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Sen. Al Franken: We Have a Free Speech Problem

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Timothy Karr

Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) warned a packed house Thursday night in Minneapolis that the corporate takeover of our media, and the government’s failure to stop it, is one of the most important issues of our time.

Franken was speaking during a hearing featuring Federal Communications Commission Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps.

Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) warned a packed house Thursday night in Minneapolis that the corporate takeover of our media, and the government’s failure to stop it, is one of the most important issues of our time.

Franken said our media system is at risk everywhere we turn — from our free speech online to the growing power of companies who own a massive number of media outlets.

He spoke about recent efforts by Verizon and Google to push a "policy framework" on Washington that transfers control over Internet content from the people who go online into the hands of a few powerful corporations.

"We can’t let companies write the rules that we the people are supposed to follow," he said. "Because if that happens those rules will be written only to protect corporations."

He also warned of the looming merger between cable giant Comcast and NBC-Universal, urging Copps and Clyburn to oppose the merger and enforce Net Neutrality rules that would protect free speech online.

With the Internet "We don’t just have a competition problem we have a First Amendment problem" Franken said. He then quoted Justice Hugo Black, who warned against letting companies have the power to prevent people from publishing. . . .

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Sen. Franken to the Netroots: Only You Can Stop the Corporate Takeover of Free Speech

11:00 am in Uncategorized by Timothy Karr

Over the weekend, Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) made the corporate takeover of our media, and the government’s acquiescence to these corporations, frighteningly clear.

Franken told more than 2,000 bloggers and organizers attending the Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas that our media system is at risk everywhere we turn – from our free speech online to the growing power of companies who own a massive number of media outlets.
"Tonight I want to tell you that I believe Net Neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time," Franken said during a closing keynote address to conference-goers. He went on to warn of the looming merger between cable giant Comcast and NBC-Universal, saying:

If no one stops them, how long do you think it will take before 4 or 5 mega-corporations effectively control the flow of information in America not only on television but online? If we don’t protect Net Neutrality now … how long do you think it will take before [they] start favoring its content over everyone else’s?

With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision giving unprecedented rights to corporations over individuals, Franken said these merged, powerful media conglomerates will have untold influence over our democracy:

And if Citizens United is allowed to stand, how long do you think it will take for these monoliths to buy enough elections so that they effectively have veto power over anything Congress tries to do to regulate them?

Franken pointed to a grim, but realistic picture of the future, where media companies decide what we watch and read on every media platform, and control the information we’re able to create and disseminate.

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The Big Industry Lie: Regulation = Job Loss

9:45 am in Uncategorized by Timothy Karr

My old friend Jay Stuckey had a saying that has stuck with me for decades: “Don’t let them piss on your leg and tell you that it’s raining.”

When Jay used it he was referring to politicians who lied to scare up votes. Today, this adage refers to powerful corporations that lie to scare politicians.

The companies in question are AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. And the piss that they’re spreading is misinformation about Internet regulation and America’s jobless recovery.

Today, a phone and cable-funded “think tank” joined a chorus of others claiming that the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to provide basic oversight over Internet providers would kill jobs in America.

Deregulation Dystopia

The path the FCC is considering is whether to “reclassify” Internet access services under a category – Title II – that would allow it to protect Net Neutrality and foster universal access to broadband. Both of these goals are priorities of President Obama’s economic recovery plan.

The FCC wants to restore common-sense open Internet protections. Under the Bush administration, the FCC deregulated high-speed Internet providers by relinquishing its Title II authority. At the time, the agency claimed this shift would foster competition and drive down broadband prices for consumers. Instead, it unleashed a torrent of industry consolidation that raised prices, slowed broadband services and otherwise left the United States far behind in every international measure of Internet success.

This radical move undermined the long-held assumption that nondiscriminatory communications networks were essential to free speech, democratic participation and economic opportunity.

Now, just as the FCC is on the cusp of reasserting its Title II authority to fix past mistakes, along come a slew of “studies” that claim that doing so would scuttle efforts to put Americans back to work.

Coin-Operated Analysis

Citing speculative job losses, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) study, released today, calls for a two-year moratorium on all FCC efforts to restore the agency’s role in safeguarding our Internet rights and spreading broadband adoption.

The study is part of a desperate strategy to spread fear and obscure the facts about Internet regulation, and pave the way for carrier control over online content.

What the study doesn’t say is that PPI has received funding from AT&T, as well as from the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation. I’m sure you’ve heard of the former. The Bradley Foundation, for its part, funds a right-wing cabal of anti-Neutrality groups, including the American Enterprise Institute, The Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The PPI study, like other industry-funded efforts that came before it, is completely void of any actual evidence connecting broadband reclassification to job losses.

The Politics of Fear-Mongering

"Policymakers should recognize this ‘study’ for what it is — part of a transparent attempt by the biggest phone and cable companies to raise unfounded fears about job losses in an election season,” says Free Press Research Director Derek Turner.

PPI’s report assumes that if the FCC has basic oversight authority, it will lead to bad outcomes. But history tells a different story. When the Bell companies were subject to the full weight of Title II, they increased employment by 15 percent, according to their own SEC filings. But once the FCC began dismantling these pro-competitive rules through massive deregulation, these companies shed nearly 40 percent of their work force, even as their revenues increased and profits soared.

AT&T and Verizon alone are responsible for tens of thousands of layoffs over the last two years. Verizon is accelerating its layoffs, while AT&T laid off 12,000 workers through 2009 and thousands more in 2010.

“Sadly, this pattern of ISPs destroying good jobs while reaping higher profits will likely continue with or without reclassification and Net Neutrality,” Turner says.

Telco Doublespeak

Here’s the rub: While the telecom companies are telling Washington that government oversight will freeze investment, they’re telling Wall Street just the opposite.

