Thursday, December 23, 2010

The FCC’s New Years Regulations and the Future of Information

By Sally Schilling

The Club will be ringing in the New Year with discussions of one the most controversial topics of 2010: regulation of the Internet.

In what has been a year of contentious issues over Internet regulation – from China’s Internet censorship to Wikileaks’ exposure of secret government documents – this week’s actions by the Federal Communications Commission may have been a turning point in the future of the freedom of information on the Internet.

The FCC approved a “net neutrality” regulation that orders non-wireless Internet providers to ensure the free and equal flow of all content. But the new regulation does not require wireless Internet providers to do the same. In effect, broadband companies can choose to limit access to sites and applications. The New York Times has labeled the new net neutrality regulation as the creation of two classes of Internet access: fixed-line and wireless.

Yesterday, Craig Aaron, managing director of media reform group Free Press, told Amy Goodman, host of news program DemocracyNow!, that having loose rules for wireless Internet providers is an important issue because more and more people are using wireless Internet. “[This regulation] condones discrimination in wireless space, which is the future of the Internet,” he said.

According to Aaron, the problem with allowing wireless providers to prioritize content is that it will inhibit the benefits that the Internet can provide for the public. “[The new regulation] jeopardizes the growth of the Internet as an unrivaled source of economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech,” he told Goodman.

When Goodman – a major proponent of free speech – spoke to the Club back in April, she praised Internet site Wikileaks for its posting of an Iraq war video showing American soldiers murdering two Reuters journalists in Iraq. She said that if the American media were to expose to the public the truth about the wars in the Middle East for just one week, the American people would not allow the wars to continue. Unfortunately for Goodman, the future of controversial sites like Wikileaks may be subject to the selective priorities of Internet providers.

Recently, Apple dropped its Wikileaks application due to what Apple says was a violation of their terms of service. This action by Apple – and other large companies such as Amazon and Visa that have stopped Wikileaks services – along with the new net neutrality regulation, suggests that the future of the free flowing information on the Internet will remain a hot topic for a long time to come.

The Club is hosting Josh Silver, founder of Free Press, to talk about Internet and journalism policy in the public interest. Ask him what the real implications of the new “net neutrality” regulation are for the future of journalism and politics in America when he comes to the Club on January 31 at 6 p.m.

Amy Goodman spoke at the Club in April. You can watch her program here:


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