the FCC states it intends to challenge the Court’s finding that the Internet is not a telecommunication service.
The press release defined a “third-way” proposal to reclassifying broadband in response to the April federal appeals court ruling. The FCC would only apply a limited number of provisions of Title II of the Communications Act to broadband, implying provisions such as direct price controls would not be implemented.
Critics of the “third way” approach argue the FCC cannot be trusted to maintain a “light touch” in its regulation. Regulatory agencies, once empowered, inevitably move to broaden their reach. George Ford, chief economist of the Phoenix Center, has argued that, “The FCC cannot pre-commit to light touch regulation because the commission cannot bind future actions of the agency.”
The effort to stop the FCC in its regulatory effort has substantial bi-partisan support. On May 24th, 73 Democrats signed a letter to the FCC asking the agency to drop its push for net neutrality. The letter stated, “The significant regulatory impact of reclassifying broadband service is not something that should be taken lightly and should not be done without additional direction from Congress.”
In addition, the letter warned against loss of jobs and investment, an economic outcome corroborated by a comprehensive, independent investigation.
The myriad forces behind net neutrality are being led by an organization called Free Press, co-founded by Robert W. McChesney and Josh Silver in 2002. Anyone who wants to know the larger strategy of massive government control of the media and journalism should read the article by Adam Thierer, “How America’s Hugo Chavez Fan Club Plans to ‘Reform’ Our Media Marketplace.”
McChesney, a neo-Marxist theorist, sets out his vision for a government controlled and government funded media in his book, Our Media, Not Theirs: The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media, co-authored with John Nichols, Free Press board member and Washington correspondent for The Nation. As Thierer describes it, the book contains a veritable Brave New World approach to American journalism. McChesney and Nichols advocate, among other things:
A $35 billion annual “public works” program for the press modeled after the Works Progress Administration of the New Deal era
“News AmeriCorps” for out-of-work journalists,
“Citizenship News Voucher” to funnel taxpayer support to struggling media entities,
A significant expansion of postal subsidies,
Massive new subsidies for journalism schools,
Corporate welfare for newspapers sufficient to pay 50 percent of the salaries of all “journalistic employees,”
Municipal government ownership of press and infrastructure.
And as Thierer documents, Free Press has increasing access to and influence on the Obama Administration and the FCC. Jen Howard, former press director for Free Press, is now press secretary to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Ben Scott, former Policy Director for Free Press, now serves as “policy advisor for innovation” to the State Department.
The support for net neutrality should be seen in the context of groups like Free Press, and theorists like Robert W. McChesney, that are strongly supporting it.
As Thierer summarizes the threat:
The fight for real media freedom and a truly “free press” begins with a better understanding and documentation of the radical intentions of the opposition as the struggle over the future course of America’s media marketplace continues.