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FCC Moves to Gut Net Neutrality, Ignoring Public Support & Laws Upholding Equal Internet Access

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai issued a major order Tuesday in which he outlined his plan to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet. Pai wants to repeal net neutrality rules that bar internet service providers from stopping or slowing down the delivery of websites and stop companies from charging extra fees for high-quality streaming. A formal vote on the plan is set for December 14. We speak with Tim Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, which is organizing support to keep the rules in place ahead of the vote.

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StoryDec 13, 2017FCC Set to Roll Back Digital Civil Rights with Thursday’s Vote to Repeal Net Neutrality
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai issued a major order Tuesday titled Restoring Internet Freedom, in which he outlined his plan to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet. Pai described his plan to overturn rules put in place by the Obama administration, during an interview with the Heritage Foundation.

AJIT PAI: Essentially, my proposal to repeal the Obama administration’s heavy-handed regulations, adopted two years ago on a party-line vote, that regulated the internet. And what I’m proposing to do is to get rid of those regulations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Pai’s proposal would repeal net neutrality rules that bar internet service providers from stopping or slowing down the delivery of websites and stop companies from charging extra fees for high-quality streaming. A formal vote on the plan is set for December 14th.

AMY GOODMAN: Ajit Pai said his plans had broad support. But on Tuesday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he’s investigating significant numbers of fake comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission in its review of net neutrality rules. In the past six months, Schneiderman said the FCC has, quote, “refused multiple requests for crucial evidence.”

For more, we’re joined by Tim Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Tim. Talk about this. How significant is what Ajit Pai talking about?

TIM KARR: This is one of the most extreme proposals we’ve seen from this FCC, which is saying a lot, because there have been a number of very extreme proposals over the last six months, including efforts to roll back broadband subsidies for working families, efforts to knock away media ownership rules that would allow a company like Sinclair to control local television. This goes even further. It takes away the essential protection that internet users have to ensure that their online connections aren’t blocked, aren’t throttled, or that their communications aren’t censored in any way.

I mean, really what this is about is the future of communications. The internet is remarkable because it puts that control, the control over media, in the hands of internet users. What Ajit Pai is proposing to do is to take that away from internet users and hand it to a handful of companies, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, who have designs on the internet that are not in the best interests of people like you and me.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Tim, it took the Obama administration, really, about six years before they finally came out in favor of net neutrality—the FCC controlled by President Obama largely a Democratic-controlled FCC. How critical is this issue of whether the internet is seen as a public utility, really, a common carrier, or whether it’s just—it’s privatized to allow all these companies to continue to operate?

TIM KARR: Well, the internet was created as this network where there were no gatekeepers. Essentially, anyone who goes online can connect with everyone else online. And that’s given rise to all sorts of innovation. It’s allowed political organizers and racial justice advocates to use this tool to contact people, to organize, to get their message out.

What Pai is proposing is to take that principle, net neutrality, out of the network and allow these very powerful companies to insert themselves as gatekeepers. And when you look at a company like Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, there will be this great incentive for them to favor their own content and to degrade content from websites and services like Democracy Now! or other services. So, this fundamentally upsets the level playing field of the internet.

And the good news is, though, that there has been a very massive outcry. And it took millions of people to get the Obama administration to put these 2015 rules in place. And since Pai and the Trump administration started this process earlier this year, tens of millions of people have commented at the FCC. And we’ve looked at those comments, and, yes, there are some fake comments in there, but we took those out and counted the original comments, and more than 98 percent of those commenting said they want to keep these net neutrality rules.

So, Ajit Pai is ignoring the public. He’s ignoring the law. These rules have been challenged in court, and they’ve withstood those challenges. And he’s ignoring the facts. He says this is government regulation of the internet. It’s not. It is a regulation of internet service providers.

AMY GOODMAN: Once again, explain net neutrality.

