Internet Users Beware: Marsha Blackburn --- a Diehard Net Neutrality Foe --- Is Now in Charge of a Powerful House Subcommittee
Bad news: Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R–Tennessee) is the new chair of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. That’s the body charged with overseeing the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, and it’s supposed to ensure that everyone has access to open and affordable communications tools — no matter who they are or where they live.
Granted, none of the candidates for chair of this subcommittee have consistently spoken out for communications rights, but Blackburn stands out from the crowd — and not in a good way. Over the years her utterly indefensible and uninformed opinions about everything from Net Neutrality to SOPA have made it clear that she’s far more concerned about protecting the profit margins of cable companies and Hollywood studios than she is about protecting you.
Here are a few of Rep. Blackburn’s greatest hits:
1. She’s leading the fight to kill Net Neutrality.
Blackburn has proposed legislation (the misleadingly titled “Internet Freedom Act”) that would overturn the FCC’s open internet protections and block what she has falsely labeled “job-killing regulations.”
In fact, Blackburn has proposed this legislation multiple times. She called earlier attempts to pass Net Neutrality rules a “hysterical reaction to a hypothetical problem” and a “government takeover of the internet,” regurgitating nonsensical industry talking points and denying the very real concerns of millions of Americans.
Blackburn is way off track. Besides protecting online free speech, giving a platform to marginalized voices, and promoting truly affordable internet access, the Net Neutrality rules and the FCC decisions backing them up level the playing field for businesses of all kinds. Far from killing jobs, an open internet fosters innovation and economic growth.
In 2014 alone, more than 4 million people urged the FCC to pass strong Net Neutrality rules. But that means nothing to Blackburn, who stands squarely on the side of monopoly ISPs — consumers and constituents be damned.
2. She was one of SOPA’s most vocal supporters (and maybe still is).
Blackburn pushed hard for the draconian Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have allowed the film and recording industries to black out large tracts of internet content without due process. She relented only after a massive online protest drew attention to this harmful legislation and ground it to an abrupt halt in 2012.
As we reach the fifth anniversary of this historic victory for internet users, Blackburn is still bitter. Two months ago she argued on CNN that if SOPA had passed, it would have prevented recent cyberattacks — even though SOPA had nothing at all to do with cybersecurity. Adding insult to injury, Blackburn then referred to the millions of real people and companies that protested SOPA as “cyberbots.”
3. She wants Comcast to censor your news.
Net Neutrality stops cable and phone companies from editing the internet for you.
That doesn’t sit well with Blackburn: A few weeks ago, back on CNN once again, she called for cable and phone companies to edit away: “If anyone is putting fake news out there, the ISPs have the obligation to, in some way, get that off the web.”
We do need better journalism, but what Blackburn is proposing is downright dangerous. Better news coverage comes from journalists digging into hard-hitting investigations and working with communities to build trust and strong relationships — not from giving Comcast authority over what counts as “fake news.” Censoring content that ISPs or members of Congress don’t like threatens the free speech rights of everyone online without providing a viable means of stopping the proliferation of dishonest news stories.
Blackburn should focus less on the imaginary “obligation” of ISPs to censor fake news and more on her obligation to serve the public.
4. She wants to take Lifeline phone and internet service away from people who can’t otherwise get affordable connections.
The Lifeline program was created in the 1980s to make essential telephone service more affordable for low-income families. It’s succeeded at connecting millions of disadvantaged families, and was updated in 2016 to include support for people trying to get access to the internet.
Blackburn believes this program should be abolished. Coupling the most vile kind of racist dog-whistle politics with an incredible ignorance about the facts, she argues that this program feeds into a culture of government dependency that is “weakening America” — all while blaming President Obama for a program Ronald Reagan founded and George W. Bush expanded. Never mind that shuttering Lifeline would rip vital communications tools away from those who need them most: The new chair of the subcommittee has political points to score.
5. She wants to kill community broadband networks.
Blackburn has long opposed public broadband alternatives. When communities build and manage their own networks, they sometimes provide the only affordable high-speed broadband in places that phone and cable companies simply refuse to serve. In other areas, they provide real competition to cable monopolies — the very same companies that donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to Blackburn.
To throttle this competition, industry lobbyists have successfully pushed for state laws in at least 19 states that prevent municipalities from building their own broadband networks. Blackburn has defended the industry-written rules and attacked local choice. In 2014, she proposed an amendment that would stop the FCC from preempting any of these anti-competitive state laws. She brought the legislation back again a year later, calling the FCC’s decision to protect local competition and authority a “troubling power grab.”
Blackburn should know better: Her state of Tennessee is home to the city of Chattanooga, which boasts one of the nation’s leading municipal broadband success stories. A recent Consumer Reports survey ranked Chattanooga’s EPB network first in the country for internet service; it earned better consumer ratings on value, reliability and speed than all of its private sector competitors.
That’s exactly the kind of innovative, thriving broadband competition Blackburn and her industry allies want to kill.
6. She wants to stop the FCC from protecting your privacy online.
When the FCC proposed new rules to prevent ISPs like Comcast and AT&T from using or selling your online data without your consent, Blackburn opposed the plan. She called the Commission’s proposal to give internet users control over their own data a “big government power grab” and tried to block the proposal with an amendment tacked on to a must-pass omnibus appropriations bill.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Blackburn argued that these common-sense privacy protections would “create confusion” for people who use the internet. That’s nonsense. As Free Press has noted, “You won’t hear too many people complaining about how ‘confused’ they’d be if FCC rules better protected their privacy.”
As chair of the House subcommittee that’s supposed to promote open and affordable access to communications tools and information, Rep. Blackburn couldn’t be more dangerous. She’ll now have an even bigger microphone to push bad policy that gives giant ISPs free rein to trample on the communications rights of real people. It’s time to gear up for the fights ahead.
Original photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore