Image credit: Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images
Editor's Note: Yesterday, President Obama made a powerful statement on net neutrality, calling on the FCC to take a strong stance to protect the principle that Internet service providers should treat all traffic equally. As former FCC commissioner Michael Copps explained in his speech at this year's Fighting Bob Fest, protecting the Internet from corporate control and consolidation should be a priority for all who support a free and open Internet.
Copps served as a member of the FCC from 2001 to 2011, where he became known as a voice of strong support for localism and diverse media ownership. The following is a transcript of his Fighting Bob Fest speech on why he sees the principle of net neutrality as central to the progressive movement.
Thank you. Thank you Baraboo! And let’s hear it one more time for Fighting Bob McChesney! What a champion for media that could enhance our democracy instead of corrupting it. And thank you to The Progressive for telling the hard truths––taking on and calling out corruption under the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C. and right down the road in Madison, Wisconsin.
This state is home to a long, proud line of progressives. From the great Fighting Bob La Follette to Russ Feingold and my friend Mark Pocan who will speak in just a few minutes––representatives of the people who understood that real change comes not as a gift from Washington, DC but from the demands of citizens at the grassroots. Corporate influence peddlers have never strengthened our union. It’s folks like you who’ve brought us expanded voter suffrage, civil rights, women’s rights, labor rights, the minimum wage, clean air and water regulation, disability rights, and LGBT rights.
In every fight the forces allied against us have been formidable––19th century robber barons and their latter-day copycats the Koch brothers, Wall Street’s titans of banking and their hired help writing laws in the inner sanctums of political power. But in the hour of action, whether in Selma or Stonewall or Madison, the people rallied.
Now we must rally again. For many causes. The one that stands out for me––and the one I am here to ask your help on––is stopping Internet gatekeepers and media monopolists before they utterly dominate our civic dialogue. Before they can unilaterally decide what news we see and what we can’t; who can advocate online and whose messages are slowed down or even blocked; whether online fast lanes become the playground of the privileged few while the rest of us are consigned to the unequal opportunities of the slow lane.
Here’s the bottom line: we can’t solve any of the daunting challenges facing our country now with the media we currently have. We can’t even have an intelligent national dialogue about them when a corporatized media and a cableized Internet continue dumbing-down the news and information that are the essential prerequisites of successful self-government.
It’s all on the line right now. Our nation’s chance for progress could be destroyed before the year is out. In the months just ahead, the Federal Communications Commission will make decisions that will determine whether the Internet becomes the platform for 21st century democracy or whether it goes down the same road of consolidation and corporate control that ruined so much of radio, television, and cable.
The Commission is discussing whether to allow Comcast, already the largest cable company in the land, to buy its next largest rival. As a Commissioner, I voted against Comcast’s previous merger with NBC-Universal because that deal represented too much power in the hands of too few. Now we are faced with having Comcast, a top funder of the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and a major campaign contributor to both major parties, poised to become not only the national cable monopolist in most markets, but the largest broadband Internet provider, too. Talk about a communications hammerlock! Sure, Comcast will promise all sorts of small-bore goodies to grease the deal’s approval. But make no mistake, this would be a disaster for consumers, diversity, and local communities.
Meanwhile, the FCC is writing “Open Internet” (‘net neutrality’) rules that, if implemented, would be a catastrophe for citizens and a total short-circuiting of the awesome potential of the Internet. Only those with deep pockets would be able to speak––or be heard. That local blog you depend on for critical information and analysis could be consigned to the slow lane. It might barely function at all. These are the tools that allow you to tell your story. I watched on Twitter as citizen journalists––many of them in the crowd today––provided up-to-the-minute reporting on Scott Walker’s campaign to undermine workers’ rights. I saw democracy in action as activists stormed Madison and demanded to be heard. This is real free speech, empowered by an Open Internet.
Do you want Internet gatekeepers censoring your online access?
Do you want fast lanes on the Internet reserved for the 1%?
Do you want ALEC deciding who your Internet Service Provider is going to be?
Me neither. So we must act now to preserve the Open Internet. The good news is that we have started to make progress. More than a million Americans have already contacted the FCC, and cracks are appearing. It’s a beginning, but more is needed. Mark my words: the Commission will only do the right thing if we force it to.
So instead of some fancy peroration, I close with a call to action. Something you can do right now. The FCC has extended the deadline for public comment on the Open Internet for just a few days, so this really is your chance to have a say and make a difference. Please, everyone, take out your smart phones and go to www.commoncause.org/openinternet and join in telling the Commission you demand real net neutrality. Tell the FCC it must not hand over control of the Internet to Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and the big online companies. For those of you who want to talk more about these issues, Bob McChesney, John Nichols, and I will be sharing thoughts on them at a 12:15 breakout panel today. I hope you will come by.
Every issue we talk about here at “Fighting Bob” rides on getting our media right and keeping our Internet open. Let’s make that happen. Together, we can win this fight.