Americans For Prosperity Ad Spreads Lie That The FCC Wants To "Take Over The Internet"

May 19, 2010 4:28 pm ET

A new ad from the right-wing, big-business front group Americans for Prosperity distorts the Federal Communication Commission's efforts to prevent telecommunications companies from restricting Internet users' activity. The ad falsely charges that "Washington wants to spend billions to take over the Internet." However, the FCC isn't trying to take over the Internet - they're working to extend the information superhighway to every American community, and protect all of us from companies that want to control what we see.

Americans For Prosperity Ad: "Washington Wants To...Take Over The Internet"

First it was the banks. Then insurance. Then the car companies. Then health care. Now Washington wants to spend billions to take over the Internet.

The FCC is considering new rules to regulate the Internet. In the last decade the Internet saw explosive growth because government stayed out of the way.

So why does Washington want to fix the internet when the internet isn't broken? Tell Congress: stop the Washington takeover. Don't regulate the Internet.

NOT A GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER

Recovery Act Instructs FCC To Devise Plan For Expanding Broadband Service. According to CNet.com: "Congress asked the FCC as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February 2009 to come up with a comprehensive plan to spread affordable broadband access throughout the U.S., with the goal of creating more jobs for Americans, improving health care, and encouraging energy independence." [News.CNet.com, 3/15/10]

FCC Authority To Prevent Broadband Companies From "Interfering With Subscribers' Internet Traffic" Was Stripped By Appeals Court Decision. According to BusinessWeek: "Federal regulators lacked authority to censure Comcast Corp. for interfering with subscribers' Internet traffic, a U.S. court said in a decision that could limit the government's power to police companies' Web behavior. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel, vacated the Federal Communications Commission's 2008 order against the largest U.S. cable company. The ruling is a setback for Internet companies led by Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. that want so-called net neutrality rules to keep Internet providers such as Comcast, Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. from limiting Web traffic." [BusinessWeek, 4/6/10]

New FCC Proposal Would Re-Establish Authority To Prevent Companies From Interfering With Subscriber Activity. According to CNet.com: "The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday detailed plans for its so-called 'third way' to reclassify broadband service as a telecommunications service, which would help the agency reassert its authority for regulating the Internet, after it lost an important legal battle last month. The purpose of the statement is to put the agency on stronger legal footing after a federal appeals court ruled last month that the FCC had no legal authority to punish Comcast for slowing down BitTorrent traffic on its network. The FCC officially censured Comcast for violating its Net neutrality principles." [News.CNet.com, 5/6/10]

FCC Chairman Explicitly Seeks Balanced Policy That Will "Unleash Investment And Innovation While Also Protecting And Empowering Consumers." On May 6, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement:

A challenge for the FCC in recent years has been how to apply the time-honored purposes of the Communications Act to our 21st Century communications platform--broadband Internet--access to which is generally provided by the same companies that provide telephone and cable television services...Over the past decade and a half, a broad consensus in the public and private sectors has developed... [This consensus] holds that the FCC should adopt a restrained approach to broadband communications, one carefully balanced to unleash investment and innovation while also protecting and empowering consumers. It is widely understood--and I am of the view--that the extreme alternatives to this light-touch approach are unacceptable. Heavy-handed prescriptive regulation can chill investment and innovation, and a do-nothing approach can leave consumers unprotected and competition unpromoted, which itself would ultimately lead to reduced investment and innovation. [FCC Chairman Genachowski, 5/6/10 via News.CNet.com, emphasis added]

FCC Proposal Would "Apply Only A Handful Of Provisions" Of The Regulatory Regime That Applies To Telecommunications. On May 6, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement:

[T] he Commission would:

  • Recognize the transmission component of broadband access service--and only this component--as a telecommunications service;
  • Apply only a handful of provisions of Title II (Sections 201, 202, 208, 222, 254, and 255) that, prior to the Comcast decision, were widely believed to be within the Commission's purview for broadband;
  • Simultaneously renounce--that is, forbear from--application of the many sections of the Communications Act that are unnecessary and inappropriate for broadband access service; and
  • Put in place up-front forbearance and meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory overreach. [FCC Chairman Genachowski, 5/6/10 via News.CNet.com, emphasis added]

Merrill Lynch Analyst: "Negative Reaction" Is "Overblown" Because Proposal "Keeps The Status Quo Intact." According to DSLReports.com: "The FCC's partial reclassification wouldn't impact broadband rates at all. According to an investor statement by Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen...: 'We view Cable stocks' negative reaction as overblown, in light of the FCC's decision to alter broadband Title I classification to a weaker Title II with significant forbearance. Importantly, the FCC's 'Third Way' reclassification largely keeps the status quo intact, with key points being: 1) no rate regulation, 2) no unbundling, to require Cable to share its networks, 3) the forbearance is difficult to overturn, 4) no inconsistent state regulation, 4) provides no competitive advantage to DBS or Telco vs. Cable and 5) Wireless has a similar 'Third Way' reclassification, which has not negatively impacted the business model.'" [DSLReports.com, 5/7/10, emphasis original]

UNDER CURRENT POLICY, BROADBAND PROVIDERS ARE FREE TO CENSOR CONTENT...

