With breathtaking hypocrisy, the phone and cable companies' K Street lobbyists are fighting an all-out war against the Net Neutrality proposal at the Federal Communications Commission that would protect Internet users from censorship or blocking by Internet providers and the government.
When in Washington, the companies claim that investment will cease and the sky will fall. But when talking to investors, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is sending a clear message to Wall Street that he's not really that worried about the FCC's plan.
In April, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC has no authority to regulate Internet providers: the result of a decision by the Bush-era FCC, which changed how broadband was treated under the law. The Obama FCC could "reclassify" broadband under the law and reassert its authority to protect Internet users.
But AT&T, Verizon and Comcast -- the biggest Internet providers -- have filed reams of legal documents with the FCC objecting to Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposal to modernize agency rules. They've flooded the hallways of Congress with lobbyists to spread fear and uncertainty about the FCC plan. And an industry front group just launched a $1.4 million smear campaign to kill the FCC proposal.
But outside of the Beltway and the press, Comcast is singing a different tune. According to the investment analysis report SNL Kagan, Comcast's Roberts said he expects the industry to continue to invest, and innovate and that "the government is not a big worry."
So while the Chairman of the biggest cable company in the United State is sounding reasonable, back on K Street, his hit men keep spewing disingenuous and reckless rhetoric.
In modern-day Washington, of course, facts have become irrelevant in the face of deep-pocketed, industry-funded PR shops and mercenary political hit groups whose sole objective is to remove all reasonable government oversight that would protect consumers at the expense of corporate profits.
Phone can cable companies are running television ads calling Net Neutrality a "government takeover of the Internet" when the opposite is true. They call advocates of reasonable government oversight "socialists" or "Marxists" and stir up McCarthy-esque fear campaigns, using lies and elaborate conspiracy theories.
These kind of smear tactics and diversion from substance that disgusts and alienates Americans both liberal and conservative, and allows misguided industry-backed policies to win the day and fail the nation. Americans pay a steep price when government "gets out of the way." That's what led to millions of gallons of crude oil gushing into the Gulf at this moment. It's at the heart of the banking crisis and the mining tragedy in West Virginia; and of an election process that has turned our democracy into pay to play corruption.
In the media and technology sector, lack of government oversight is what led to America's global decline in broadband speed and adoption. It is what put basic protections for Internet users like Net Neutrality in jeopardy. It is what led to runaway media consolidation. And it is what helped lead us to shuttered bureaus and empty newsrooms and so much of the country left in the dark about what is happening in their own communities.
Free markets often don't work without some government involvement to establish the rules of the road. This is especially true in markets like broadcasting, cable and Internet access - where there are just a few companies offering access to communications.
It's time to put to rest industry calls for blind abandonment of government oversight and hold our elected leaders accountable. It's time to look at the facts, and summon the courage to advance the policies that will make our communications system, our economy, our information society, and our democracy work for everyone - not just for the largest companies.