“The Corporate Takeover of the Internet and How To Stop It” will be discussed by Asheville-based media reform activist Wally Bowen at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10 at the Community Church of Chapel Hill, 106 Purefoy Road. The free talk is sponsored by Balance and Accuracy in Journalism.
Bowen is founder and executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) and a nationally-known advocate for “net neutrality” and broadband deployment in rural and other underserved areas. Founded in 1995, MAIN is one of the nation’s oldest community-based Internet service providers.
Policymakers in Washington have been holding closed-door talks with the major cable and telephone companies, plus other corporate stakeholders such as Google, to codify new rules that could allow broadband providers to restructure the open Internet into high-performance channels for corporate clients, and slower-performing channels for individuals and small businesses.
“These closed-door talks and potential backroom deals to restructure the Internet are a complete reversal of the Obama administration’s campaign promise to preserve an open Internet,” said Bowen, who is part of the national Media and Democracy Coalition spearheading the public-interest push for net neutrality rules.
Concerned citizens have until midnight August 12 to file comments to the FCC on the future of the Internet.
Bowen will also discuss the origins of the open Internet and developments over the last decade that have brought the United States to this critical crossroads in determining the fate of the open Internet.
“In the 1990s, the Internet moved quickly from research universities and government institutes into mainstream American life, largely because of ‘common-carrier’ protections governing the nation’s telephone networks,” said Bowen.
In 2002, however, the FCC under former chairman Michael Powell surrendered its authority over cable broadband service – effectively removing common-carrier rules — in a controversial 3-2 partisan vote. After legal challenges concluded in 2005, a divided FCC went on to remove common-carrier rules on the telephone companies’ broadband service via digital-subscriber-lines (DSL).
Bowen called common-carriage “a centuries-old legal concept that prohibits a provider of public services, such as a ferry-boat operator, from picking winners and losers.” In the realm of communications, he added, the concept includes privacy and other consumer protections.
“The heart of common-carrier protection is non-discrimination, which means that a broadband provider cannot favor the traffic of Bank of America over the traffic of locally-owned banks in Chapel Hill,” said Bowen.
He said the FCC’s controversial 2002 surrender of authority over broadband also gave the cable and telephone broadband providers the power to pick winners and losers among innovations for the broadband-based Web.
“In 1959, a Texas cattle rancher by the name of Tom Carter patented a device that would allow a two-way radio to interconnect with his telephone back at the ranch house. But AT&T told Mr. Carter that he could not connect his device to the telephone network without AT&T’s permission,” said Bowen.
A legal battle ensued, ending finally in 1968 when the FCC ruled that devices such as the CarterFone were valuable innovations and could connect to the telephone network, provided they didn’t harm the network, Bowen said.
“The CarterFone rules gave us fax machines, answering machines, and dial-up modems for Internet access,” said Bowen. “But the FCC’s abdication of its authority over broadband in 2002 removed CarterFone protections for innovators. That’s one reason Apple had to cut an exclusive deal with AT&T to bring its iPhone to market,” said Bowen.
Bowen also called the recently-published National Broadband Plan an “historic window of opportunity” to restore the Internet to its original open standards. “If we fail to seize this moment,” said Bowen, “The Internet of the 21st century will become an online space of corporate-control, with limited freedom, privacy and innovation.”
For more information, or directions, please visit www.main.nc.us or call 919.542.2139. END