On Friday, The Hill published an attack on our organization Free Press from an industry-funded hit man trying to distract policymakers with hyperbole, character assassination and fear-mongering. This screed didn’t say much about the crucial issue of Network Neutrality, but it used a lot of scary words like “bloodthirsty,” “radical,” “neo-Marxist” and “fringe” designed to scare policymakers.
Andrew Keen of Arts + Labs, twists a Free Press statement about an important speech delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (actual headline: “Free Press Echoes Secretary Clinton’s Call for Internet Freedom”) into an attack. He tries to drive a wedge into the broad alliance of individuals and organizations – Democrat and Republican, innovative companies and consumer groups, churches and libraries – that support the free and open Internet.
Now why would he do that? Well, Art + Labs is a thinly veiled front group for AT&T, Verizon and handful of big media companies that has hired a crew of flacks and shills to attack anyone who dares to question the wisdom and benevolence of Ma Bell. Keen, whom the popular blog Boing Boing has described as “a notorious spammer, failed Web 1.0 entrepreneur, blog-hating blogger, and luddite troll,” is a natural fit there. He even once compared Nazis favorably to the Internet, saying “even the Nazis didn’t put artists out of work.”
Yep, he’s a real charmer. But while this kind of incendiary bile is Keen’s tradecraft, what’s remarkable is that AT&T and the other funders of the innocuous-sounding “Arts + Labs” would hire this mercenary to deploy his arsenal of taunts and poisonous innuendo — and then try to accuse Free Press and our allies of taking this debate into the gutter.
In her speech last week, Clinton said: “On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it.”
Those are powerful words. We can understand why big phone and cable companies would do everything to distance themselves from the repressive regimes Secretary Clinton criticized in China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The best way to show that we are better than these repressive regimes is to be sure we don’t act anything like them. Americans must know that no company can spy on customers, block Internet traffic, deploy invasive technologies, or censor speech. As White House technology officer Andrew McLaughlin said last year: “If it bothers you that the Chinese government does it, it should bother you when your cable company does it.”
To be clear, no one is saying that AT&T and China are exactly the same or have the same motivations. But that doesn’t excuse the big phone and cable companies using the same kinds of technology to control Internet content for commercial ends in ways that don’t benefit Internet users.
When it comes to Internet freedom, the United States of America can be a beacon to the rest of the world. But we must start at home. We need to protect consumers, prevent discrimination and prohibit Internet service providers from interfering with Internet traffic just to increase their profits.
The Federal Communications Commission is now crafting Network Neutrality rules that will go a long way to determining whether the free and open Internet continues to thrive here. These decisions will shape the Internet for a generation. They will determine whether the Internet continues to be an unrivaled resource for economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech.
The good news is that President Obama has pledged to “take a back seat to no one” on Net Neutrality, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and numerous congressional leaders support Net Neutrality. So do the inventor of the World Wide Web, the engineers who helped first create the Internet, legal scholars, entrepreneurs and small businesses, bloggers and grassroots organizers, innovative companies and every major U.S. consumer group.
A majority of the FCC is already committed to Net Neutrality. And when the agency asked for public input on the issue recently, they received comments from 200,000 individuals – running 9-to-1 in favor of strong Net Neutrality rules.
If this is the fringe, we’re glad to be in the middle of it. From here, it looks like AT&T, Comcast, Verzion, Time Warner Cable, even with all their lobbyists and paid mouthpieces, are the ones who are outside the mainstream. Maybe that isolation is why they’re so angry.
Josh Silver is the Executive Director of Free Press
Craig Aaron is the Senior Program Director of Free Press