Michael Copps

The Net Neutrality State of Play

[Commentary] The President of the United States weighed in against a fast-lane/slow-lane Internet.

Two conclusions stand out: (1) no new arguments have been ginned up by the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T that lend a whit of credibility to their entrenched opposition to strong network neutrality rules; and (2) growing grassroots support for a truly open Internet is commanding attention at the highest levels of government.

In spite of all this, the smart talk around town is that the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is still looking for “net neutrality lite” rules that would avoid a huge battle with Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and their friends in Congress.

There are two huge problems here. One is that net neutrality lite doesn’t get the job done. Two is that a huge fight will ensue no matter how the FCC rules.

[Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009]

It's Not About "Can We?" It's About "Will We?"

[Commentary] Public comments are due regarding the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) proposed rules for network neutrality.

Much of the focus will be on arcane legalisms, the particulars of various court decisions, and the confounding twists and turns of FCC regulatory oversight (or lack thereof). This is all well and good, and based on more than a decade tracking such minutiae as a member of the FCC, I am confident that those of us favoring a real Open Internet will have much the better detailed arguments to put forward.

But it’s more -- much more -- than that.

[Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009]

No Fast Lanes For The Few

[Commentary] Just about everybody understands the Internet to be the most opportunity-creating tool of our time. The question now is opportunity for whom? Is the Net going to be the tool of the many that helps us all live better -- or will it be the playground of the privileged few that only widens the many divides that are creating a shamefully stratified and unequal America?

Are we heading toward an online future with fast lanes for the 1% and slow lanes for the 99%?

The first step on the road to an online future that serves us all is for the Federal Communications Commission to get its pending proposals right. Classify broadband for the Title II communications it obviously is and prohibit fast-lane, slow-lane divides created for the commercial enrichment of a few.

At the same time, the Commission must step up to the plate and use the authority it has to preempt state laws that prohibit communities and municipalities from building their own broadband infrastructure instead of relying on Internet service providers (ISPs) that cherry-pick the country when they decide where to build and not build.

And let’s go on from there to demand that the FCC finally finds the wisdom and the guts to say “No!” to all these never-ending mergers and acquisitions that are monopolizing the market, disadvantaging consumers, and short-circuiting our democratic discourse.

But the first step won’t be taken by the Commission unless you take a step first. The FCC needs to hear from you. It plans to make its proposal public on May 15th. Here are some action ideas. Contact the agency now and tell it that you expect a Net-friendly proposal going in. You can also sign the Common Cause petition calling for the Title II reclassification of broadband. Then there will be a period after the formal May 15 launch of the proceeding for the public to comment on it. So you can contact the FCC again after May 15 with comments and suggestions on the handiwork they actually propose and these will become part of the official record of the proceeding.

Don’t leave these things for others for do. It’s up to each and every one of us. You depend more and more on the Net. Now the Net is depending on you.

[Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009]

Reshape our media landscape and say no to Comcast-Time Warner deal

[Commentary] Five months into his term, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has arrived at a critical juncture. The proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger, a court’s rejection of the FCC’s network neutrality rules and the looming deadline for the commission’s media-ownership review provide an opportunity for Wheeler and the commission to begin reshaping our media landscape.

That landscape, now dominated by a few large players, needs to reflect the dynamism and vibrancy of our nation’s diverse multitudes. Here are some ideas on how the FCC should proceed:

  • Say no to the outrageous Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal. We need more competition, not less, in the cable and broadband industries. This merger isn’t the way to deliver it.
  • Answer the US Court of Appeals decision that struck down its open Internet, aka net neutrality, rules with a set of new rules that guarantee it -- this time in a way that will pass muster in the courts.
  • Resist pressures to leave loopholes open and further relax media-ownership rules. If it permits a few billionaire moguls to monopolize the airwaves, the commission will do the nation a tremendous disservice.
  • Take a hard, new look at what is keeping African-American, Hispanic and other minority entrepreneurs and women out of broadcasting and what help is needed for media to better reflect the diversity of the country

[Copps was a Federal Communications Commissioner from 2001 to 2011 and currently heads the Media & Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause, a nonpartisan nonprofit in Washington, DC]

A Time For "No!"

[Commentary] How much more do regulators need to know before they understand that the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger is bad news all around?

It’s bad for consumers, competition, and our very democracy. Word is it could take many months, maybe close to a year, for the two government agencies to conduct and complete their reviews. Really? The facts of the case should lead both agencies to speedy thumbs-down decisions.

  • Fact Number One: The merged company would further diminish competition.
  • Fact Number Two: Consumers, long hurting from over-priced cable and from scarce and costly broadband, would face even higher bills.
  • Fact Number Three: This proposal, if approved, would wreak significant harm on our civic dialogue and, indeed, on our democracy.

I don’t believe that, apart from the cable barons themselves, anyone would welcome the cableization of the Internet. Yet that is precisely the danger here. And who better to cableize it than the biggest cable company? What a tragic denial of the promise of the Internet this would be!

Let’s get rid of this threat right now with clear and straight-from-the-shoulder denials of the merger by the Department of Justice and the FCC. This is a time for “No!”

[Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009]

Seeing Issues Whole

[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission deals with a wide universe of issues. Licensed and unlicensed spectrum, wireline and wireless telecommunications, white spaces, broadband, satellites, auctions, international coordination and, of course, media, are at the top of the Commission’s agenda. A wide universe indeed -- but a universe nevertheless. FCC commissioners need to see this universe whole. We live in one vast communications ecosystem. What goes on in one part of this ecosystem has direct and often far-reaching consequences on its other parts. So when Comcast, on the heels of completing its acquisition of the huge NBC-Universal complex, announced recently that it now wants to take over Time Warner Cable, the nation’s second largest cable company, let’s realize that this is much, much more than just absorbing another cable company. Rather, this is extending the deep Comcast content/distribution foot-print over evermore markets across the nation. What’s at stake in this deal? It will impact all other areas, by raising cable bills and broadband prices beyond the cost-of-living index in the United States, and puts the concept of open Internet at grave peril. Which brings us to democracy; how is that at stake, you ask? If a handful of giant companies can favor their content over that of someone they compete with or they just don’t like; if these powerful few can dictate where we go and don’t go on the Internet; if they can prioritize content; if they can block sites they disfavor; if they can determine what news we see and what we won’t -- then how is our democracy benefitted?

[Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011. In 2012, he joined Common Cause to lead its Media and Democracy Reform Initiative]