The conspiracy to censor the Internet

18 October 2017

The political representatives of the American ruling class are engaged in a conspiracy to suppress free speech. Under the guise of combating “trolls” and “fake news” supposedly controlled by Russia, the most basic constitutional rights enumerated in the First Amendment are under direct attack.

The leading political force in this campaign is the Democratic Party, working in collaboration with sections of the Republican Party, the mass media and the military-intelligence establishment.

The Trump administration is threatening nuclear war against North Korea, escalating the assault on health care, demanding new tax cuts for the rich, waging war on immigrant workers, and eviscerating corporate and environmental regulations. This reactionary agenda is not, however, the focus of the Democratic Party. It is concentrating instead on increasingly hysterical claims that Russia is “sowing divisions” within the United States.

In the media, one report follows another, each more ludicrous than the last. The claim that Russia shifted the US election by means of $100,000 in advertisements on Facebook and Twitter has been followed by breathless reports of the Putin government’s manipulation of other forms of communication.

An “exclusive” report from CNN last week proclaimed that one organization, “Don’t Shoot Us,” which it alleges without substantiation is connected to Russia, sought to “exploit racial tensions and sow discord” on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and even Pokémon Go, a reality game played on cell phones.

Another report from CNN on Monday asserted that a Russian “troll factory” was involved in posting comments critical of Hillary Clinton as “part of President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to influence the 2016 election.” All of the negative commentary in news media and other publications directed at Clinton, it implied, were the product of Russian agents or people duped by Russian agents.

As during the period of Cold War McCarthyism, the absurdity of the charges goes unchallenged. They are picked up and repeated by other media outlets and by politicians to demonstrate just how far-reaching the actions of the nefarious “foreign enemy” really are.

While one aim has been to continue and escalate an anti-Russia foreign policy, the more basic purpose is emerging ever more clearly: to criminalize political dissent within the United States.

The most direct expression to date of this conspiracy against free speech was given by the anticommunist ideologue Anne Applebaum in a column published Monday in the Washington Post, “If Russia can create fake ‘Black Lives Matter’ accounts, who will next?”

Her answer: the American people. “I can imagine multiple groups, many of them proudly American, who might well want to manipulate a range of fake accounts during a riot or disaster to increase anxiety or fear,” she writes. She warns that “political groups—on the left, the right, you name it—will quickly figure out” how to use social media to spread “disinformation” and “demoralization.”

Applebaum rails against all those who seek to hide their identity online. “There is a better case than ever against anonymity, at least against anonymity in the public forums of social media and comment sections,” she writes. She continues: “The right to free speech is something that is granted to humans, not bits of computer code.” Her target, however, is not “bots” operating “fake accounts,” but anyone who seeks, fearing state repression or unjust punishment by his or her employer, to make an anonymous statement online. And that is only the opening shot in a drive to silence political dissent.

Applebaum is closely connected to the highest echelons of the capitalist state. She is a member of key foreign policy think tanks and sits on the board of directors of the CIA-linked National Endowment for Democracy. Married to the former foreign minister of Poland, she is a ferocious war hawk. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, she authored a column in the Washington Postin which she called for “total war” against nuclear-armed Russia. She embodies the connection between militarism and political repression.

The implications of Applebaum’s arguments are made clear in an extraordinary article published on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times, “As US Confronts Internet’s Disruptions, China Feels Vindicated,” which takes a favorable view of China’s aggressive censorship of the Internet and implies that the United States is moving toward just such a regime.

“For years, the United States and others saw” China’s “heavy-handed censorship as a sign of political vulnerability and a barrier to China’s economic development,” the Times writes. “But as countries in the West discuss potential Internet restrictions and wring their hands over fake news, hacking and foreign meddling, some in China see a powerful affirmation of the country’s vision for the internet.”

The article goes on to assert that while “few would argue that China’s Internet control serves as a model for democratic societies… At the same time, China anticipated many of the questions now flummoxing governments from the United States to Germany to Indonesia.”

Glaringly absent from the Times article, Applebaum’s commentary and all of the endless demands for a crackdown on social media is any reference to democratic rights, free speech or the First Amendment.

The First Amendment, which asserts that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech,” is the broadest amendment in the US Constitution. Contrary to Applebaum, there is no caveat exempting anonymous speech from Constitutional protection. It is a historical fact that leaders of the American Revolution and drafters of the Constitution wrote articles under pseudonyms to avoid repression by the British authorities.

