Net Neutrality -- the wolves are circling

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It would be at best sophomoric and at worst patronizing to stop by here and "tell you" you how important the Internet is to our economy and political culture now. But when you're talking about almost 200 billion emails sent each day and more than $3 trillion in e-commerce a year ago, it's more than clear we've just scratched the surface of what the Internet can do, both as a platform for commerce and discourse.

And so it's far from surprising that the powerful interests have lined up on different sides of a huge fight going on in Washington; and it will probably be very familiar to you, after years of battling over Net Neutrality.

On one side are the telephone and cable companies who believe they should be in control because they own the wires that deliver the Internet to your house. On the other side is you, the consumer, and President Obama's FCC, with a broad set of interests -- making sure consumers are protected, users and content are not discriminated against, and broadband service is universally affordable and available.

President Obama has been a strong champion for an open, fast Internet. He was a leader on Net Neutrality as a Senator, and he has pushed hard to create a National Broadband Plan to build the fast broadband infrastructure we need. And his FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, has been fighting hard to make President Obama's vision a reality, which is no surprise to those of us who knew Julius before he headed the FCC.

But not surprisingly, the industry is fighting back, with heavy artillery on their side.

Today, there's a vital hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee, and I need your help. You could make an enormous difference if you take just a couple of minutes right now, call your Senators and urge them to support the President's push for Net Neutrality and a National Broadband plan. You can just call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senator.

It's helpful to bust wide open the convenient myth many in Washington buy into -- the idea that it's only the industry and those with financial skin in the game who really care about these issues.

The travesty in the court system last week underscored the importance of you weighing in, and doing it in a hurry. Just last week, the industry won a round in court, with a DC Circuit of the Federal Appeals Court ruling that could block the FCC from protecting Net Neutrality, working for consumers, or making broadband available to all Americans.

The details get a little technical, but it basically boils down to this: back in the Bush Administration, the FCC classified the Internet as an "information service" rather than a "communications service." This limits what the FCC can do, which is, of course, just the way the big telecom companies want it.

But the FCC could reclassify the service and preserve its traditional role. The telecom companies are giving it everything they've got to keep this from happening, and if you don't speak up, they could win.

A win for them would mean that the FCC couldn't protect Net Neutrality, so the telecoms could throttle traffic as they wish -- it would be at their discretion. The FCC couldn't help disabled people access the Internet, give public officials priority access to the network in times of emergency, or implement a national broadband plan to improve the deplorable situation where the United States -- the country that invented the Internet -- lags far behind in our broadband infrastructure. In short, it would take away a key check on the power of phone and cable corporations to do whatever they want with our Internet.

The telecom companies try to say that only Congress can pass a law to make this better. But having suffered through a year of record filibusters and procedural hurdles to grind the process to a halt, do you really think it's a good idea for Congress to try and do this, when the FCC can have the authority right now?

Look, eventually we may need to build a new legal framework for broadband service, but the Internet is moving too fast, the economy needs the innovation of the Internet too badly, to wait. Especially because we don't have to. The FCC can act right now.

But they need the political support from the Senate, and the Senate needs to know that you care about this. So call right now and let them know. Especially if your Senator serves on the Commerce Committee (here's the membership of the committee).

Bottom line is that this is the way politics work. In the end, you pull the levers, but only if you use them. The industry will fight for control, and they should fight -- if you were advising them, you'd give them that advice yourself.

But we need to show them that we're going to fight even harder to make sure the Internet stays in the hands of the American people, that we get to set the rules to benefit all of us, not just a few huge corporations.

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