The Federal Communications Commission has announced a new set of proposals to prevent internet service providers from curbing or blocking online services. On Monday, FCC Chair Julius Genachowski unveiled a plan that would make permanent existing safeguards that ensure open access to websites and other online content. The new rules would also extend to barring companies from limiting certain kinds of data, such as free internet phone services and file-sharing applications. The safeguards would also apply to wireless phone carriers for the first time. Supporters call the proposals a major step forward in the campaign for net neutrality. [includes rush transcript]
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The Federal Communications Commission has announced a new set of proposals to prevent internet service providers from curbing or blocking online services. On Monday, FCC Chair Julius Genachowski unveiled a plan that would make permanent existing safeguards that ensure open access to websites and other online content. The new rules would also extend to barring companies from limiting certain kinds of data, such as free internet phone services and file-sharing applications. The safeguards would also apply to wireless phone carriers for the first time. Supporters call the proposals a major step in the campaign for net neutrality.
AMY GOODMAN: Timothy Karr is the campaign director of Free Press, a media reform group that’s been a leading net neutrality advocate. He runs a blog at mediacitizen.org. Timothy Karr joins us here in our firehouse studio.
So talk about the significance of this. Explain exactly what net neutrality is and what the new FCC chair is [inaudible].
TIMOTHY KARR: Sure. The FCC has a real opportunity here to right a wrong that the same agency made in 2005, when they stripped net neutrality as a protection of the internet. And net neutrality is really the fundamental openness principle of the internet. Whenever you connect to the internet, net neutrality makes sure that you can connect to everyone else who’s on the internet. And this has been a tremendous engine for free speech, for economic innovation, for equal opportunity. And we are now fighting with some very prominent internet service providers, very powerful companies, to try to preserve that fundamental openness, so that whenever we go online we can choose, as users, where we go and what we do via the internet.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what are the telecommunication companies proposing? How would this two-tier system work, essentially?
TIMOTHY KARR: Well, they have proposed a number of things. One of the things that they’re very concerned about is that with — as more people get high-speed internet connections in their homes, and as more people access the internet via cell phones, they are concerned that we’re going to start controlling our media experience even more.
The great thing about the internet is that all media is converging into this one digital medium. We can now watch television, listen to radio. We can do all sorts of things via the internet, and they don’t like that, because it threatens their legacy business model, their legacy cable model. You notice that a lot of the companies that provide high-speed internet services to the home also are in the telephone business, they’re also in the cable business. And they want to protect that distributed model, rather than having people use the internet to freely do whatever it is that they would choose to do.
And there’s been this real explosion of innovation since people have gained high-speed internet access, and we’re trying to protect that and make sure that the ultimate control over your information experience resides at the edges, with the people who go online every day.
AMY GOODMAN: So what exactly does this mean right now?
TIMOTHY KARR: So it means — right now we have a new FCC. Chairman Julius Genachowski was just sworn in earlier this year. He came in with the Obama administration, one of the principal architects of President Obama’s technology plan. It means we now have a process in place to restore net neutrality to the internet.
What’s next at the FCC is that they are — they’ve announced their intention to make a rule making, and they will open up the process, within a month or so, to public comment. So this is really just the beginning of a process of getting net neutrality back. There’s going to be a long process, where the public has an opportunity, through workshops and through commenting at the FCC, to say what they want about the internet.
We’re very fortunate that there is a majority of net neutrality supporters now at the FCC, so this is a very good sign for the future of an open internet.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And how does this decision affect the cell phone industry?
TIMOTHY KARR: Well, what’s happened in the cell phone industry is that a lot of people are now getting access to the high-speed internet — high-speed internet services through what are called smart phones, like the iPhone or the BlackBerry. And the carriers don’t like the sort of freedoms that we have on a wired internet extended to wireless internet. So they’ve been very actively opposing efforts to extend net neutrality to wireless internet. But our belief is that it doesn’t matter what device you’re using. If you’re on the internet, you should be able to experience the free-flowing web, regardless of whether it’s a laptop, a desktop or a cell phone.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim Karr, I’m looking at Broadcasting & Cable, an article, and headlined “Republicans Move to Block FCC Net Cop Initiative,” saying, “Some Republican lawmakers moved swiftly Monday to try and block [the FCC Chair’s] proposal that the FCC adopt new network neutrality rules. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison [of Texas] introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would prohibit the FCC from spending any funds to [quote] ‘develop and implement new regulatory mandates.’” How significant is this?
TIMOTHY KARR: Well, it just represents the sort of divisive nature of this debate. But the senator happens to come from the same state as AT&T, so we weren’t surprised to see this sort of backdoor maneuvering. What she is trying effectively to do is to limit funding for the FCC to act in this way. But there’s a clear majority at the FCC, and we have a net neutrality supporter in the White House and in Congress, so we’re very optimistic.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Tim Karr, for joining us. Tim Karr is the campaign director of Free Press, media reform group. He runs the blog at mediacitizen.org.