The Constitution does not give the government or powerful corporations the right to proclaim what is “fake” and what is not, what is a “conspiracy theory” and what is “authoritative.” The same arguments now being employed to crack down on social media could just as well have been used to suppress books and mass circulation newspapers that emerged with the development of the printing press.

The drive toward Internet censorship in the United States is already far advanced. Since Google announced plans to bury “alternative viewpoints” in search results earlier this year, leading left-wing sites have seen their search traffic plunge by more than 50 percent. The World Socialist Web Site’s search traffic from Google has fallen by 75 percent.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have introduced similar measures. The campaign being whipped up over Russian online activity will be used to justify even more far-reaching measures.

This is taking place as universities implement policies to give police the authority to vet campus events. There are ongoing efforts to abolish “net neutrality” so as to give giant corporations the ability to regulate Internet traffic. The intelligence agencies have demanded the ability to circumvent encryption after having been exposed for illegally monitoring the phone communications and Internet activity of the entire population.

In one “democratic” country after another governments are turning to police-state forms of rule, from France, with its permanent state of emergency, to Germany, which last month shut down a subsidiary of the left-wing political site Indymedia, to Spain, with its violent crackdown on the separatist referendum in Catalonia and arrest of separatist leaders.

The destruction of democratic rights is the political response of the corporate and financial aristocracy to the growth of working class discontent bound up with record levels of social inequality. It is intimately linked to preparations for a major escalation of imperialist violence around the world. The greatest concern of the ruling elite is the emergence of an independent movement of the working class, and the state is taking actions to prevent it.

Andre Damon and Joseph Kishore

WSWS

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Bye Bye, Net Neutrality

CULTURE

The FCC Pretends, but Moves to Gut Current Policy

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has endorsed a proposal that dismantles net neutrality protections.

Photo Credit: Federico Morando / Flickr

This post originally appeared at the Electronic Frontier Foundation*.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed a plan to eliminate net neutrality and privacy for broadband subscribers. Of course, those protections are tremendously popular, so Chairman Pai and his allies have been forced to pay lip service to preserving them in “some form.”  How do we know it’s just lip service? Because the plan Pai is pushing will destroy the legal foundation for net neutrality. That’s right: if Pai succeeds, the FCC won’t have the legal authority to preserve net neutrality in just about any form. And if he’s read the case law, he knows it.

Let’s break it down.

The FCC’s Proposal Makes It Impossible to Enforce Core Net Neutrality Requirements

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a service can be either a “telecommunications service,” like telephone service, that lets the subscriber choose the content they receive and send without interference from the service provider, or it can be an “information service,” like cable television or the old Prodigy service, that curates and selects what content channels will be available to subscribers. The 1996 law provided that “telecommunications services” are governed by “Title II” of the Communications Act of 1934, which includes nondiscrimination requirements. “Information services” are not subject to Title II’s requirements.

Under current law, the FCC can put either label on broadband internet service — but that choice has consequences. For years, the FCC incorrectly classified broadband access as an “information service,” and when it tried to impose even a weak version of net neutrality protections the courts struck them down. Essentially, the DC Circuit Court explained [PDF] that it would be inconsistent for the FCC to exempt broadband from Title II’s nondiscrimination requirements by classifying it as an information service, but then impose those requirements anyway.

The legal mandate was clear: If it wanted meaningful open internet rules to pass judicial scrutiny, the FCC had to reclassify broadband service under Title II. It was also clear to neutral observers that reclassification just made sense. Broadband looks a lot more like a “telecommunications service” than an “information service.” It entails delivering information of the subscriber’s choosing, not information curated or altered by the provider.

It took an internet uprising to persuade the FCC that reclassification made practical and legal sense. But in the end we succeeded: in 2015, at the end of a lengthy rule-making process, the FCC reclassified broadband as a Title II telecommunications service and issued net neutrality rules on that basis. Resting at last on a proper legal foundation, those rules finally passed judicial scrutiny [PDF].

