The big phone and cable companies are pulling out all the stops in their campaign against network neutrality, the set of principles which keep the Internet free from corporate gatekeeping and censorship. Part of that campaign involves enlisting members of Congress to echo their talking points, and right now, telecom lobbyists are hitting Capitol Hill hard, putting maximum pressure on members of Congress in both parties to sign letters to the FCC. As usual, the telecom lobby can't make its case without relying on deception and misinformation.
ColorOfChange.org is reaching out to every member of the Congressional Black Caucus today to warn them about a letter that is being circulated by Rep. Gene Green. Telecom lobbyists are targeting Democrats and pushing them to sign onto this letter (a separate letter being circulated by Rep. Cliff Stearns seems to be the vehicle for Republicans to align themselves with the telcos). We're worried that some CBC members will sign the Green letter without fully understanding what's at stake, and we want to make clear how important this issue is to the ColorOfChange.org community and to African-Americans in general, and why our members see it as a 21st century civil rights issue.
Below is the letter we sent to CBC offices this morning. Scroll down further to read the letter that's being circulated by Rep. Gene Green behalf of the telecom lobby.
Dear [Congressional Black Caucus member],
I'm writing to make sure you're aware of the current situation surrounding the FCC's effort to protect an open Internet, an issue which is very important to our members -- one they have described as a 21st century civil rights issue. Specifically, I want to call your attention to a letter being circulated among members of Congress by Representative Gene Green, on behalf of the telecommunications lobby, that opposes not only the FCC's efforts to protect network neutrality but to pass rules that ensure all households have affordable broadband access. On behalf of our members we respectfully ask, emphatically, that you not sign this letter.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently announced that the FCC would reassert its authority to enact limited regulation of broadband in order to promote the basic goals of keeping the Internet free and open and promoting universal Internet access. In response, leaders in the telecom and cable industries have launched a campaign based on misinformation and fear in an attempt to prevent the FCC from acting. One element of this campaign is the aforementioned letter.
Under the Bush administration, the FCC intentionally classified broadband as a Title I service as part of an ideologically-driven effort to deregulate the broadband industry. Under the Obama administration, the FCC has moved to codify and enforce rules which protect network neutrality. But several weeks ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in Comcast v. FCC that the FCC did not have the authority to enforce network neutrality protections under its current Title I designation. The ruling also cast into doubt the FCC's authority to implement portions of the National Broadband Plan intended to increase broadband affordability and access in underserved communities.
Shortly after that decision, more than 53,000 of our members filed comments with the FCC expressing support for rules that would protect net neutrality, and calling on the FCC to "aggressively re-establish and assert its authority to regulate the broadband industry" -- which is clearly within the commission's purview. The FCC has indicated that it will move in that direction -- but we are very concerned about the telecom industry's efforts to attack the commission's work and prevent it from acting.
Our members recognize that an open, free, and non-discriminating Internet has proven critical for civic participation, political empowerment, self-expression, and entrepreneurship in our communities. Network neutrality is the reason the Internet is so diverse, and so powerful -- anyone with a good idea can find their audience online, whether or not there's money to promote the idea or money to be made from it. But if broadband providers have their way, they will create a new system in which they can charge large fees to speed up some data while leaving those who can't afford to pay in the slow lane. Such a system could end the Internet as we know it -- giving wealthier voices on the Internet a much bigger megaphone than poorer voices, and stunting the Internet's amazing equalizing potential.
The letter currently being circulated by Congressional allies of the telecom industry twists the truth about what the FCC is planning to do and advances a misleading, baseless argument about the potential effects of proposed regulation.