In Absence Of Net Neutrality Regulations, Companies Are Free To Censor Data Communications. According to the New York Times: "Text messaging is a growing political tool in the United States and a dominant one abroad, and such sign-up programs are used by many political candidates and advocacy groups to send updates to supporters. But legal experts said private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages." [New York Times, 9/27/07, emphasis added]

Bush FCC Commissioner: Nothing Preventing Telecom Companies From Censoring Content Except "This Debate Over Network Neutrality." In a 2007 interview with OpenLeft.com, then-Commissioner of the FCC Michael Copps and interviewer Matt Stoller had the following exchange:

Michael Copps: Events like [the censorship of a Pearl Jam concert by AT&T in 2007] are connected to the larger issue of uh, network neutrality so it's uh, it's very, very important.  I think you're dealing here with a technology that's perhaps the most dynamic and liberating maybe in all of human, uh, history with, uh, the internet and our challenge is to keep that open and, uh accessible to folks and running in a neutral, uh fashion and to avoid those who may be in control of the distribution of that technology from also controlling the, uh, the content on it.  So when something like, uh the episode occurs with Pearl Jam that, uh you're referencing that ought to concern all of us.  And it ought to concern us whether we're liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, uh, young or old, because if you can do it to one group you can do it to, uh, to any group and say well it's, uh, it's not intentional and things like that.  But, uh, nobody should have that power to, to do that and then be able to exercise distributive, uh, control over the distribution and control over the, uh, over the content too. 

Matt Stoller: Is there anything preventing a company like AT&T from doing this to content generally or generically on the internet?

Copps: Well not really.  I think we have to have, uh, we have to have some guarantees for how this technology is going to be, uh, gonna be utilized.  And just keeping it open, keeping it neutral, accessible to everybody.  Y'know, that doesn't imply any excessive governmental control over anything, you just have some rules of the road to ensure it remains that small 'd' democratic platform that it, uh, that it has become.  We are seriously in danger of going down, uh, going down another road and it seems to me if you look back over history, if you have the power, the technology to do something, and you have a commercial or business incentive to do it, you can be damn sure someone's going to try it somewhere along the line.  And I think, uh, that's what we're seeing here.  And I think also that, uh, had we not had this debate over network neutrality that you'd probably be seeing a lot more of this.  I think some of these companies have been on better behavior than they might otherwise have been.  But, uh, you know, if they ever got the green light where we're never going to have network neutrality and this is all yours, then I think our, uh, our problems will really proliferate. [OpenLeft.com, 8/17/07; emphasis added]

...AND THEY DO

2007: Verizon Blocked Pro-Choice Text Messages From NARAL To Members Who Signed Up For Text Messages From The Group. According to the New York Times: "Saying it had the right to block 'controversial or unsavory' text messages, Verizon Wireless has rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon's mobile network available for a text-message program... In turning down the program, Verizon, one of the nation's two largest wireless carriers, told Naral that it does not accept programs from any group 'that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.'" [New York Times, 9/27/07, emphasis added]

2007: AT&T Censored Criticism Of Bush, Iraq War In Web Broadcast Of Pearl Jam Concert. According to the Grand Rapids Press:

"Pearl Jam fans and Internet watchdogs are up in arms after it was revealed that AT&T censored portions of the band's live Lollapalooza concert cybercast on Sunday. 

While performing 'Daughter,' the band segued into a portion of Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick in the Wall,' during which frontman Eddie Vedder sang, 'George Bush, leave this world alone' and 'George Bush, find yourself another home.' Those lyrics were missing from the broadcast.

[...]

In a statement, AT&T attributed the bleeping to 'a mistake by a Webcast vendor' that was 'contrary to our policy. We have policies in place with respect to editing excessive profanity, but AT&T does not censor performances. We very much regret that this happened in the first place.'" [Grand Rapids Press, 8/12/07 via Lexis]

AT&T Censored Political Speech During Other Concert Webcasts. According to the Chicago Sun-Times:

AT&T's controversial edit of comments about President Bush from a Webcast of Pearl Jam's performance at Lollapalooza last week was not the first time the telecommunications giant has silenced political statements by musicians. 

An AT&T spokeswoman initially characterized the sudden audio edit that silenced Eddie Vedder's lyrics "George Bush, leave this world alone" and "George Bush, find yourself another home" during the band's Sunday performance in Grant Park as "an unfortunate mistake" and "an isolated incident."

But on Friday, a reader e-mailed the Sun-Times saying AT&T's Blue Room Webcast also had silenced comments during two performances at the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee last June, cutting remarks by the John Butler Trio bemoaning the lack of federal response to Hurricane Katrina and comments about Bush and the war in Iraq by singer Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips.

"The sound did not cut out at any other time -- only when someone was talking about George Bush or the government in a negative way," the reader, who called herself Andrea K., wrote. Flaming Lips management said the band was unaware of the edit but would investigate, and the John Butler Trio could not be reached.

AT&T confirmed that other political comments were cut from its Webcasts.

"It's not our intent to edit political comments in Webcasts on the Blue Room," Tiffany O'Brien Nels, AT&T's Austin, Texas-based spokeswoman, said Friday in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases. We have taken steps to ensure that it will not happen again."
 [Chicago Sun-Times, 8/11/07 via Lexis, emphasis added]

AT&T Would Not Say What Steps It Took To Prevent Future Censorship. According to the Los Angeles Times:

In response to fans who claimed that the audio silencing of Vedder's sung remarks about Bush at Lollapalooza were not unique in the history of AT&T's Blue Room live webcasts, an AT&T spokeswoman said: "It's not our intent to edit political comments in webcasts on the attblueroom.com. Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases. We have taken steps to ensure that it won't happen again."

The statement from spokeswoman Tiffany Nels did not specify what those steps were, nor did it mention what performers were involved. [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/07, emphasis added]

Print