Sending All the Wrong Signals

Perhaps it really is “thanks for the memories” when it comes to the issue of network neutrality. In the wake of a federal court decision in May striking down the FCC’s authority to impose neutrality principles on broadband service providers, a well-organized and -funded corporate and astroturf campaign seems to have turned political momentum on the issue around – away from re-implementing the principle as a point of law.
Last month, members of Congress held two closed-door meetings with representatives of the broadband services industries about whether or not to re-write the Telecommunications Act of 1996. A major point of discussion was the principle of network neutrality, and what to do with it.
Corporate representation wholly outweighed public interest at these meetings; of those who bought the good seats at the table, they’ve collectively spent some $19.7 million on lobbying expenses in the first quarter of this year alone.
Over at the FCC, the same thing is going on.
Now, a lack of transparency is certainly nothing new in the world of policymaking. In fact, thanks in large part to the work of the media reform movement over the last decade or so, issues relating to media policy are better-understood by the public now than ever before in our history.
However, these recent moves seem straight out of the playbook of George W. Bush and Mikey Powell than Barack (“change we can believe in”) Obama and Julius Genachowski, what with the FCC’s supposed outreach to the public and all, especially on all things broadband.
But you know sh*t’s bad when even the real insiders are pissed at the lack of transparency right now on the issue of net neutrality. None other than the esteemed law firm of Fletcher, Heald, & Hildreth, an entity with big ties to big telecom and big media, is calling shenanigans on the recent activity. Actually, they’re calling it “a betrayal“:
To be sure, the GSA’s “no smoking” policy ensured that industry titans would have to leave their Macanudos and Cohibas smoldering outside in their idling limos while they met with “senior FCC officials”. And these days mineral water and acai juice are more likely to be on the beverage bar than rye and sour mash. So a lot of the fun, not to mention the smoke, has been drained from smoke-filled rooms.
But the essence of a smoke-filled room – the private, closed door, invitation-only, giant corporation-only session with high ranking policy-makers – certainly remains. The conception that something as important as Net Neutrality (with huge implications for the privacy of the American people), the development and growth of the Internet, and the expansion of broadband access could be hashed out by a few corporations over corned beef sandwiches with no involvement whatsoever from the rest of the world is appalling. It is everything that the Obama administration claimed to reject about politics-as-usual.
Normally, I read folks like these so I can keep up on what “the other side” is up to. Now, even “the other side” is outraged. The fact that it’s all backed up by plenty of prior coverage, portends real danger ahead for the notion of an open, democratic Internet.
I remember the halcyon days when “media reform” was poised to go “on the offensive.” When something like this happens, it makes me wonder if they’re even still on the field.