The letter says that the FCC's new approach would be "unprecedented" - this claim simply ignores history. The FCC's proposed approach would be consistent with how it has treated broadband transmission in the past, and it would bring the Commission's rules back in line with the 1996 Communications Act passed by Congress.1 The letter paints the FCC's proposed approach as a massive departure from the status quo, but it is not. The FCC only plans to apply parts of Title II to one aspect of broadband service - transmission. Overall, the FCC's plan would not change the status quo, but allow the Commission to preserve it. The main argument in Rep. Green's letter claims that regulating broadband under Title II could hurt broadband investment, but telecom industry executives themselves have recently said that they're not concerned about this and are moving forward with plans to invest in high speed networks despite the FCC's recent announcement.2,3
This letter is not the first time we've seen deceptive language or outright misinformation used to advocate against protecting network neutrality. In fact, the telecom industry has for years been engaged in a well-coordinated and massively funded campaign to intentionally misinform the public, Congress, and public interest groups about net neutrality, successfully confusing the issue to their advantage. The industry has spent millions of dollars on advertising, public relations, and lobbying efforts -- using industry front groups, ads in Capitol Hill newspapers, and lobbyists. Sadly, the industry in recent years has also managed to enlist members of Congress and advocacy organizations rooted in communities of color to echo misleading and false arguments about net neutrality. This too has been a concern for many ColorOfChange members and has been the subject of our campaign work. While it has a right to engage in the public discourse about this issue, the telecommunications industry has demonstrated a disinterest in honest debate, spreading misinformation that plays on ignorance about the issue, and the somewhat confusing, technical language that surrounds it.
It is sensible, fully within the FCC's purview, and essential for the FCC to move forward with its plans to protect network neutrality and promote broadband access. The Internet has become a critical part of the fabric of everyday life for all Americans, and corporations have shown that they cannot be trusted to govern themselves with such infrastructure.
This is an issue of vital concern to our members. On their behalf, I urge you to resist the misinformation efforts of the telecom industry, to support the FCC's efforts to protect Internet freedom and promote broadband access, and to reach out and make sure your colleagues are informed on this matter.
A member of my staff will follow up with your office to make sure you received this letter. Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions. I would appreciate a response from your office, and I can be reached at [personal information removed].
Executive Director, ColorOfChange.org
1. "FCC Jurisdiction: Trust in the Law," Free Press, 4-23-2010
2. "Top MSOs weigh in on reclassification," SNL Financial, 5-17-2010
3. "Verizon in Talks With Rural Firms," Wall Street Journal, 5-13-2010
Here's the letter being circulated by Rep. Green:
[UPDATE: Free Press debunks Rep. Green's letter, point by point, here.]
May 21, 2010
The Honorable Julius Genachowski
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington , D.C. 20554
Dear Chairman Genachowski:
We are writing to reinforce the strong bipartisan consensus among policymakers, industry participants, and analysts that the success of the broadband marketplace stems from policies that encourage competition, private investment, and legal certainty. The regulatory framework first adopted in 1998 by the Clinton Administration's FCC has resulted in broadband industry infrastructure investment of approximately $60 billion per year. In the last decade, multiple providers and the hundreds of thousands of workers they employ have brought high speed connections to 95 percent of U.S. households where two-thirds of Americans now access the Internet through broadband at home.
Still, much work remains to be done. According to the National Broadband Plan, 14 million Americans lack broadband access altogether, many underserved areas need more robust broadband facilities, and both wired and wireless broadband services require increasing speeds. As the Plan notes, that work will require as much as $350 billion in additional private investment. Generating those enormous sums from industry, and the good-paying jobs they produce, will require a continued commitment to the stable regulatory environment that has existed for the last dozen years.
Because of this, we have serious concerns about the proposed new regulatory framework for broadband and the Internet. The expanded FCC jurisdiction over broadband that has been proposed and the manner in which it would be implemented are unprecedented and create regulatory uncertainty. The controversy surrounding that approach will likely serve as a distraction from what should be our Nation's foremost communications priority: bringing broadband to every corner of America, getting every American online, and providing the high speed connections needed to realize the promises of telemedicine, distance learning, and other forms of consumer empowerment.
The continued deployment and adoption of broadband, the growing importance of the Internet to our constituents, and the significant contributions this will make to our economy should be the FCC's primary focus right now. The uncertainty this proposal creates will jeopardize jobs and deter needed investment for years to come. 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. We urge you not to move forward with a proposal that undermines critically important investment in broadband and the jobs that come with it.
Thank you for your attention to this letter, and we look forward to working with you in a constructive way to address these matters.
Member of Congress