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The Reform Government Surveillance Nine should copy the ISPs’ methodology if they want to change government policy

Posted by on June 7, 2014.

Yesterday I suggested that if the Nine Nazgul tech giants seriously wanted to influence government they should look to the methods of Monsanto rather than write tame public letters. They could, of course, look closer to home to see how the ISPs have engineered a complete 180° about-turn in the FCC’s attitude towards net neutrality.

The first step is infiltration — get your own men into positions of influence. Under its previous chairman the FCC sought to guarantee net neutrality via its open internet rules. Two things happened. First the courts ruled that the FCC holds no sway over the ISPs, and that it could not enforce an open internet. But there was an easy solution — reclassify ISPs as carriers (which the FCC could do) and reimpose the open internet (which the FCC could then do).

Tom Wheeler

Tom Wheeler

But then the second thing happened. The FCC had a change of chairman, and the new chairman seems hell-bent on, and has proposed, abandoning net neutrality. That new chairman, Tom Wheeler, is a former chairman of the National Cable and Telecom Association (NCTA). The NCTA lobbies on behalf of the ISP companies; and it absolutely does not want them classified as carriers (that is, utilities). The ISPs do not want to be bound by net neutrality — they want to be able to charge higher rates for better services (which inevitably means poorer services for those who cannot pay). And with Tom Wheeler at the helm it is quite likely to get its way.

Now, notes a report in The Vice,

…the FCC is led by a former cable-industry lobbyist, and many of his chief staffers are also former Comcast attorneys. Several new FCC staffers previously lobbied the agency against net neutrality in the past.
Cable companies are astroturfing fake consumer support to end net neutrality

The second step is to manipulate public opinion. Even the chairman of the FCC cannot fly in the face of public opinion. The Vice report describes how this is being achieved — basically you throw money at the problem to get people repeating your own views.

BfA letter signatories - click for larger

BfA letter signatories – click for larger

Last month two former politicians, John Sununu and Harold Ford Jr., published an article in SFGate demanding that the FCC should not regulate the internet. They signed the article as “the honorary co-chairs of Broadband for America, a coalition of 300 Internet consumer advocates, content providers and engineers.” But Vice has discovered that $2 million of Broadband for America’s $3.5 million budget is provided by the NCTA.

Indeed, a separate letter from BfA to the FCC (demanding that ISPs are not reclassified and therefore remain free to abandon net neutrality) shows the true colours of the organization — its signatories include AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox, NCTA, Time Warner, Verizon and many others of the same ilk. This is not, as it claims to be, a coalition of internet consumer advocates.

The result is that the FCC still seems intent to do the NCTA’s bidding and abandon net neutrality. And where America goes, Europe surely follows. This is, then, a threat to net neutrality throughout the world — unless the American public can persuade Wheeler otherwise:

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