How to Save the Internet

Our rights to connect and communicate — via universally accessible, open, affordable and fast communications networks and devices — are essential to our individual, economic and political freedoms.

But all too often powerful phone, cable and Internet companies — and the government agencies they collude with — trample on these rights.

We must protect the principles embodied in the Declaration of Internet Freedom — freedom of expression, access, openness, innovation and privacy — to preserve our rights. Yet these principles are under constant attack.

Constant attack? How?

Let us count the ways.

Freedom of expression. In describing its opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality rules, Verizon claimed it has the First Amendment right to “edit the Internet.” Like other telecoms, Verizon insists that because it controls the broadband connections we use to get online, it also has the right to determine what we do and say online.

Meanwhile, the NSA’s domestic spying programs — which are anti-democratic and unconstitutional — are some of the most serious attacks on free expression we’ve ever seen.

To put it simply, state surveillance chills free speech. When we know we’re being watched, we self-censor. We close down blogs, watch what we say on Facebook and forgo “private” email for fear that any errant word will come back to haunt us in one, five or 15 years. 

Access. Everyone has the right to access the information they need to stay informed and engaged. The Internet is the primary way most of us connect and communicate. Yet thanks to the telecoms’ stranglehold on the broadband business, millions of Americans — not to mention most of the world’s people— still lack affordable and high-speed Internet access.

Openness. An open Internet enabling everyone to connect to everything without corporate or government interference could become a relic of the past. Without robust Net Neutrality protections, Internet service providers could become self-appointed censors, blocking or slowing down content and applications at will.

Meanwhile, lobbies like the Motion Picture Association of America continue to push SOPA-like bills that would criminalize acts of sharing online. And the revelations about NSA surveillance show how, in the absence of true privacy, we lose the openness that’s long defined the Internet.

Innovation. All the evidence shows that the open Internet is good for businesses large and small. But companies like AT&T and Verizon see the Internet as their private playground, where they can pick the winners and losers. For innovations in business and technology to flourish, the Internet must remain a level playing field where anyone can compete and succeed, and where companies respect users’ right to privacy.

Privacy. Internet users have the right to control how their data and devices are used, and should have the right to use the Internet anonymously and privately, without fear of government or corporate intrusion. But very little of what we do online is truly private.

The government is colluding with AT&T, Verizon and other companies to snoop on our emails, search our browsing histories and collect vast files documenting our personal lives. Internet companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo are working with companies you’ve never heard of to compile profiles of millions of us, sell the data and make billions.

OK, those are the principles. What specific issues are at stake?

The end of Net Neutrality? Net Neutrality is the Internet’s guiding principle: It preserves our right to communicate freely online. This is the definition of an open Internet.

Net Neutrality means an Internet that enables and protects free speech. It means that Internet service providers should provide us with open networks — and should not touch any apps or content that ride over those networks.

In December 2010, the FCC passed its Open Internet Order, which provided some Net Neutrality protections (though they offered almost no safeguards for the mobile Internet). Unfortunately, the rules were based on shaky legal principles — and Verizon attacked, suing to repeal the FCC’s rules.

In September 2013, a federal appeals court heard oral arguments in the Verizon v. FCC case. On Jan. 14, 2014, the court overturned the rules — meaning that once again Internet users have no defense against ISPs that, in Verizon’s own words, believe they have the right to “edit the Internet.” And on May 15, the FCC voted to propose a new “open Internet” rule that may let Internet service providers charge content companies for priority treatment, relegating other content to a slower tier of service.

Deregulating the network. Phone companies — in particular AT&T — are pushing to relax regulations that ensure universal access to basic communications networks. They claim such rules are obsolete since the technology behind this infrastructure is changing. In fact, we need these rules more than ever.

State surveillance and attacks on privacy. Free Press co-founded the StopWatching.Us Coalition, which has called for accountability and reform in the wake of the revelations about the NSA’s spying programs. We’re pushing for the creation of a congressional committee to investigate and report on the NSA and are advocating reforms to the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act that would limit the NSA’s ability to conduct sweeping surveillance dragnets.

We must also push back against invasive data-mining schemes that threaten our basic right to communicate in private.

Wow, this is scary! What can we do?

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People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good