John Fund is very, very upset over the FCC's weaksauce Net Neutrality declarations and he's aiming at 'wealthy left-wing' organizations as the culprits. This makes me happy. When a winger can only squirm over something so weak and toothless as to be useless, it's a good day. But look at who he aims at! Paranoid, much?
Free Press and allied groups such as MoveOn.org quickly got funding. Of the eight major foundations that provided the vast bulk of money for campaign-finance reform, six became major funders of the media-reform movement. (They are the Pew Charitable Trusts, Bill Moyers's Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Joyce Foundation, George Soros's Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.) Free Press today has 40 staffers and an annual budget of $4 million.
These wealthy funders pay for more than publicity and conferences. In 2009, Free Press commissioned a poll, released by the Harmony Institute, on net neutrality. Harmony reported that "more than 50% of the public argued that, as a private resource, the Internet should not be regulated by the federal government." The poll went on to say that since "currently the public likes the way the Internet works . . . messaging should target supporters by asking them to act vigilantly" to prevent a "centrally controlled Internet."
To that end, Free Press and other groups helped manufacture "research" on net neutrality. In 2009, for example, the FCC commissioned Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society to conduct an "independent review of existing information" for the agency in order to "lay the foundation for enlightened, data-driven decision making."
Considering how openly activist the Berkman Center has been on these issues, it was an odd decision for the FCC to delegate its broadband research to this outfit. Unless, of course, the FCC already knew the answer it wanted to get.
Wow. Openly activist? The Berkman Center? Here's the Berkman Center's Berkman@10 page, with some of their research projects and discussions posted online. Such terribly activist things. Open innovation, The Dilemma of Games, The Musician and the Scientist, and yes, Network Neutrality (not Internet Neutrality, by the way), as well as one called The Battle for the Web. Hardly activist.
Current projects include a Law Library wiki, a discussion of money in politics, and a paper about online political organizing. Again, not activist. Wonky. Educational. But not activist. I confess to zooming in on Fund's remarks about Berkman because I am a huge fan and avid reader of Doc Searls, who has been a Berkman Fellow for the past 4 years.
Berkman aside, the issue of Net Neutrality has always been about a democratic internet, one where everyone has equal access to content and pipes. The organizations Fund villifies in his post are organizations dedicated to the preservation of freedom of speech and free flows of information, so I'm struggling to reconcile the conservative maxim of constitutional freedoms above all with his abuse of organizations who strive to protect it.
I didn't have to struggle too long. A closer reading of his rant reveals a corporate agenda which trumps any speech rights.
The net neutrality vision for government regulation of the Internet began with the work of Robert McChesney, a University of Illinois communications professor who founded the liberal lobby Free Press in 2002. Mr. McChesney's agenda? "At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies," he told the website SocialistProject in 2009. "But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control."
A year earlier, Mr. McChesney wrote in the Marxist journal Monthly Review that "any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself." Mr. McChesney told me in an interview that some of his comments have been "taken out of context." He acknowledged that he is a socialist and said he was "hesitant to say I'm not a Marxist."
I am neither a socialist nor a Marxist, but I believe that the Internet should be preserved as something everyone can access equally, and am frustrated on a near-daily basis by the stranglehold providers have on that access. Fund's suggestion that net neutrality and regulatory authority over access somehow stifles innovation is to believe that the sole innovators are cable and telephone companies. In fact, the opposite is true. The true innovation has come from many different sources, including inhabitants of the Internet itself.
Facebook, Twitter, Google and blogs were not the invention of AT&T, after all.
The real threat to innovation is handing the keys to all of the Internet gates to the likes of Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. And yet, that is exactly what the FCC did with their weird ruling yesterday.