The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
THURMONT, Md. – The weather forecast is calling for a dusting of snow here in the woods north of Washington, D.C. Thursday night, which we might as well call the first act of winter after one of the most lovely falls in memory for the people of Maryland and Virginia. We plan to stay here in the Cunningham Falls State Park for another night to get photos before heading south.
Meanwhile down in the nation’s capital, there are two political wars brewing as Congress returns after a bruising election and the president tours China.
In a bold stroke this week, President Obama weighed in on the Net Neutrality debate in a big way by coming out forcefully for the Federal Communications Commission to treat the Internet as a public utility rather than a capitalist commercial zone for the telecom giants.
The president indicated the FCC should reclassify broadband as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act, broadening the agency’s authority to regulate the behavior of Internet service providers such as Comcast, Verizon and ATnT. He called for a ban on “paid prioritization,” the idea of commercial Internet Service Providers charging content companies like Netflix for Internet fast lanes to consumers while discriminating against smaller media companies such as the New American Journal by making it harder for consumers to access sites that do not have big, corporate bucks behind them.
“This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies,” the president said in his statement.
While FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded by pointing out that the agency is independent and will take the president’s remarks into account like all the other 4 million people who have submitted public comments on his proposed rules, the president’s remarks constitute big news and the FCC would do well to listen to him. The Obama administration, congressional Democrats and tech activists are trying to get out in front of the conservative, business-led backlash against net neutrality since the Republicans just regained control of the U.S. Senate in last week’s election.
“When the leader of the Free World says the Internet should remain free, that’s a game-changer,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement.
Let’s hope so. I have been chasing Internet access in a camper van all over Maryland and Virginia for the past two months, and I can tell you unequivocally that the capitalist, commercial approach to serving up access to this important and even essential technology to the American public is iffy at best. If the telecom giants had their way, based on their limited interest in quarterly profits and stock prices, Americans in urban areas would get served while those in rural areas would get screwed.
The president is right to compare the Net to early phone service in the U.S., when regulators in Washington treated phone service as a public right all over the land, not just in concentrated population centers where companies could maximize profits.
Of course the phone companies were deregulated in the 1980s in the Reagan conservative tide, and are now nothing more than capitalist enterprises hell bent on dismantling the old copper phone line network and using Internet access as the excuse to do it. But if you can’t find access to the Internet in places like Western Maryland or the mountains of Virginia, many Americans will be left out in the cold without access to the most basic information necessary to live a full life in the modern world.
The most basic service required is access to emergency services, and without a land line to call 911, many Americans will find themselves at risk. On top of that, in rural areas there is still very limited television news offerings and even radio is often limited to country music stations, conservative talk and Christian radio in places where public radio does not reach — like northeast Alabama.
This does not seem to bother the Republicans in Congress, who are now stepping up their game to fight Net Neutrality like it would mean the end of the world — for the Republican Party.
Public opinion data consistently shows that the more education and information people have, the more likely they are to vote for Democrats. For the Republican Party to survive and thrive then, they want to keep a huge chunk of the population ignorant, afraid of the Internet and listening to talk radio and watching Fox News. The rest of the media in this country — especially those of us engaged in building the Web Press of the future — should not let them get away with it.
Meanwhile, the president and Secretary of State John Kerry toured China this week and came away with a historic joint announcement on climate change and clean energy cooperation. The U.S. has pledged to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, while China will attempt to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030 and increase the share of non-fossil fuel energy it uses to around 20 percent.
Of course the Republicans will no doubt fight this too. They came back from the election recess this week and started moving forward with a plan to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline while the president was out of the country.
Emboldened by their election victories in key states where voter turnout was low, allowing more conservatives to take positions in the U.S. Senate and setting the stage for Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to take over as Senate Majority Leader next year, it is going to be a war for America’s soul in Washington for the next two years.
Dog help us all if women and young people do not turn out in large enough numbers to stop Jeb Bush from retaking the White House in 2016. If we really want some semblance of democracy to survive, we cannot let this happen people. Get ready to vote.
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.