Net Neutrality Supporters Visit Rep. Henry Waxman
When a group of ordinary citizens go together to lobby a lawmaker in his or her home district, that’s always a big deal. Visits like these should be done frequently, because corporate shills are pressuring congresspeople all the time. Repeated visits, phone calls and letters are the weapons we have to counteract them.
On Wednesday, members of the L.A. Media Reform Group joined representatives of Free Press, the Writers Guild of America West, Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles and citizen activists met with west L.A.-area Rep. Henry Waxman to speak about net neutrality. Waxman is the powerful chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which oversees issues having to do with communications and technology. He is also a co-sponsor of H.R. 3458, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, introduced by Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
Now that Google and Verizon have pretty much kicked open the door toward corporate control of the Internet, the need for Congress to act is all the more urgent. Aparna Sridhar, policy counsel for Free Press, explained to Waxman what the three most troubling concerns are to net neutrality advocates: 1) that the big telecommunications companies’ opposition to net neutrality has become more entrenched, 2) that there is increasing desire for the telecom industry to write its own rules, and 3) that carriers are using a recent unfavorable court decision against the Federal Communications Commission as leverage to get what they want.
Each person in our group then expressed to Waxman why having a free, open and non-discriminatory Internet is so important in his or her life. For example, Waxman constituent and progressive activist Lauren Steiner spoke about her career in local cable television, specifically public access. Steiner explained how public access was the “first electronic soapbox,” which enabled anyone with an opinion to express themselves without the filter of an editor or having to put up a lot of money to own a station. She said that now in an era where equal time rules and the Fairness Doctrine have long since been eliminated, the Internet is the only democratic media outlet for people.
“If we lose net neutrality, our democracy will suffer irreparable harm” said Steiner, who set up and facilitated the meeting with Waxman.
Others in the group talked about the importance of net neutrality to keeping the public informed about election fraud, keeping people civically engaged, and enabling writers and musicians to create their works openly and without interference. Concerns about censorship, media consolidation and no longer having an even electoral playing field were also expressed. Writer, musician and activist Brad Parker stressed that the Internet is a public utility like interstate highways, and that without net neutrality, it will be harder for entrepreneurs to create new businesses.
Sridhar asked Waxman if he would lend his stature as chairman of House Energy & Commerce to a net neutrality bill that would contain meaningful enforcement mechanisms, as well as a complete ban on making content providers pay for priority status on the Web. Although Waxman re-affirmed his support for net neutrality, he did not say he would sponsor a separate bill to the Markey legislation.
Waxman said he wants the FCC to be able to reclassify broadband as a “telephone service” subject to more regulation, but that the court decision has complicated matters. The Bush-era FCC had changed broadband classification to a looser regulated “information service.” Waxman said there’s not enough support right now in Congress to pressure the FCC to do the reclassification. He suggested that net neutrality supporters lobby Republicans and those conservative Democrats who are opposed to any kind of legislation. Waxman added that what would help is getting conservative groups who do favor net neutrality, such as the Christian Coalition, to lobby Republicans.
It’s terrific that Waxman remains on the right side of this issue. For those of us hoping that he would use his position to make net neutrality a higher priority in the House, we were disappointed. Although the Markey bill is a good one, it’s currently stalled. But Waxman is right. Activists need to start putting the heat on those members of Congress who are obstructing progress on net neutrality. These particular lawmakers and their constituents need to be educated as to how a free and open Internet would benefit them, the economy and our society. And it wouldn’t hurt of course to let the opposing lawmakers’ constituents know just how much money their representatives are taking from the telecoms.