Is the Internet Verizon’s microphone?

In a recent filing with the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, Verizon claimed that the FCC’s network neutrality rules violate its First Amendment rights and those of other Internet access providers.

As reported by Timothy Lee at Ars Technica, Verizon argued that “Broadband Networks are the modern-day microphone by which their owners [e.g., Verizon] engage in First Amendment speech.”  The company also claimed that the FCC’s rules are violations of the Fifth Amendment, since they amount to “government compulsion to turn over [network owners’] private property for use by others without compensation.”

Verizon’s argument, especially the First Amendment component, is a clear expression of one side of the fundamental conflict between the “cable TV” and “Internet” models, which I discussed in a recent post.

If you combine Verizon’s legal argument with the reality that dominant ISPs are spending lots of money to push for state legislation banning community broadband networks (or at least to ensure they’re not economically viable), it’s hard not to understand the dominant ISPs’ message to the rest of us as “we intend to control how you get access to and use the Internet, and we’re going to use our political and financial muscle to make sure you can’t build your own open-access, higher-quality Internet access network.”

Hearing about Verizon’s legal filing brings to mind the questions I asked in two earlier posts:  “Which kind of Internet do ‘we the people’ want?” and “Do we want an unregulated monopolist with a conflict of interest to meter our web use?

Or, as I put it in another post, do we want Internet access in American communities to be controlled by entities whose primary purpose is maximizing “financial extraction” from these communities?  Or would we instead like our Internet access to be available from entities with a “generative” purpose, such as providing households, businesses and public service organizations (e.g., schools, healthcare providers, public safety, etc.) with affordable, reliable, high-capacity broadband connectivity and related services, to support their ability to prosper and thrive in an increasingly competitive and knowledge-based global economy?

It seems pretty clear what Verizon and the other dominant publicly-traded ISPs want from the Internet.  They want to control it as much as possible, and eliminate the threat of real competition as much as possible, so they can extract as much profit from that control as possible.

As Verizon stated quite clearly in its legal filing, it views Internet access networks as its “microphone.”

After roughly 80 years in which large corporations (e.g., broadcasters, cable companies and now broadband network operators) have controlled our nation’s most powerful First Amendment microphones, I think it’s time that the rest of us get a chance to also have a robust First Amendment microphone, rather than rely on the good graces of financially-extractive ISPs to rent us limited access to their microphone, in the form of closely-monitored bitstreams on terms they set for us as vertically-integrated monopolists or duopolists.

Thanks to the Internet, this “open-mic” communication environment is possible, as long as the Internet continues to operate on the model that’s worked so well up to this point, not the “cable TV model” that makes financial extraction so much easier and more lucrative for the dominant ISPs.

So, my request to Verizon and other large ISPs is, if you’re not willing to accept the Internet as a First Amendment “open mic” we all get to use, then at least stop using your financial and political muscle to buy legislation and/or costly litigation-driven delays to stop us, as citizens, from building our own high-capacity open mic platform.

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