Above: FCC Commissioners Ajit Paj, Mignon Clyburn, Chairman Tom Wheeler, Jessica Rosenworcel and Michael O’Rielly. By Karen Bleier, AFP, Getty Images.
Note: The article below describes an Ask Me Anything on Reddit with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and describes the session as “not going well.” It did not go well because Commissioner Clyburn refused to be clear about her views. Does she still support reclassification under Title II as she did in 2010? Does she support net neutrality? Does she still oppose paid prioritization? None of these questions were answered, instead Commissioner Clyburn used the phrase that the chair of the commission, Tom Wheeler, uses even when he is advocating for paid prioritization, “a free and open Internet.” The Internet can be free and open and not be a common carrier with rules requiring net neutrality.
We were also disappointed to see Commissioner Clyburn use the misleading talking point: “Title II on its own does not automatically ban paid prioritization.” What Title II does do is give the FCC the legal authority to stop paid prioritization and put in place net neutrality rules. The courts have made it clear that without Title II the FCC cannot put in place such regulations. There is no doubt Commissioner Clyburn knows this, so why does she continue to use this misleading talking point?
Obama made the politics clear — the Democratic Party cannot afford to lose the Internet community. Clyburn comes from an important Democratic Party family as the daughter of the third highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina. The mid-term elections should have taught the Democratic Party leadership that people will stay home and not vote if the Party does not speak to their concerns. Internet users, Silicon Valley, Internet investors and small businesses that rely on the Internet are all on the side of net neutrality.
Polls show that Democratic and Republican voters alike support net neutrality. There is a national consensus favoring reclassification and net neutrality. This is shown by a review of the nearly 4 million public comments (which Commissioner Clyburn claims “absolutely influence FCC deliberations”) as well as by increasing numbers of trade associations, corporations and people speaking out for reclassification. This really is a situation where the FCC is choosing between the 99% and the 1%, in this case made up by a handful of telecom and broadband companies and their trade association, e.g. Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner. These are some of the most hated companies in the United States because of their high prices and poor service.
We hope Commissioner Clyburn is not confused by the false divide in the civil rights community. Even here if you discount those who have received big money from the telecom industry, there is near unanimity in favor of reclassification. The only opposition comes from organizations funded by the telecoms. AT&T led a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign for NAACP in 2009 where AT&T made a $1 million contribution. It began funding the organization in 2006. It has continued to fund the organization when it came out for a merger between At&T and T Mobile. NAACP is always on the side of the telecom industry, it is evident that telecom funding has a lot to do with these positions which will hurt their constituency.
The Washington Post reported this week, when Rev. Jesse Jackson came to the FCC to do the bidding of the telecom industry that “As far back as 2004, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity revealed that cable companies were giving ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ in benefits to nonprofits that signed form letters, written by industry officials.” The Post reports that among the groups receiving such funding was Jackson’s Rainbow-PUSH Coalition.
Lee Fang recently described the corruption reporting on how the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) coordinated many of the participants in the anti-net neutrality filings sent to the FCC by groups who claim to represent the views of communities of color. Fang writes: “Last year, the Center for Public Integrity published an investigation of MMTC, showing that the group has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Verizon, Comcast, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and other telecom sources while reliably peddling the pro-telecom industry positions.”
As Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation told Politico: “The money that nonprofits receive from their corporate sponsors sticks not only in their bank accounts but in their mind. This is what I think of as deep lobbying — there is an expectation that when push comes to shove, these groups will come out in favor of their benefactors.”
This should be obvious for those who seek to represent the interest of poor and minority communities. As Joseph Torres of Free Press said, communities of color believe a free and open Internet is essential in the digital age, especially when most non-whites do not own radio stations, broadcast outlets or other forms of mass media. “Protecting real net neutrality is critical for people of color because an open Internet gives us the opportunity to speak for ourselves without having to ask corporate gatekeepers for permission.” This seems so obvious that we hope that Commissioner Clyburn will discount the views of nonprofits who have been funded by the telecom industry and look at what is really necessary for people in communities of color.
We hoped that with President Obama putting forward a clear statement favoring rescheduling, no paid prioritization and net neutrality that Commissioner Clyburn would move from vague comments to specific comments supporting this proposal. So far, the Internet community has been disappointed by Clyburn’s unclear statements. In the coming weeks Commissioner Clyburn should become clear about her support for the future of the Internet by endorsing reclassification as well as rules prohibiting paid prioritization and requiring net neutrality.
To send Commissioner Clyburn a message, we suggest that you tweet a photo of yourself holding a sign in support of Title II reclassification to her @MClyburnFCC or we can do it for you. Submit your photo by clicking here.
Commissioner Clyburn Finds Herself on the Defense With Reddit Community Over Failure to Endorse Net Neutrality and Reclassification of the Internet as a Common Carrier
By Dana Liebelson
Huffington Post, November 22, 2014
WASHINGTON — On Friday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Mignon Clyburn took to Reddit to do an “Ask Me Anything” session and answer questions about her job. But she soon found herself on the defensive against Reddit users angry about how the FCC has handled net neutrality rulemaking.
The FCC is currently weighing whether to classify the Internet like a utility and restrict Internet service providers from charging content providers for faster Internet access. This month, President Barack Obama announced his support for that approach, known as “Title II.” But net neutrality advocates are concerned that the FCC might go with a different proposal, which would allow for some degree of paid prioritization. Opponents of this plan say that it would threaten the openness of the Internet by making it harder for smaller sites to compete.
When asked about her position on net neutrality, Clyburn, who is one of five FCC commissioners appointed by the president, said that she supports “a free and open Internet.” She pointed out that in 2010, she supported Title II and a ban on paid prioritization, which is what Obama is asking for now. But she did not explicitly say that she still supports this plan. Instead, she wrote that she has “many of the same concerns I did four years ago, but have vowed to keep an open mind.” Clyburn did not go into detail about what those concerns are.
Later, she said that “if we think the right policy goal is to ban paid prioritization, we should determine the appropriate legal authority to do so,” contending that “Title II on its own does not automatically ban paid prioritization.” A commenter dismissed her statement as a “talking point.”
Over the summer, the FCC accepted nearly 4 million public comments about net neutrality — an overwhelming number of which opposed allowing Internet service providers to charge for faster Internet access. One commenter asked Clyburn if the FCC listens to the public. She responded, “Public comments absolutely influence the FCC deliberations, including rule makings.”
Another user asked: “How can we (the Internet!) make ourselves heard in this process? Because it begins to seem like the e-mail campaigns and the phone calls do not have a large effect on convincing the FCC to reclassify ISPs under Title II?”
Clyburn responded: “I disagree completely. Your voices are being heard and your comments are being read.”
But many Redditors didn’t agree, complaining about the number of Clyburn’s answers and their substance. For their responses, check out the full discussion here.
Clyburn’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.