Former Comcast & Verizon attorneys manage the FCC, are about to kill the Internet

We’ve written in this space about “net neutrality” (see below for Yves Smith’s comment on that phrasing). The latest is this:

DC Circuit rules against Net Neutrality; big (bad) Internet changes could be coming

There I said, quoting the Internet-friendly organization Free Press:

The FCC — under the leadership of former Chairman Julius Genachowski — made a grave mistake when it failed to ground its open Internet rules on solid legal footing.

Indeed. The problem is simple. The cable industry–friendly FCC wants to keep the Internet from being called, and regulated as, a “public utility” (a term with legal implications) and to keep cable wiring from being treated as a “common carrier” (another legal term with significant implications). Among the ways a “common carrier” is restricted is this:

An important legal requirement for common carrier as public provider is that it cannot discriminate, that is refuse the service unless there is some compelling reason. As of 2007, the status of Internet service providers as common carriers and their rights and responsibilities is widely debated (network neutrality).

Your phone wires, long-distance and local, are common carriers, meaning that the phone company is forced to carry your communication regardless of who you are or what you say. No censorship, no discrimination, no extra charges just for you. Now reread the last sentence in the quote above. They could call the Internet a public utility, and cable wiring a common carrier, but they won’t. Thus the legal hoops they keep trying to jump through, that the court keeps rejecting outright.

Any guesses why the FCC is doing the telecom’s business and not yours? For answers, read on.

Lee Fang has the goods on the FCC

Lee Fang is here to tell us what’s going on with the FCC. Consider this part to be important background for the situation Yves Smith describes below. Fang, writing at VICE (my emphasis and paragraphing throughout):

The open Internet may soon become a thing of the past. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal dropped something of a bombshell with leaked news that the Federal Communications Commission is planning to abandon so-called “net neutrality” regulations—rules to ensure that Internet providers are prevented from discriminating based on content. Under the new proposed system, companies such as Comcast or Verizon will be able to create a tiered Internet, in which websites will have to pay more money for faster speeds, a change that observers predict will curb free speech, stifle innovation and increase costs for consumers.

Like so many problems in American government, the policy shift may relate to the pernicious corruption of the revolving door. The FCC is stocked with staffers who have recently worked for Internet Service Providers (ISP) that stand to benefit tremendously from the defeat of net neutrality.

The backgrounds of the new FCC staff have not been reported until now.

About those backgrounds, Fang says:

Network Money Scene thumbnail

“There is no America. There is only IBM and AT&T and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world.” (Click to listen.)

Take Daniel Alvarez, an attorney who has long represented Comcast through the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. In 2010, Alvarez wrote a letter to the FCC on behalf of Comcast protesting net neutrality rules, arguing that regulators failed to appreciate “socially beneficial discrimination.” The proposed rules, Alvarez wrote in the letter co-authored with a top Comcast lobbyist named Joe Waz, should be reconsidered. … Alvarez is now on the other side, working among a small group of legal advisors hired directly under Tom Wheeler, the new FCC Commissioner who began his job in November.

As soon as Wheeler came into office, he also announced the hiring of former Ambassador Philip Verveer as his senior counselor. A records request reveals that Verveer also worked for Comcast in the last year. In addition, he was retained by two industry groups that have worked to block net neutrality, the Wireless Association (CTIA) and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

In February, Matthew DelNero was brought into the agency to work specifically on net neutrality. DelNero has previously worked as an attorney for TDS Telecom, an Internet service provider that has lobbied on net neutrality, according to filings.

The list goes on — Fang is a hell of a researcher. And don’t forget this, about Obama-appointed FCC chief Tom Wheeler himself — he’s a former lobbyist connected to the telecom industry. Is the deck stacked? Is the pope named Francis? And what can Obama’s reason be for appointing him? (Hint: Think Library. It’s Legacy season after all. Just saying.)

There’s a ton more in Fang’s article; please do read.

Obama’s latest assault on democracy – undermining Net Neutrality

Next let’s consider Yves Smith and Bill Moyers on how this upcoming decision, almost certainly to abandon net neutrality, undermines democracy itself. First Smith:

“Net neutrality” is one of those brilliant coinages, like chained CPI, with a technocratic sheen designed to deter ordinary citizens from taking interest in policy proposals of fundamental importance to them.