But now, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed to reverse that decision and put broadband back under the regime for “information services” — the same regime that we already know won’t support real net neutrality rules. Abandoning Title II means the end of meaningful, enforceable net neutrality protections, paving the way for companies like Comcast or Time Warner Cable to slice up your internet experience into favored, disfavored and “premium” content.
Title II Is Not Overly Burdensome, Thanks to Forbearance

While we are on the subject of the legal basis for net neutrality, let’s talk about the rest of Title II. Net neutrality opponents complain that Title II involves a host of regulations that don’t make sense for the Internet. This is a red herring. The FCC has used a process called “forbearance” – binding limits on its power to use parts of Title II – to ensure that Title II is applied narrowly and as needed to address harms to net neutrality and privacy. So when critics of the FCC’s decision to reclassify tell horror stories about the potential excesses of Title II, keep in mind that those stories are typically based on powers that the FCC has expressly disavowed, like the ability to set prices for service.

What is more, Title II offers more regulatory limits than the alternative of treating broadband as an information service, at least when it comes to net neutrality. Where Title II grants specific, clear and bounded powers that can protect net neutrality, theories that do not rely on Title II have to infer powers that aren’t clearly granted to the FCC. As proponents of limited regulation, these theories concern us. The proper way to protect neutrality is not to expand FCC discretion by stretching the general provisions of the Telecommunications Act (an approach already rejected in court), but to use a limited subset of the clear authorities laid out in Title II.
The FTC Cannot Adequately Protect the Privacy of Internet Subscribers

Reclassifying broadband as an information service not subject to Title II also creates yet another mess for subscriber privacy. The FCC crafted good rules for internet privacy, but Congress just rejected them. But it left in place the FCC’s underlying authority to protect privacy under Title II, which leaves privacy in limbo. Abandoning Title II for broadband altogether would mean that the FCC no longer has much of a role to play in protecting broadband privacy — and it’s not clear who will fill the gap.

Some have looked to the FTC to take up the mantle, but just last year AT&T persuaded a federal appeals court that, as a company that also owned a telephone business, the FTC had no power over any aspect of AT&T. That precedent covers the entire West Coast and leaves millions of Americans without recourse for privacy violations by their internet service provider. And there’s no doubt that AT&T and others will try to extend that precedent across the country.

Even without this precedent, the FTC’s enforcement authority here targets deceptive trade practices. The agency will only take action if a company promises one thing and delivers another.  If the legalese in a company’s privacy policy explains how it is free to use and sell your private information, and it follows that policy, the FTC can’t help you.

Tell the FCC What You Want It to Do

The FCC is now accepting comments on its plan. Make yourself heard via DearFCC.org.

*Editor’s Note: This post was edited slightly from its original form.

 

Kit Walsh is a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, working on free speech, net neutrality, copyright, coders’ rights and other issues that relate to freedom of expression and access to knowledge. She has worked for years to support the rights of political protesters, journalists, remix artists and technologists to agitate for social change and to express themselves through their stories and ideas. Walsh holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.S. in neuroscience from MIT, where she studied brain-computer interfaces. Follow her on Twitter: @prilkit.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/fcc-gutting-net-neutrality?akid=15566.265072.rL-xzS&rd=1&src=newsletter1076957&t=18

AT&T, Time Warner and the Death of Privacy

att

OCTOBER 27, 2016

By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan

It has been 140 years since Alexander Graham Bell uttered the first words through his experimental telephone, to his lab assistant: “Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you.” His invention transformed human communication, and the world. The company he started grew into a massive monopoly, AT&T. The federal government eventually deemed it too powerful, and broke up the telecom giant in 1982. Well, AT&T is back and some would say on track to become bigger and more powerful than before, announcing plans to acquire Time Warner, the media company, to create one of the largest entertainment and communications conglomerates on the planet. Beyond the threat to competition, the proposed merger—which still must pass regulatory scrutiny—poses significant threats to privacy and the basic freedom to communicate.

AT&T is currently No. 10 on the Forbes 500 list of the U.S.‘s highest-grossing companies. If it is allowed to buy Time Warner, No. 99 on the list, it will form an enormous, “vertically integrated” company that controls a vast pool of content and how people access that content.

Free Press, the national media policy and activism group, is mobilizing the public to oppose the deal. “This merger would create a media powerhouse unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. AT&T would control mobile and wired internet access, cable channels, movie franchises, a film studio and more,” Candace Clement of Free Press wrote. “That means AT&T would control internet access for hundreds of millions of people and the content they view, enabling it to prioritize its own offerings and use sneaky tricks to undermine net neutrality.”