Time Warner Cable COO Landel Hobbs told an investor conference, “Yes, we will continue to invest, yes, we will participate in the Notice of Inquiries and we will have an open, healthy dialogue with the FCC throughout the whole process.”

Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said, “The government is not a big worry.” And a reporter from the investment newsletter SNL Kagan covering Roberts’ remarks at an industry trade show wrote, “Given the potential impact of reclassification on broadband pricing, Roberts said he expects the industry to continue to invest, innovate and work through the government issues.”

Verizon Wireless Chief Executive Lowell McAdam told the Wall Street Journal that the company has no plans to slow investment in its wireless broadband network as a result of the FCC’s move.

In effect, the phone and cable business appears to be “recession-proof,” even as these companies do nothing to prevent their hardworking employees from feeling the effects of the lingering recession.

But the facts won’t stop them from treating your leg like a fire hydrant.

Four Easy Steps to Telco Control of the Internet

12:50 pm in Uncategorized by Timothy Karr

Have you heard about the battle over the Internet?

It’s a power grab that involves lawyers, lobbyists, unscrupulous legislators, phony front groups and the most powerful telecommunications companies in the world.

They’ve aligned themselves against the rest of us — the millions of Americans who use the Internet every day, in increasingly inventive ways.

They’ve opened their wallets to Washington. It’s an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars and it’s being made right now by AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — the companies that provide broadband access to the vast majority of Americans.

These companies are chasing the ultimate payout: control, not just of the Internet wires that snake into our homes, but over the information that flows across those wires..

While this fight has been brewing for years, it’s come to a head at a time when more and more broadband users are taking to YouTube, Twitter, Mashable and other innovations.

Right now, the FCC and Congress are weighing a series of decisions that could determine whether this decade-long explosion of Internet creativity was a short-lived experiment in people-powered media, or the beginning of an era of more decentralized, participatory and democratic communications.

20th-century media colossi prefer a return to the old ways, where a handful of gatekeeper firms operated the turn-on valve to all popular information. It was a profitable model that worked well for one-way communications like newspapers, radio, and television. If only it can be applied in age of flash mobs and FourSquare, too.

These media giants are spending a fortune to convince lawmakers and regulators to dismantle consumer protections on the Internet and give industry absolute power over the most important communications medium of our time.

Here’s how they plan to do it, in four easy steps: Read the rest of this entry →

Will Dirty Politics Kill the Internet?

11:42 am in Uncategorized by Timothy Karr

Congress just sold you out to Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.

Big phone and cable companies are so determined to dismantle consumer protections on the open Internet that they’ve spent millions to flip Congress against you. Earlier this week, many in Congress delivered.

On Monday, 74 House Democrats joined 37 Senate Republicans to sign an industry-written letter that tells the Federal Communications Commission to halt all efforts to protect Internet users and stop big companies from blocking Internet traffic.

Net Neutrality — the principle that would keep users in control of the Internet — was the top communications policy of President Obama when he came into office last year. Obama has repeated his support for an open Internet on several occasions since, and last summer appointed Julius Genachowski to lead the FCC and fulfill this presidential promise.

That promise has now been cast into doubt by dozens of Democrats willing to sell out their president, their constituents, and millions of Net Neutrality supporters to do the bidding of special interests.

Big Money vs. Common Sense

Obama wants it and so do
millions of Americans

It gets even worse. The Democrats’ "do nothing" appeal would drastically undercut the FCC’s ability to carry out the National Broadband Plan and connect more people to the Internet. These Democrats are actually taking a position against bringing life-improving broadband services to rural and low-income communities.

Their letter warns Chairman Genachowski against pursuing a plan that would enable the FCC to act as a watchdog and serve the public interest over the Internet, preventing phone and cable companies from blocking access to websites and services, while promoting policies that ensure universal and affordable access.

"The uncertainty this proposal creates will jeopardize jobs and deter needed investment for years to come," the letter says. "We urge you not to move forward with a proposal that undermines critically important investment in broadband and the jobs that come with it."

Say what? Even the top executives at Verizon and Comcast say that the FCC’s proposal will have no impact on their investment in broadband networks. And experts overwhelmingly agree that extending broadband services to those stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide would create more jobs.

A study by the Brookings Institution and MIT estimated that a one-digit increase in U.S. per capita broadband penetration equates to an additional 300,000 jobs. If our broadband penetration were as high as a country like Denmark’s, we could provide approximately three million additional U.S. jobs.

The Dirty Little Secret

The letter is so full of misleading information that it’s hard to know where to begin.

But behind it all is one dirty little secret: Nearly every one of these representatives has accepted massive contributions from the phone and cable lobby.

Such behavior by elected officials is outrageous and unethical. Perhaps some of these representatives just didn’t know what they were signing. Or perhaps this is just business as usual — members willing to sell out the public in exchange for campaign cash. (Is it any wonder the latest Gallup public opinion poll counts a congressional disapproval rating of 73 percent?)

But in putting their names to this letter, these members are telling us to have blind faith that phone and cable companies have the best interests of Americans in mind – and will deliver fast, open and affordable Internet services without government oversight.

That’s a huge mistake. Comcast and AT&T can no better police themselves to protect the open Internet than BP can police itself to protect the oceans. We already know how that ends. The phone and cable companies must play by the rules.

In response, Free Press (my day job) is urging hundreds of thousands of people to sign our own letter telling the FCC that Congress doesn’t speak for you, President Obama or the millions of other Americans who support a fast, open and affordable Internet.

Congress can’t hand these companies control over the future of communications. The results would be disastrous.

If only more members of Congress knew that their bad deeds couldn’t be swept beneath the carpet – un-noted and unpunished. It’s time they heard from us.