Will Dirty Politics Kill the Internet?

Congress just sold you out to Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.

Big phone and cable companies are so determined to dismantle consumer protections on the open Internet that they've spent millions to flip Congress against you. Earlier this week, many in Congress delivered.

On Monday, 74 House Democrats joined 37 Senate Republicans to sign an industry-written letter that tells the Federal Communications Commission to halt all efforts to protect Internet users and stop big companies from blocking Internet traffic.

Net Neutrality – the principle that would keep users in control of the Internet – was the top communications policy of President Obama when he came into office last year. Obama has repeated his support for an open Internet on several occasions since, and last summer appointed Julius Genachowski to lead the FCC and fulfill this presidential promise.

That promise has now been cast into doubt by dozens of Democrats willing to sell out their president, their constituents, and millions of Net Neutrality supporters to do the bidding of special interests.

The President wants it and so do millions of Americans

Big Money vs. Common Sense

It gets even worse. The Democrats’ “do nothing” appeal would drastically undercut the FCC’s ability to carry out the National Broadband Plan and connect more people to the Internet. These Democrats are actually taking a position against bringing life-improving broadband services to rural and low-income communities.

Their letter warns Chairman Genachowski against pursuing a plan that would enable the FCC to act as a watchdog and serve the public interest over the Internet, preventing phone and cable companies from blocking access to websites and services, while promoting policies that ensure universal and affordable access.

“The uncertainty this proposal creates will jeopardize jobs and deter needed investment for years to come,” the letter says. “We urge you not to move forward with a proposal that undermines critically important investment in broadband and the jobs that come with it.”

Say what? Even the top executives at Verizon and Comcast say that the FCC’s proposal will have no impact on their investment in broadband networks. And experts overwhelmingly agree that extending broadband services to those stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide would create more jobs.

A study by the Brookings Institution and MIT estimated that a one-digit increase in U.S. per capita broadband penetration equates to an additional 300,000 jobs. If our broadband penetration were as high as a country like Denmark’s, we could provide approximately three million additional U.S. jobs.

The Dirty Little Secret

The letter is so full of misleading information that it’s hard to know where to begin.

But behind it all is one dirty little secret: Nearly every one of these representatives has accepted massive contributions from the phone and cable lobby.

Such behavior by elected officials is outrageous and unethical. Perhaps some of these representatives just didn’t know what they were signing. Or perhaps this is just business as usual -- members willing to sell out the public in exchange for campaign cash. (Is it any wonder the latest Gallup public opinion poll counts a congressional disapproval rating of 73 percent?)

But in putting their names to this letter, these members are telling us to have blind faith that phone and cable companies have the best interests of Americans in mind – and will deliver fast, open and affordable Internet services without government oversight.

That’s a huge mistake. Comcast and AT&T can no better police themselves to protect the Internet than BP can police itself to protect the oceans. We already know how that ends. The phone and cable companies must play by the rules.

In response, Free Press (my day job) is urging hundreds of thousands of people to sign our own letter telling the FCC that Congress doesn’t speak for you, President Obama or the millions of other Americans who support a fast, open and affordable Internet.

Congress can’t hand these companies control over the future of communications. The results would be disastrous.

If only more members of Congress knew that their bad deeds couldn’t be swept beneath the carpet – unnoted and unpunished. It’s time they heard from us.