The Web According to Washington

The Web According to Washington

Here is the part that is not complicated: the Internet should stay “open” to the public. Everything after that dealing with the subject, particularly in Washington D.C., tends to violate Ockham’s Razor – you know, the one that says that all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the best one.

Today (Wednesday) Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is expected to roll-out a new “Net Neutrality” proposal for the Internet. I am hoping this time around that there is a sizable departure from previous iterations. The idea behind New Neutrality has to do with pricing and services, and consequently, with public access to the web. There was a fear that big Internet gatekeepers like AT&T and Verizon (“Internet service providers” – ISPs) will, unless regulated, either cut deals with tech companies that would disadvantage web users, or would force users to buy – not just Internet access fees – but a host of other online services from the ISPs. The problem with this is that during the many years this debate has been raging, there has been scant evidence that this problem actually exists.

The real problem is one that few want to openly discuss in the hallowed halls of Washington. And that is, the threat to free speech posed – not be big Internet gate keepers who, like toll booth operators, charge you a fee to get onto the web superhighway, but by the companies that own (in effect) the services plazas that utilize, and feed-off of, both sides of the Internet highway; i.e. companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, etc. For years, when I was Sr. V.P. and General Counsel to NRB, a broadcasting association, I headed-up the John Milton Project for Free Speech, a watch-dog group that brought together in Washington, D.C. experts in media, technology, law, and government, to discuss how we could insure free speech for Internet consumers. It was beyond dispute that many of those companies repeatedly enforced viewpoint suppression against citizen web users whose only infraction was posting politically incorrect opinions. The bottom-line disagreement we had was not whether there was a problem, but how to solve the problem.

Mind you, Internet pricing and consumer choice of services are important – but the value of free speech is even more critical. Ajit Pai is a stellar Chairman of the FCC. Let’s hope that the values of consumer free expression will not only be addressed in this new Net Neutrality concept – but will also be protected in a rational way.



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