Political Flavors

Tell Senator Kirsten Gillibrand To Support Net Neutrality

Posted in Editorials on May 25th, 2011

In January, I wrote a letter to Senator Gillibrand, asking her to support Net Neutrality. I received this response, dated April 7, 2011:

Thank you for contacting me regarding Net Neutrality. Your thoughts and concerns are very important and I appreciate you taking the time to share them with me. Please know that as I participate in discussions on the issues before the United States Senate, the thoughts and opinions of all my New York constituents are given careful consideration.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. Please visit http://gillibrand.senate.gov and sign up for my e-newsletter for updates on this, and other important issues being considered by the Senate.

Kirsten E, Gillibrand
United States Senator

I really dislike substance-less form letters. I want my representatives to tell me what their position is, even if they disagree with me. I couldn’t find anything else on her position online or on her own website. However, I did find this email to another blogger from February 2010, where the Senator comes out in support of Net Neutrality:

Thank you for writing to me about Net Neutrality legislation in Congress. I share your concerns, and support protecting free and open communication on the Internet.

The Internet plays a vital part in nearly all aspects of our lives as Americans; from commerce to education to entertainment. It is important that people continue to have access to all of these services. The freedom to communicate is a principle that also applies to the Internet. For that reason, I will support efforts in the United States Senate to ensure that users are able to access a broad variety of content and prevent discrimination by network providers.

And so I left am unsure as to whether I was sent a meaningless form letter by mistake, or if the Senator has changed her position. I’ve told her where I stand. Have you?

Congressman Gary Ackerman Responds On Net Neutrality

Posted in Editorials on January 12th, 2011

I mailed this letter to Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) on December 28, 2010. I received this response (via email) on January 10. Kudos to him and his staff for keeping good records (I did not include my email address in my letter but I have sent him emails before on issues that included my home address as proof I was a constituent.)

I am posting this because I want to encourage others to write to their members of Congress – you might get a response! Also, I wanted to acknowledge Congressman Ackerman for his fast response and highlight his position on Net Neutrality.

Thank you for contacting me to express your views about government regulation of the internet. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you on this important issue.

The internet has transformed the way we communicate and share knowledge; it has spread information, spurred innovation, and connected the world in ways that were inconceivable just over a decade ago. Like no other advancement in history, the internet has become an indispensible ingredient of our education, our culture, and our democracy.

To ensure continued access to, and increased content on, the internet, it is absolutely essential that the flow of information over the internet is kept free. Unfortunately, under current law, internet providers are able to restrict the flow of online content that competes with the other services they offer. For example, this past summer, one national company began charging their customers based on bandwidth usage, limiting users’ ability to stream videos. Another large provider was recently exposed for restricting the connection speed of any users engaging in file sharing.

Fortunately, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has proposed regulation codifying six principles of so-called “net neutrality” to ensure that the internet remains an open forum over which information and ideas are spread free of discrimination. The proposed regulation would forbid providers from giving preference to certain types of material and force them to disclose any restrictions they place on their customers’ online usage. I strongly support the administration’s continuing efforts to promote net neutrality and internet freedom and will continue to advocate for its implementation.

Once again, thank you for contacting me. Of course, if I can be of any further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Member of Congress

Letter Writing Sunday #1 Net Neutrality

Posted in Editorials on January 2nd, 2011

Letter writing Sunday is a meme I saw on Vegankid‘s (now seemingly defunct) blog a few years ago. The idea is to write a letter every Sunday “of social importance.” It could be to a Member of Congress, state or local government or to a corporation about an important issue. It’s something I’ve always wanted to make a habit, and so every time I write such a letter I will cross-post it here and encourage others to do the same.

Net Neutrality means that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) treat all content the same. Such a policy is fair to everyone and keeps the internet a place where innovation and free speech can thrive. Activists like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been urging the government to take action and codify this policy into law or as an official FCC rule. The reasoning is that if this is not done, ISPs could charge more for some types of content than others or even ban some websites. For example, if you get your cable television and high speed internet from Comcast, they may decide that you have to pay more to stream movies from Netflix because Netflix service directly competes with Comcast’s on demand service.

The fear is that since there are so few ISPs and in many areas of the United States only one to choose from, they could use their power to do more than further their own economic interests. What if they charged more to access websites about political ideas they didn’t like? Or banned religious or other content they found objectionable? The flip side of the coin is that some websites could pay the ISPs for their pages to load faster. So if you wanted to order a book from that neat independent bookstore online, it might load slower than Barnes&Noble or Borders. Or what if Rupert Murdoch paid for Fox News to load faster than any other news websites? This type of scheme would undermine the freedom we have on the internet today for ideas to compete on an even playing field. Considering that right now most media companies including television, radio and publishing are owned by only six firms in the United States, making the internet a place where everyone could not equally participate would be a serious detriment to free speech.

I have read the arguments against Net Neutrality. The can be summed up as follows: The internet is not broken, and so we should not fix it. Any attempt to codify net neutrality is a power grab by big government to intrude into our lives and therefore unacceptable. It is a detriment to the free market.

The first point, that making Net Neutrality the law is a power grab is not true. It would be enshrining into law the policy that has allowed the internet to grow over the past decades. We would simply be preserving the status quo. Secondly, Net Neutrality enhances the free market. One of the central tenets of capitalism is that there be low barriers to entry. Allowing some players to pay for more and better access would create an unreasonable barrier to entry for new start-ups. Also, the internet improves the free market in real life by giving consumers more information about the goods and services that are available. Allowing big companies to have better access than smaller ones would create an externality.

The FCC has recently created rules about Net Neutrality. They are a half-measure full of loopholes and are the same rules that telecom companies have been lobbying for.

It is for these reasons that I will be sending the following letter to my Congressional Representative and both of my Senators:

I am writing to you today to ask you to take action and support Net Neutrality. I urge you to support Internet Freedom Preservation Act should it be reintroduced to Congress. The FCC’s recent rules do not go far enough to ensure free speech and fair competition on the internet. Please take a stand for this important cause.

For further reading:
How to file a complaint with the FCC
On McIlheran’s disastrously simplistic opposition to “net neutrality”
Steve Wozniak to the FCC: Keep the Internet Free
The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time by Senator Al Franken
Save The Internet