Live from the DNC: Net Neutrality - The Battle For Democracy

To set the context for this blog, let me just start by explaining that there is currently an 8,000 square-foot, two story structure in my office building's parking lot, which is known as the Big Tent. The Big Tent is the place to be for new media journalists, bloggers, reporters, and non-profit leaders covering the Democratic National Convention. One of the great things about the Big Tent is the immense lineup of panels on the second floor throughout the four days of the convention. (Another great thing is the free beer garden provided by New Belgium Brewery).

This morning, I attended a panel on Net Neutrality. As a blogger, my interests in this issue are probably quite obvious, but the bigger picture of what I walked away with is how the real stakeholders in this are all people who live in the United States and are appreciative of our country's commitment to democracy. Panelist Adam Stoller, of OpenLeft summed up the importance of this issue:

"This isn't a story about technology - this is a story about democracy."

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Obama Adviser: 'strongly' support TeleCom Immunity

Brought to us by Think Progress. a-brennan/ /080307nj1.htm

Obama's Senior Intelligence Advisor John Brennan says he supports telecom immunity.

From the article:

"I do believe strongly that they (telecomm companies) should be granted that immunity...
...I know people are concerned about that, but I do believe that's the right thing to do. I do believe the Senate version of the FISA bill addresses the issues appropriately."

....Paging Chris Dodd......want to re-think that support?

Obama's campaign and advisors are their own worst enemies.  And aren't they so progressive?

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Telecom Immunity: Clinton: 'Not Present' Obama: Nay

So, who is going to stand up for your rights on tough issues?

Obama showed up and voted against Telecom immunity. Clinton, who has some seriously hard work ahead to stay inevitable, decided she'd rather work on her own campaign than defend your rights.

So, WTF?

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Net Neutrality Law Passes in Maine

I've been meaning to blog this for a few days, but you may have noticed a few items on Breaking Blue about a major step for the Save the Internet coalition: our first legislative victory.  Maine passed into law a provision ordering the Office of the Public Advocate to investigate what Maine could legally do to protect net neutrality in Maine, with the understanding that net neutrality is critical for Maine business and democracy in Maine.  There was heavy lobbying against this by Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, but the lobbying campaign failed.  

The Maine legislature, pressured by Common Cause, League of Young Voters, the Community Television Association of Maine, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, and the blog Turn Main Blue, has taken the extraordinary first step of pushing for net neutrality protections.  There was some discussion about whether to pass a full-blown law mandating protections for net neutrality, but the legislature settled on an investigation of the state's authority to prevent a costly legal challenge.  Depending on the outcome of that investigation, you can expect either a state resolution calling on Congress to mandate net neutrality protections, or an actual law protecting net neutrality in Maine.

There are a few reasons this resolution passed in Maine and did not in Maryland.  First of all, Maine has a clean elections system, so legislators can make decisions without immense pressure from corporate interests.  Second of all, for institutional reasons, CWA is weak in Maine, and so did not really play in this dispute.  It was CWA that killed the Maryland resolution, and that is keeping the Democratic leadership from embracing net neutrality in their technology agenda.

The lessons are clear going forward.  We need public financing of elections, and we need to persuade CWA to adopt net neutrality as a core policy principle.  They aren't far, and I'm hoping that we can have a fruitful dialogue with them on the issue.

In April, I asked you to email CWA President Larry Cohen.  You may have noticed that I stopped blogging about them for awhile, and that's because I have been in contact with senior policy analyst Debbie Goldman, who has been patiently working to facilitate a dialogue.  Their President, Larry Cohen, invited me to meet with them on May 11, and since then we've been working to schedule a dialogue and negotiating the contours of it.  Their spam filter ate about eight of my emails, so if you emailed Larry Cohen there's a good chance it didn't get to him.  So bottom line, I've been trying to schedule a meeting with the CWA for about a month now, a meeting Larry kindly suggested we have.  

Aside from this willingness to dialogue, there's a lot of great progress on the telecom reform front.  Maine's resolution is a great step forward, since we know have a demonstrated legislative success.  And CWA's willingness to talk to net neutrality proponents is hopeful, as is the Brodsky bill being discussed in New York state and blogged on the Albany Project for near universal build-out.  This one's in Eliot Spitzer's court, if he decides to get going on it against the interests of the telecom and cable companies, we can have his back with a massive CWA/Moveon/blog push.  That bill, which includes buildout provisions and net neutrality is backed by a coalition of consumer groups, media reform groups, and CWA.  And then of course, there's the 700 spectrum auction, which Kevin Drum frames really nicely here.  

All in all, we're making great progress organizing around this policy issue.  Every single Democratic Presidential candidate has come out for net neutrality, and so has Mike Huckabee (for an amusing threat from big business interests towards Huckabee, see Scott Cleland's post, where the operative quote is 'Don't believe this is his "official" policy position for a minute.').  Freepress, for whom I did a bit of consulting work earlier this year, just won a webbie for its SavetheInternet campaign, and is well-respected in the Beltway for their expertise.  We've got strong industry allies.  This is an ongoing fight against some of the nastiest industries in America - cable and telecom - and it's going to take a long time.  But I'm encouraged, because our strategic openings keep expanding, and we're getting better and better at this.  

Congrats, Maine lawmakers, for doing the right thing.  And good job, Common Cause, Maine Civil Liberties Union, the League of Young Voters, Community Television Association of Maine, and Turn Maine Blue.  This stuff matters.

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A Free Internet: Another Rip-Off in the Works?

When the telecoms start talking like they own the Internet, it is wise to keep in mind the following:

1. They did not invent the Internet. In fact, it took them years to understand that the Internet was going to wreck their landline telephony businesses.

2. The only reason they are in the game at all is because of the regulated monopoly position they enjoyed before divestiture. They installed the telephone lines that run into our homes and connect us to the switched networks that route our calls to their destination. In many areas, these lines are being used for "dial up" access and DSL access to the Internet. Many of the largest of these telecoms have now gone into the business of connecting their customers to the Internet through networks that bypass their telephone networks.

3. Now they are claiming that they can use these connections to put toll booths on our access to the Internet to add extra charges to the fees we already pay to our Internet Services Providers (who do the heavy lifting when it comes to routing our packets of information over the Internet) using bogus rationales to slap differential rates on different types of transmissions. Yet all they control here is the immediate connection to our homes, just an itty bitty piece of the chain of relays that comprise the Internet. They want to put toll booths everywhere there is an uplink or downlink to an actual person or corporation sending or receiving packets of information. This is, literally, highway robbery, especially since it was the U.S. government using taxpayers money that originally created the Internet.

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