Money man via Shutterstock

Money man via Shutterstock

Bill Moyers interviews David Carr of the New York Times and Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, about the how the biggest service providers like Comcast and Verizon have been pushing hard to balkanize the Internet by creating more stratified service tiers based on speed of access. This change is anticipated to hurt both lower income consumers and specialized websites, like not-for-profits, cultural and scientific sites, and…independent blogs.

So who did Obama put in charge of the FCC? Tom Wheeler, a former cable lobbyist. And of course, Wheeler hand-waves and professes that he just can’t oppose those powerful operators [against whom] he lost in court. Susan Crawford debunks that idea:

BILL MOYERS: And Tom Wheeler says that, look, the FCC’s tried twice to rewrite the rules of Net neutrality. And the appeals court, federal appeals court, has turned thumbs down twice. He’s saying, I’m only doing what I can do to write rules that are consistent with what the court has said.

SUSAN CRAWFORD: What’s not right about that is that he can do something. The FCC has tried to simultaneously deregulate by not labeling these guys as utilities. And yet, adopt Net neutrality rules. All he has to do is relabel these services as utility services. And then he stands on firm legal footing. He can forebear from any details of those rules. He doesn’t want to apply. The courts have struck this down because it’s incoherent. That’s the problem. If he marches forward on a clear legal path, he’ll be fine. But he wants to avoid World War III on the cable institutions.

So the real issue isn’t that public interest couldn’t prevail but that the Administration isn’t about to declare war on communication providers. And this almost-certain death net neutrality isn’t bad just in terms of diversity of content and democratic processes, it’s also bad for the health of the Web as system.

Here’s that Moyers interview. Do watch; it’s typically informative and clear:

There’s much to like here. Be sure to watch, at 20:00, Moyers comment on Obama’s 2008 full-throated support for net neutrality. Obama-then:

“I will take a back seat to no one in my commitment to net neutrality.”

You remember 2008; that was the year he wanted something from you. Seems he’d say just anything back then to get it. Obama-now just shoves cable lobbyist Tom Wheeler at us as Internet boss.

You know, if you had a billion dollars and a president with eyes on his Clintonian legacy, you could buy some people-friendly stuff, stuff actual people wanted. Your money would offset their money. It’s just like democracy, except you have to pony up to get it.

Side note: I wouldn’t count on that legacy as having a known-good result, Mr. President. You’re the one with the last clear chance to help us go Zero Carbon, and you’re blowing it (totally). When the climate storms knock us out of our homes and our insurance policies, your name will come up … early and often. Just saying.

GP

Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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  • plainejane

    Has anyone seen anything of substance about Net Neutrality on MSNBC? I haven’t, but I haven’t been watching much lately. There’s nothing online that shows up. if that’s the case, I wonder what orders all the stars have been given by COMCAST which owns NBC. Has there been a news lockdown from the higher ups?

  • cole3244

    obama has done a few things to make himself acceptable but imo he has been a complete failure and disappointment, of course i am a lefty and my opinion means nothing to him and his admin of right of center pols masquerading as dems.

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  • Bill_Perdue

    That’s true as far as it goes but right wing politicians and politics infest both parties.

    Both are for wars of aggression like the ones Obama unleashed in the Ukraine, Pakistan and against Libya, Bahrain. Yemen and Iraq, where he continued the killing until the last minute and Afghanistan where he escalated and ramped up the killing.

    Both are for austerity and both engage in union busting.

    Both are for policies that further exacerbate the already very dangerous degradation of the environment.

    Neither will pass ENDA when is has a chance of being enacted.

    Voting for any Democrat or any Republican is not just a wasted vote, it’s a vote for their right wing policies.

  • pvequalkt

    So… how does audacity hopey changey rate amongst America’s unitaries? If all you do is listen to his speeches, you’d rate him probably top 15.
    If, however, and this is all that should count, you add up his actual deeds, he’s bottom 3… and gaining on cheney/drunktard bush and hoover (IMO) rapidly.
    If cheney/drunktard did this, the Ds and electorate would be in full-on freakout over it.
    All proves that when the money really, really wants something, they elect a democrap and a democrap congress (one chamber only required)… they’ll get it from them.
    That’s because overt evil raises ire amongst the people ONLY when it is done by the overtly evil. If it is done by those still claiming a façade of altruism… nobody much gives a shit.
    audacity hopey changey will be our worst ever unitary by the time jeb/Hillary take his place… and continue his fascist policies in 2016.

  • caphillprof

    Barack Obama could not run for President as a Republican, so he ran as a Democrat instead. He won as a Democrat but ruled as a Republican. There’s something in the water in Martha’s Vineyard.