Net neutrality is that essential quality of the internet that makes it so powerful. Columbia University law professor Tim Wu coined the term “net neutrality.” After the Federal Communications Commission approved strong net neutrality rules last year, Wu told us on the Democracy Now! News hour, “There need to be basic rules of the road for the internet, and we’re not going to trust cable and telephone companies to respect freedom of speech or respect new innovators, because of their poor track record.”

Millions of citizens weighed in with public comments to the FCC in support of net neutrality, along with groups like Free Press and The Electronic Frontier Foundation. They were joined by titans of the internet like Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Arrayed against this coalition were the telecom and cable companies, the oligopoly of internet service providers that sell internet access to hundreds of millions of Americans. It remains to be seen if AT&T doesn’t in practice break net neutrality rules and create a fast lane for its content and slow down content from its competitors, including the noncommercial sector.

Another problem that AT&T presents, that would only be exacerbated by the merger, is the potential to invade the privacy of its millions of customers. In 2006, AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein revealed that the company was secretly sharing all of its customers’ metadata with the National Security Agency. Klein, who installed the fiber-splitting hardware in a secret room at the main AT&T facility in San Francisco, had his whistleblowing allegations confirmed several years later by Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. While that dragnet surveillance program was supposedly shut down in 2011, a similar surveillance program still exists. It’s called “Project Hemisphere.” It was exposed by The New York Times in 2013, with substantiating documents just revealed this week in The Daily Beast.

In “Project Hemisphere,” AT&T sells metadata to law enforcement, under the aegis of the so-called war on drugs. A police agency sends in a request for all the data related to a particular person or telephone number, and, for a major fee and without a subpoena, AT&T delivers a sophisticated data set, that can, according to The Daily Beast, “determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why.”

Where you go, what you watch, text and share, with whom you speak, all your internet searches and preferences, all gathered and “vertically integrated,” sold to police and perhaps, in the future, to any number of AT&T’s corporate customers. We can’t know if Alexander Graham Bell envisioned this brave new digital world when he invented the telephone. But this is the future that is fast approaching, unless people rise up and stop this merger.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

FCC ruling sides with tech companies on “net neutrality”

shutterstock_Net_Neutrality_1

By Mike Ingram
6 March 2015

The 3-2 vote of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) February 26, in favor of new telecommunications rules has been hailed as a landmark ruling that will ensure “net neutrality,” defined as equal access to the Internet for all content providers. The reality is more complex and far less positive.

The FCC’s latest proposal does bar broadband service providers—giant companies like Comcast and the major telecoms that control so-called last-mile access to the Internet—from discriminating between different forms of content, either by offering price discounts or faster traffic speeds.

But the other major set of corporate giants, technology companies like Google, Yahoo and Netflix, will retain their monopoly control of over search and content provision. And the most dangerous enemy of a genuinely free Internet, the US government, with its vast panoply of spy agencies vacuuming up all web content, may gain additional authority over the Internet via the FCC itself.

By reclassifying broadband Internet services as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act, the ruling puts Internet Service Providers (ISPs) under the same regulatory framework as telecommunications. Given the monopolization and price gouging that prevails in that industry, the hosannas over the FCC ruling by some advocates of net neutrality are both premature and exaggerated.

The exact language of the rules has not yet been made public, but from the statements issued by the FCC, the two main changes from an early decision in 2010—subsequently thrown out in a court challenge—were the reclassification under Title II, and the decision to apply the ruling to mobile as well as fixed-line broadband services.

Net neutrality is a set of principles designed to prevent restrictions by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and governments on content, sites, platforms or the kinds of equipment that may be used to access the Internet. Legitimate concern over the monopoly of broadband giants such as Comcast has generated broad support for net neutrality among online activists. The issue has prompted several online protests over recent years, including the so-called Internet slowdown of September 10 last year, when over 40,000 web sites solicited calls to senators and over 4.7 million comments to the FCC.

Following the February 25 vote, the site battleforthenet.com, which had played the major role in instigating the “slowdown,” proclaimed an “epic victory” stating, “Washington insiders said it couldn’t be done. But the public got loud in protest, the FCC gave in, and we won Title II net neutrality rules. Now Comcast is furious. They want to destroy our victory with their massive power in Congress. You won net neutrality. Now, are you ready to defend it?”

Such an analysis ignores the equally “massive power” of the tech industry both in Congress and in the Obama administration. A lengthy article published by the Washington Post March 1 describes Silicon Valley as “the new revolving door for Obama staffers.”

