Net Neutrality Rider Stricken from Budget Deal?

From reports of tonight’s budget deal, it sounds like major policy riders like those affecting the EPA’s and FCC’s major initiatives are out, although abortion-related riders are in the deal.   Meanwhile the House voted to repeal the FCC’s modest net neutrality rules, endorsed even by AT&T.  The arguments invoked in favor of repeal seemed to believe that the Internet industry and the World Wide Web were born and commercialized in a deregulated environment interrupted only by the FCC in 2008:

In arguing their case, the Republicans ignored a crucial part of the Internet’s history. They frequently quoted a Democratic FCC Chairman, William Kennard, from 1999, in calling for a deregulatory approach to the then-evolving Internet. What the legislators, including Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), overlooked was that in 1999, access to the online world was provided largely by telephone companies, which were regulated as common carriers.

If a consumer back then had wanted to dial into AOL, Prodigy or CompuServe, the big online services of that era (not today’s AOL), no telephone company could have legally redirected the call to their own service. It would have been a violation of the Communications Act.

Of course, some of those voting for unrestrained censorship of the Web by local broadband monopolies know exactly what they are voting for, insofar as there is a convergence of interests in the commercial and political sectors:

[A 2005 broadband] transaction would give Comcast and TimeWarner unprecedented power to influence local or national politics.  Comcast’s recent actions blocking a political email, whether by accident or design, should send a clarion call to the Commission that it cannot allow Applicants to exercise regional dominanceover residential broadband. See e.g. David Swanson, “How Comcast Censors Political Content,” OpEd News/After Downing Street (Jul. 17, 2005).  After Downing Street is an organization formed to publicize the so-called “Downing Street Memos,” British government documents that political activists claim prove that President Bush deliberately misled the American people to justify the invasion of Iraq. Through the use of the website afterdowningstreet.org, After Downing Street organizes political events, and helps people with like-minded views communicate and organize. After Downing Street uses the internet in no small part because its founders believe the “corporate media” have suppressed coverage of the Downing Street memos and stifled debate on the issue. In short, afterdowningstreet.org is precisely the sort of internet “soap box” celebrated by the Supreme Court and the Commission as shining examples of First Amendment freedom.

Unannounced, Comcast began blocking any email which contained afterdowningstreet.org in the body of the email. This had the effect of immediately cutting off After Downing Street from all Comcast subscribers. Worse, because Comcast did not tell either its subscribers or After Downing Street that it had initiated a blocking policy, the failure of After Downing Street to reach interested listeners went unnoticed for nearly a week. The block interfered with After Downing Street’s efforts to organize events for July 23rd, 2005, the third anniversary of the actual Downing Street memos.
Politicians often find that corporate control over the means of telecommunication help shield the abuses of politicians.  For example, the role of politicians in distorting the media system itself has been suppressed by some media corporations, who choose not to cover FCC news and media law events, such as the National Conference on Media Reform.

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