  • Bill_Perdue

    This is another big step towards a police state in the banana republic some still foolishly call a democracy.

    The best outlets to fight back remain the unions. They they can be made more effective by building the union left and leading them to reject Democrats and Republicans. Building Labor and workers parties who can organize and educate working people, they’re the best, and in reality, the only means left to fight the imposition of a police state.

    The process of building a left and union opposition is underway. http://www.labornotes.org/2013/12/2013-review-aiming-higher-labor-tries-new-angles-and-alliances

  • Monophylos Fortikos

    Come to think of it, the Net-as-we-knew-it faded from cyberspace about 10 years ago.

    Thank heaven! There’s so much more available now. I may wax reminiscent about the Usenet days but they really kind of sucked.

  • Monophylos Fortikos

    I remember in the ’90s a lot of blase attitude online (well, on Usenet) about the possibility of censorship or control of the Internet. “The Internet routes around censorship,” was an expression I heard a few times. And since, at the time, corporate ISPs were still considered something of a joke, the idea that all Internet traffic might end up under the effective control of a few big telecom companies wasn’t even on anyone’s radar, I don’t think.

  • Indigo

    And Wikipedia! Oh, yeah!

  • Indigo

    Come to think of it, the Net-as-we-knew-it faded from cyberspace about 10 years ago. What have we now? System overloaded advertising, the Valley of Porn, Spamalot, pay-per-read news sites, and a whole lot of disinformative .com sites with links to virus factories. Okay, on the plus side, we have AmBlog which is only moderately system overloaded with advertising, newspapers with pop-up advertising, a few television-substitue sites and the email. God bless the email. And Adult Swim!

  • jomicur

    Democracy? What a quaint, old-fashioned notion. Corporations are, if anything, anti-democratic by their very nature. They are ruled from the top down by autocrats and their flunkies. It would be surprising if the government they own and operate for their own benefit and profit, in more and more ways all the time, didn’t reflect that. They are our lords and masters, no less than “nobles” were in medieval society. It is the inevitable result of the mindless consumerism that has been bred into the American people, who increasingly seem to think that owning the latest smart phone is “freedom.” The attitude is, simply put, “Yes, I know that company/retailer X is evil, but I like their products and prices!” Or, “I know Comcast is greedy and unscrupulous, but I just couldn’t live if I didn’t have more cable channels than I can watch–or want to!” Resistance, which would require a popular consensus to accomplish anything, is futile.

  • John Ruff

    OMG! I love the shutterstock image chosen for the article! Impecable.

  • emjayay

    The other end of the internet in the US is from the individual user side. We are forced by monopoly companies to pay exorbitant rates to get bad service. In NYC, I have to pay a lot for a really slow connection. I can pay more for a little faster, or more than that for something better. At that point I might as well sign up for the package with cable TV I don’t want to pay for and a land line phone I don’t want to pay for. Localities have sold out to monopolies who exploit the subscribers. The local monopoly has plenty of money to send me mailers about every week or two about what a great a deal the package plan is – with rates that increase to some amount that’s probably double after 6 months or a year.

  • emjayay

    Another Shutterstock photo that adds nothing and in fact detracts from the post. Sometimes a picture deducts a thousand words.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Everyone I try to talk to about this (the few that are aware of it at all) seem to think the decision went the other way. This issue is being spun by the major media outlets that are the very ones pushing for this decision. It would be good to get Congress to act but this is the same body that handed everything to the telecoms every time they asked. Congress has been bribed to do their bidding and they aren’t going to stop now. Get ready to pay even more (like we aren’t already being overcharged now) for a lot less.

  • Gindy51

    I already have a tiered internet connection by using Hughesnet, the only way I can get online out in the sticks. I pay the highest residential rate for service so I have faster internet. I don’t like it, but I have no choice and soon none of us will.

  • Elijah Shalis

    Princeton’s study concluding America is no longer a Democracy or Republic is dead on. Sorry folks but the fascist organizations/corporations now control everything.

  • Indigo

    It was fun while it lasted but the death of the open web will soon be old news compared to the level of unprepared responses to climate change in the immediate future since “current implementation efforts are insufficient to avoid increasingly negative social, environmental, and economic consequences.” (National Climate Assessment report, page 62).

  • Buford2k11

    the Net…last bastion of a free and open society…now comes under the fascist gun…

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