The article notes that the FCC decision “marked a major win for Silicon Valley, an industry that has built a close relationship with the president and his staff over the last six years.” The tech industry has “enriched Obama’s campaigns through donations” and “presented lucrative opportunities for staffers who leave for the private sector.”

The day of the FCC ruling, former White House press secretary Jay Carney joined Amazon as a senior vice president for global corporate affairs. Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe now runs policy and strategy for car service start-up Uber. Facebook hired Marne Levine, chief of staff to former National Economic Council director Lawrence H. Summers. Airbnb has three former White House press staff on its books.

The revolving door goes both directions, with a large number of Silicon Valley executives heading to Washington for stints in the Obama administration. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes helped create Obama’s online campaign and Google’s former vice president of global policy, Andrew McLaughlin worked on its tech policy agenda, according to the Post. McLaughlin later joined the Obama administration as a deputy to the chief technology officer. Obama’s former deputy chief technology officer Nicole Wong was an executive at both Twitter and Google. Megan Smith, the current chief technology officer was previously at Google and the director of patent and trademark office Michelle K. Lee was an intellectual property lawyer for Google.

It is this relationship with the technology giants rather than any genuine concern for democratic rights on the Internet that explains Obama’s intervention in net neutrality dispute. In November last year Obama called on the FCC to take up the “strongest possible rules” to protect net neutrality.

Obama’s real attitude to Internet freedom was exposed by the revelations of Edward Snowden, who documented the mandate of the National Security Agency to “collect it all”—in other words, capture the entire content of all the world’s Internet activity in order to analyze and profile all potential opponents of the American government, above all, political opposition from the working class.

Both tech companies such as Google and Yahoo, as well as telecommunications giants like Comcast and AT&T are deeply implicated in the mass spying on the US and global population by the NSA. They routinely hand over data when asked and only expressed any concern once the extent of this was made known by Snowden.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/03/06/netn-m06.html

Net neutrality is dying, Uber is waging a war on regulations, and Amazon grows stronger by the day

Why 2014 could be the year we lose the Internet

Why 2014 could be the year we lose the Internet
Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook (Credit: Reuters/Gus Ruelas/Robert Galbraith/Photo collage by Salon)

Halfway through 2014, and the influence of technology and Silicon Valley on culture, politics and the economy is arguably bigger than ever — and certainly more hotly debated. Here are Salon’s choices for the five biggest stories of the year.

1) Net neutrality is on the ropes.

So far, 2014 has been nothing but grim for the principle known as “net neutrality” — the idea that the suppliers of Internet bandwidth should not give preferential access (so-called fast lanes) to the providers of Internet services who are willing and able to pay for it. In January, the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s preliminary plan to enforce a weak form of net neutrality. Less than a month later, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company and broadband Internet service provider, announced its plans to buy Time-Warner — and inadvertently gave us a compelling explanation for why net neutrality is so important. A single company with a dominant position in broadband will simply have too much power, something that could have enormous implications for our culture.

The situation continued to degenerate from there. Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s new pick to run the FCC, a former top cable industry lobbyist, unveiled a new plan for net neutrality that was immediately slammed as toothless. In May, ATT announced plans to merge with DirecTV. Consolidation proceeds apace, and our government appears incapable of managing the consequences.

2) Uber takes over.

After completing its most recent round of financing, Uber is now valued at $18.2 billion. Along with Airbnb, the Silicon Valley start-up has become a standard bearer for the Valley’s cherished allegiance to “disruption.” The established taxi industry is under sustained assault, but Uber has made it clear that the company’s ultimate ambitions go far beyond simply connecting people with rides. Uber has designs on becoming the premier logistics connection platform for getting anything to anyone. What Google is to search, Uber wants to be for moving objects from Point A to Point B. And Google, of course, has a significant financial stake in Uber.



Uber’s path has been bumpy. The company is fighting regulatory battles with municipalities across the world, and its own drivers are increasingly angry at fare cuts, and making sporadic attempts to organize. But the smart money sees Uber as one of the major players of the near future. The “sharing” economy is here to stay.

3) The year of the stream.

Apple bought Beats by Dre. Amazon launched its own streaming music service. Google is planning a new paid streaming offering. Spotify claimed 10 million paying customers and Pandora boasts 75 million listeners every month.

We may end up remembering 2014 as the year that streaming established itself as the dominant way people consume music. The numbers are stark. Streaming is surging, while paid downloads are in free fall.

