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Obama, FCC Poised to Cave to Telecoms and Turn Backs on Net Neutrality

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Among the young, forward-thinking demographics with whom Obama, the presidential candidate, was incredibly popular were the digital rights crowd. Obama’s campaign platform promised to ensure net neutrality — the principle that all Internet content must be treated equally by internet service providers, where no content is given preferential treatment by ISPs — if he were elected.

Oh, how things change!

Currently, net neutrality finds itself hanging by a thread, and the Obama administration and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appear to be ready to cave to the mighty telecommunications industry, sacrificing a fair Internet for all.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a court ruling which had net neutrality activists in a frenzy. A federal judge ruled that the FCC had overstepped its authority in demanding that Comcast, one of the nation’s largest internet service providers (ISPs) treat all content equally. (Comcast had been throttling, or slowing down, certain content — particularly file-sharing sites.)

From that story:

The FCC, in enforcing net neutrality, was trying to ensure the Internet remains a level playing field, where no sites are on a “fast lane,” and no sites are on a “slow lane.” ISPs like Comcast have argued that controlling certain sites’ load times will prevent high-bandwidth users — like file-sharers — from clogging the web for everyone else. But it’s a slippery slope. (…)

Beyond preventing the FCC from enforcing equal load times for all websites, the court’s ruling could hamper the FCC’s ability to ensure that internet policy providers comply with digital privacy laws. Further, it could adversely impact the White House’s efforts to increase Americans’ access to high-speed Internet networks. Currently the United States lags far behind other developed nations in broadband speed and reach.

Net neutrality activists, however, were hopeful that if the FCC chose to reclassify internet services as as a telecommunications network — like telephones — they’d be able to regulate ISPs. And there was reason to be hopeful this would happen — the FCC chair, Julius Genachowski, is credited as a contributor to Obama’s tech platform, which included net neutrality, greater media diversity, and increased broadband access.

The best part of reclassification is that it only requires a simple-majority vote from the FCC’s board members — and would neatly sidestep all the bureaucratic red tape and telecoms’ big lobbying dollars in Congress.

Sadly though, a Washington Post article today indicates that Genachowski is expected to leave the broadband industry deregulated — as if under-regulation has ever proven itself a good idea. (Hello, recession of 2008?)

Josh Silver, head of Free Press, a media reform non-profit, put out the following statement on what this means: “If Chairman Genachowski fails to re-establish the FCC authority to protect Internet users, he will be allowing companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to slow down, block or censor content at will. They can block any website, any blog post, any tweet, any outreach by a political campaign — and the FCC would be powerless to stop them….If the FCC fails to stand with the public, it will be the end of the Internet as we know it.”

Given that the Internet is either set to replace or already has replaced the telephone as the most important medium of communication, this is a very scary, Orwellian prospect.

Sign AlterNet's new petition pushing the Obama administration & FCC to exercise their power to enforce net neutrality. Sign Free Press' petition to save the Internet by making net neutrality law.