TIM KARR: Net neutrality is the idea—it’s actually a pretty simple idea. Anybody who’s been on the internet is familiar with this notion that you can go to whatever website and service that you choose. That is the power that’s in the hands of internet users. It protects it. It allows us to connect to everyone else that’s online. And it prevents internet service providers from blocking, throttling or degrading access to sites or doing paid prioritization deals, where they’ll favor one website over another and push people to that service by making its streaming abilities much better.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Tim, in other media consolidation news, the Trump administration has moved to block AT&T’s attempt to buy Time Warner for $85 billion. On Monday, the Department of Justice sued AT&T, arguing that it would use Time Warner’s content to force rival pay-TV companies to pay, quote, “hundreds of millions of dollars more per year for Time Warner’s networks.” President Trump was asked about the case Tuesday.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Personally, I’ve always felt that that was a deal that’s not good for the country. I think your pricing is going to go up. I don’t think it’s a good deal for the country. But I’m not going to get involved. It’s litigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump has frequently attacked Time Warner-owned CNN as fake news and once tweeted a video in which he’s portrayed as wrestling and punching a figure whose head was replaced by the CNN logo.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has also opposed the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger, saying it would, quote, “place even more power in the hands of giant corporations while harming small businesses, entrepreneurs, and working families—and that’s why I’ve argued that it should be blocked. The President’s anti-democratic attacks on our free press have cast a cloud of suspicion over the Justice Department’s decision to try to stop this merger, but at a time when power is more and more concentrated in a handful of giant companies, the courts and the public must approach this case as they would any other—based on the law and the facts, and not President Trump’s repeated efforts to punish his enemies.”

So, that was—those were the words of Elizabeth Warren. You know, clearly, people see this as punitive. Trump hates CNN, and he’s getting them. But here is a Elizabeth Warren saying, beside that fact, which is bad, she said she’s against this. She’s against this further consolidation, Tim.

TIM KARR: Well, the Department of Justice is making the right move in challenging this massive merger. They might be doing it for the wrong reasons. Because Trump has such a powerful bias against CNN, it’s highly likely that this was done in order to punish CNN, as you’ve mentioned. But we need to look at the anti-trust concerns here. This is what’s called vertical consolidation, which is a growing concern. As I mentioned earlier, Comcast-NBC was the combination of a distribution company with a company that produces content. AT&T and Time Warner would present those same issues, where you have the company that delivers content prioritizing, over the internet, the type of content that, in this case, Time Warner produces.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you—the last big deregulation wave came in the Bush administration, but even that took several years to play out, when Michael Powell was the head of the FCC. Have you been shocked by the rapidity with which the Federal Communications Commission has moved to deregulate media and push major consolidation all over again of media companies?

TIM KARR: Well, it’s hard to say that we’re shocked by much of anything anymore. But this FCC has been extremely active in trying to favor the interests of very powerful media companies. And they’ve unleashed, through a number of rule changes, a new wave of media consolidation, that includes companies like Sinclair, which wants to own stations, local television stations, that can access more than 70 percent of the nation. There are rules in place. Congress has put rules in place that prohibit this type of media consolidation. And it’s the FCC’s mandate to promote localism, competition and diversity over the airwaves. This FCC has fallen down and is failing to fulfill that mandate.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Karr, we want to thank you for being with us, senior director of strategy for Free Press. The date of the FCC vote is December—

TIM KARR: December 14.

AMY GOODMAN: —14th. Is comment period open ’til then?

TIM KARR: Yes. In, fact there’s a lot of activity going on. In the last 24 hours, more than 100,000 people have called their members of Congress on the net neutrality issue. And so—and they’re also contacting the FCC. They’re taking these issues into the street. December 7th, there’s going to be a protest outside of Verizon offices. And on December 14th, we’re also planning protests outside of FCC headquarters, before this decision is made.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, we’ll cover them. Tim, thanks for joining us.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, 60,000 Haitians threatened with deportation from the United States. Stay with us.

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