For consumers, all-you-can-eat services like Spotify are generally marvelous. But it remains astonishing that a full 20 years after the Internet threw the music industry into turmoil, it is still completely unclear how artists and songwriters will make a decent living in an era when music is essentially free.

We also face unanswered questions about the potential implications for what kinds of music get made in an environment where every listen is tracked and every tweet or Facebook like observed. What will Big Data mean for music?

4) Amazon shows its true colors.

What a busy six months for Jeff Bezos! Amazon introduced its own set-top box for TV watching, its own smartphone for insta-shopping, anywhere, any time, and started abusing its near monopoly power to win better terms with publishing companies.

For years, consumer adoration of Amazon’s convenience and low prices fueled the company’s rise. It’s hard, at the midpoint of 2014, to avoid the conclusion that we’ve created a monster. This year, Amazon started getting sustained bad press at the very highest levels. And you know what? Jeff Bezos deserves it.

5) The tech culture wars boil over.

In the first six months of 2014, the San Francisco Bay Area witnessed emotional public hearings about Google shuttle buses, direct action by radicals against technology company executives, bar fights centering on Google Glass wearers, and a steady rise in political heat focused on tech economy-driven gentrification.

As I wrote in April

Just as the Luddites, despite their failure, spurred the creation of worker-class consciousness, the current Bay Area tech protests have had a pronounced political effect. While the tactics range from savvy, well-organized protest marches to juvenile acts of violence, the impact is clear. The attention of political leaders and the media has been engaged. Everyone is watching.

Ultimately, maybe this will be the biggest story of 2014. This year, numerous voices started challenging the transformative claims of Silicon Valley hype and began grappling with the nitty-gritty details of how all this “disruption” is changing our economy and culture. Don’t expect the second half of 2014 to be any different.

Contributions to House Members Lobbying against Net Neutrality from Cable Interests

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) pictured in foreground
 
The FCC voted 3-2 on Thursday to approve a notice of proposed rulemaking, initiating a public comment period on several approaches to “protecting and promoting the open internet,” including reclassifying the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act.
 
The 28 representatives signing letters to the FCC against Title II reclassification of the internet as a public utility, a position allied with the cable industry, have received, on average, $26,832 from the cable industry, 2.3 times more money than the average for all members of the House of Representatives, $11,651.

Republicans signing the letters against Title II reclassification of the internet as a public utility have received, on average,$59,812 from the cable industry5 times more than the average for all members of the House$11,651.

Democrats signing the letters against Title II reclassification of the internet as a public utility have received, on average, $13,640 from the cable industry, 1.2 times more times more than the average for all members of the House,$11,651.

Letter signer Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has received more money from the cable industry than any other member of the House of Representatives: $109,250 over the last two years. Walden is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, which has jurisdiction over the FCC.

Top Five Recipients (Letter Signers) of Contributions from Cable Interests:

  • Greg Walden (R-Ore) has recieved $109,250
  • Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has received $80,800
  • John Boehner (R-Ohio) has received $75,450
  • Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has received $65,000
  • John Barrow (D-Ga.) has received $60,500

Twenty-nine members of Congress own stock in Comcastmaking Comcast the 25th most held stock among members of Congress. Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) owns more Comcast stock than any other member.

Methodology: MapLight analysis of campaign contributions to members of Congress from PACs and employees of organizations in the cable and satellite TV production and distribution industry, from January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2013. Data source: OpenSecrets.org Personal Financial Disclosure data sourceMapLight analysis of United States Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics: http://www.pfd.senate.gov/index.cfm/searchSelect/ and U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Clerk: http://clerk.house.gov/public_disc/financial.aspx

Background:

Letters from members of the House of Representatives to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler:

Letter 1: Signed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Vice Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) expressed “grave concern” over a proposal supported by net neutrality advocates to reclassify the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act, “Such unwarranted and overreaching government intrusion into the broadband marketplace will harm consumers, halt job creation, curtail investment, stifle innovation, and set America down a dangerous path of micromanaging the Internet.”

Letter 2: Led by Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) and signed by John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), George Butterfield (D-N.C.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), William Owens (D-N.Y.), Loretta Sanchez (D-Ca.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Lacey Clay (D-Mo.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Scott Peters (D-Ca.), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), and David Scott (D-Ga.), “While we still have further to go to ensure that the benefits of broadband reach all Americans, we are concerned that opening the door to subjecting broadband service to a wide array of regulatory burdens and restrictions, including imposing Title II, might halt this progress.”

