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Congress Grapples with Internet Freedom Issues

February 17, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. -The open Internet rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December were fought over in a House committee hearing where supporters said they were needed to prevent Internet service providers - or governments - from restricting content, sites, speeds and bandwidths. Opponents argued the FCC lacks authority to regulate in this area of the telecommunications industry and that the order would discourage investment in the Internet.

Amalia Deloney of the Center for Media Justice says more remains to be done.

"The rules that came forward at the end of December were not perfect, but they were a framework to build on, with something we could get behind and really lobby for changes."

Supporters of net neutrality say the recent uprising in Egypt, which was facilitated by social networks like Facebook and Twitter, showed the importance of unfettered access to the Internet, especially since that country's besieged rulers shut the Internet down for three days.

Opponents of the FCC's net neutrality order say no good reasons have been put forth for regulating the industry, calling it "a solution in search of a problem." Deloney disagrees.

"We know from very recent examples, whether it's the oil spills, e-coli breakouts or the mortgage crisis, that we can't and we shouldn't have to wait for a crisis before protecting people in our communities. That's what good government regulation does on the front end."

Net neutrality rules would prohibit Internet access companies from blocking or arbitrarily slowing traffic on their networks.

Deloney points to "A Thousand Kites," an interactive prisoners' rights project with its origins in Appalachian Virginia, as an example of the kinds of Internet initiatives that need the protection of a net neutrality order.

"None of that would be possible without an open Internet. And it has led to massive changes in how prisoners are treated in Virginia. So this is something everybody should really hear about, and also see that in these small and sort of unsuspecting areas, change can't happen without access to an open Internet."

The Center for Media Justice is launching a campaign called "The Internet Strikes Back" in which - by texting - people in favor of net neutrality can be put in touch with members of Congress to express their views.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - VA