Thursday, May 18, 2006

Network Neutrality; Moby And Others Stand With Rep. Markey

Grammy-nominated musician Moby joined Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), ranking member on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, and Free Press campaign Director Tim Carr for a press conference and rally on Thursday.

Just prior to that event, I was able to participate in and ask a few questions of these gentlemen on a teleconference phone call. Tim Carr opened the conference up with an outline of Free Press and Coalition. At issue are the lobbying efforts by AT&T, Verizon and other major telecom providers to sway lawmakers into virtually gutting Network Neutrality -- the Internet's First Amendment.

Mr. Carr referred to the groundswell of American internet users, bloggers, independent artists, and coalitions showing outrage at the impending legislation as a "National prairie fire raging out of control out there." has garnered support from over 600 organizations, collected nearly 700,000 American's signatures on its petition to congress, and is linked now to over 5000 blog sites.

Today's press conference is to show congress a unified alliance of major artists and musicians signing the "Artists and Musicians for Internet Freedom" petition, joining the Coalition along with net users, bloggers, and a diverse group of organizations including such strange bedfellows as the ACLU, AARP, Christian Coalition, along with the Gun Owners of America in a full spectrum of political support.

“If Congress guts Net Neutrality, independent music and news sites would be choked off, consumer choice would be limited, and the Internet will be become a private toll road auctioned off by companies like AT&T,” warned Moby. “We need to stand up for Internet freedom now. Congress must uphold Network Neutrality.”

Moby also made the statement to lawmakers today that "Your constituents are watching and you will be held accountable for your vote." He spoke of musicians including the Dixie Chicks, Wilco, Nine Inch Nails and R.E.M. signing the petition and getting involved. R.E.M blogged about this on their own website this week.

“This is yet another attempt by corporations and their congressional buddies to pull our society backward rather than moving us forward,” Michael Stipe of R.E.M said. “These corporations are trying to set up tollbooths on the information superhighway. We need to keep Net Neutrality so the Internet remains a free and level playing field.”

As it is in so many cases involving politics today, money is the motivating factor here; all three denied that a censorship of the net was at issue here, although monetary control of the web would certainly thin the herd simply by association. The bigger voices would be heard, and the lesser would remain, well, the lesser unfortunately

Moby did state that this action would probably have little impact on his or any other well established musician's career, but that it was rather simply something he felt he must do. Independents and smaller bloggers would likely suffer the most, but simple choices like telephony service, and search engines would be greatly compromised as well.

When Rep. Markey introduced HR 5273 in subcommittee, it was voted down 34-22 on a largely partisan vote with all Republicans and a few Democrats voting no. I asked Rep. Markey what he thought the "head count" would be like now, since it had received a better showing in the full committee. Unfortunately he was dropped from the teleconference unexpectedly right at that very moment, do you suppose AT&T did not want to hear that answer yet?

Markey did state in his opening that the pressure being delivered by these petitions and from thousands of Americans calling Washington had greatly impacted the original "no" voters and changed several minds. Tim Carr stated that the lobbyists were waging a campaign of misinformation, and that most lawmakers were duped into thinking that the issues were being tightened to constrain the Telco's business.

Actually what is at stake is a desire for no change at all in Net Neutrality, better off left alone so to speak. Senators Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), and Byron L. Dorgan (North Dakota), are expected to introduce legislation at the Senate level in support of Net Neutrality.

It is imperative that we act here folks, this is our fight. To sit back and let big money speak to lawmakers and go unanswered by us will only serve to silence us in a more permanent manner. When I asked if they thought we could actually turn Congress on this in light of the millions of dollars that the Telco's are providing, the answer was a qualified, yet emphatic yes. The qualifier is that we must all get involved in this one.

Visit the website, sign the petition, send letters to Washington, make phone calls, and then convince others to do so as well. There are no party lines here; this is a serious matter for everyone from the dancing queens in San Francisco to the gun-waving neocons in the NRA, from college students to Catholic Priests, from web masters to the very congressmen themselves. This is our Internet, what are you going to do to protect it?

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