Letter 3: Signed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), and House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), “As we continue to ask the world to keep their hands off the Internet and to allow people to freely engage with each other, we should lead by example and reject calls to return to a bygone model of network regulation.”

Comcast, America’s largest cable internet provider, agrees with the four Republicans. In a recent FCC filing, Comcast said, “Title II would spark massive instability, create investor and marketplace uncertainty, derail planned investments, and slow broadband adoption.”

Image source: House GOP Leader/Flickr

About MapLight: MapLight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics. If our work has been helpful to you, please consider supporting us.

The FCC Has Been Surrounded by Corporate Lobbyists for Too Long, Now It’s Our Turn


We’re camping out day and night on the FCC’s doorstep to defend net neutrality and keep the Internet free from discrimination and “slow lanes.”

Photo Credit: Margaret Flowers & Kevin Zeese

This article is a modified version of material fromSave The InternetandPopular Resistance.

Last week we wrote about the importance of taking action to save the Internet.  The Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, is proposing new rules that will be great for Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, but terrible for the rest of us. The FCC has been surrounded by corporate lobbyists for too long, now we must make our voices heard.

On Wednesday, we decided that we had to follow our own advice and take stronger action. After a kick-off rally at noon in front of the FCC, we set up an encampment next to the Maine Ave, SW doors of the FCC. We are taking action each day to push the people’s interest in a free, open and equal Internet. These next few days leading up to the meeting of the FCC Commissioners on the May 15 are a critical time for us to set the agenda and protect the public interest.

Help us surround FCC with people who love the Internet and understand the importance of keeping it open. Before May 15 when the FCC holds its next Open Meeting, citizen pressure needs to continue to build to demand reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier, putting into law net neutrality and removing all obstacles that prevent locally-controlled public Internet. Join us in DC, take action online or organize a protest at an FCC office in your community.

Immediate Impact Of The Encampment

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is already struggling to defend his proposal for new rules that will allow fast lane net discrimination by his corporate allies at Comcast, Verizon and AT&T – but we need to keep building the pressure to get the other FCC commissioners on our side and to return the Internet to its previous status as a public utility.

Activists are joining our camp in Washington, DC to protest the new net discrimination rules. We will be there until the next public meeting at the FCC to make sure that the proposed rules protect net neutrality, instead of taking the agency off track and ending net neutrality. The encampment adds to the great work done by numerous organizations like Fight for the Future and Free Press online which resulted in more than one million people writing the FCC urging net neutrality and thousands of phone calls demanding withdrawal of Wheeler’s proposal.

This negative response is bigger than anything the FCC expected. But in order for us to be successful, we need activists to come out and be a part of the action in DC or create one at an FCC office close to home.  We are at a crucial turning point and more people getting involved will make a tremendous difference.

From the first moments, we found that the encampment was having an impact.  Before a single protester had even shown up at the FCC’s doorstep, we got a call from Chairman Tom Wheeler’s office asking what we were doing, what our message was, how long we were staying and saying they may be interested in meeting with us. That’s particularly interesting, since even with more than 1 million net neutrality signatures to the FCC last month, Chairman Wheeler wouldn’t meet with us.

The first afternoon we saw divisions emerging among the Commissioners.  Two Democratic Commissioners came out against moving forward on Wheeler’s proposal. One said the FCC should take at least a month to listen to the public, and the other said she would oppose any fee-based divisions on the Internet.  The Republican commissioners want no regulation – which would be a disaster since it would let the biggest corporations profit and prevent them from being challenged by entrepreneurs. Right now, Wheeler seems to be standing alone for a fee-based division of the Internet

Feeling the pressure, Wheeler responded to thousands of emails sent to him from Popular Resistance with a carefully phrased response that did not answer our demands, but highlighted the differences between industry and the public interest.

On the third day one, of the five FCC Commissioners came out to talk with us. Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai was very friendly; he is quite a joke-ster. This seems to be his way of avoiding discussion. When we noted that it was embarrassing that the country that invented the Internet was now ranked at 30 or lower (depending on the rankings) in quality of the Internet.  Pai’s response “We’re better than Estonia.” Kevin’s response — “Yeah, but not by much!”

After some friendly back and forth, he asked if it were a choice between the Wheeler’s proposal and doing nothing, which would we choose. Pai essentially presented the choice of two evils — the Democrat’s rig the market for the wealthiest; and the Republican’s take off all controls so the wealthiest can dominate the market.  The interesting thing about this choice of evils is that they end up in the same place: Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will get wealthier and dominate the market, keeping challengers out; and the people and small businesses will be screwed.  The Internet’s creativity and our full access to information will be ended.

We can’t keep letting the corporate duopoly restrict our choices to two lousy ones; we need to break-free of their obvious manipulation. We told Pai that we are not limited to those choices. We want:

– Reclassification as a common carrier so the Internet could be regulated in the public interest;

– Net neutrality put into law so that there is no Internet discrimination and everyone has equal access to all of the web; and

–  Remove barriers to public Internet at the municipal and local levels so communities can develop public ownership of the Internet in the public interest as many areas are already doing successfully.

Throughout the encampment, FCC employees have been telling participants how much they appreciate us being out there, that they agree with us and that they hope we succeed.  Many inside the FCC want to serve the public interest, not the corporate interests. While lawyers from industry have been hired to work inside the FCC, they seem to be outnumbered by staff of the FCC who are on the side of the people. Participants have been handing out literature during lunch hour urging people in the FCC to blow the whistle and let the public know what is going on inside the agency. To be democracy heroes, people inside the FCC need to let the public know how the mega-corporations and their allies inside the FCC are working to undermine the public interest.

If you cannot come to DC we urge people toorganize similar encampments at other FCC branches in 27 other cities.  People in Los Angeles rallied outside an Obama fundraiser to protest the proposal to end net neutrality. It is important for President Obama — who appointed all five Commissioners of the FCC — and members of the Senate — who confirmed all five Commissioners — to hear from the public and let them know that if net neutrality is ended, so do their careers.

Now we know for sure that we have the FCC’s attention, since they walk past our encampment every day when they come to work. We’ve heard from our contacts in DC that Tom Wheeler was not expecting this kind of massive backlash to his net neutrality announcement last week. We need to let the FCC know that if they move forward with this proposal they are lighting the fuse to a massive citizen’s revolt that will impact their agency as well as the elected officials who put them in power.

Divisions Building in the Business Community

At the same time that public pressure to withdraw Wheeler’s proposal is building, so is pressure in the business community. Two letters were sent to the FCC this week demonstrating broad opposition to Wheeler’s proposal as well as widespread support for reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier.

The first letter was signed by almost 150 tech companies. It included those from 3 person start-ups to giants like Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook and describes Wheeler’s proposal as “a grave threat to the Internet” as they would allow companies to “discriminate both technically and financially.”  They opposed the end of net neutrality. The letter says FCC rules should not permit “individualized bargaining and discrimination,” and tells the FCC to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce.”

The second letter was sent by 50 tech investors who told Wheeler that his proposal would undermine creativity and investment in the development of the Internet.  The letter says that “If established companies are able to pay for better access speeds or lower latency, the internet will no longer be a level playing field . . . startups with applications that are advantaged by speed (such as games, video, or payment systems) will be unlikely to overcome that deficit no matter how innovative their service.”

The group includes investors from around the country, including Union Square Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, and many more. Collectively they have funded companies like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr, and others. You can read their full letter here.

The Next Few Days are Critical to the Future of the Internet

We have made tremendous progress since Chairman Wheeler put out his proposal. But, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have dozens of paid lobbyists pressuring the FCC daily and many lawyers and others working inside the agency.  This is a battle for the future of the Internet that we can win but we have to keep expanding the pressure and fight back against Wheeler’s proposal.

Before May 15 when the FCC holds its next Open Meeting, citizen pressure needs to continue to build to demand reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier, putting into law net neutrality and removing all obstacles that prevent locally controlled public Internet. We must define the agenda in the public interest as we move into the next phase of public comment and voting on the new rules. We will be in a stronger position if we defeat Wheeler’s proposal and replace it with ours.

There will be a rally outside the FCC before the public meeting on May 15, but this struggle doesn’t end that day. Be prepared to continue mobilizing this summer to save the internet. The time is now. The Internet is critical for the democratized citizen’s media, for access to information, for communication with people all over the world and for organizing for justice. Join PopularResistance.org and FightfortheFuture.org to get involved.

If you want to get involved in escalating actions in Washington, DC beginning Wednesday, May 7th contact us at info@PopularResistance.org.

This article is produced by Popular Resistance in conjunction withAlterNet.  It is a weekly review of the activities of the resistance movement.