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REMARKS OF COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS AT THE FCC WORKSHOP ON SPEECH, DEMOCRACY AND THE OPEN INTERNET

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Released: December 15, 2009

REMARKS OF COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS

AT THE FCC WORKSHOP ON

SPEECH, DEMOCRACY AND THE OPEN INTERNET

WASHINGTON, DC

DECEMBER 15, 2009

Good Afternoon. Welcome to the FCC, and thank you for joining today’s
workshop on Speech, Democracy and the Open Internet. This dialogue is an important
part of the open and robust effort we are making to get the best thinking and the best data
as we move forward with the Commission’s Open Internet proceeding—launched this
past September. I supported Chairman Genachowski’s decision then to move forward
with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to build upon the Open Internet Principles
adopted by the FCC in 2005. These two actions taken together—in 2005 and now in
2009—are a clear-eyed, sober recognition that the Internet must never be about powerful
gatekeepers and walled gardens. It must always be about the smoothest possible flow of
communications among people. Such speech should not be stifled.
We have confronted similar tensions before—between the concerns of network
operators and the interests of citizens in communicating freely. For as long as the FCC
has existed, entrenched, powerful network operators have argued that harm will
inevitably result from pro-consumer decisions. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the government
was told that the entire phone network could be compromised if innovations like Hush-a-
Phone
and Carterfone were attached to the end of the telephone line. In the early ‘80s,
the Department of Justice was told that breaking up Ma Bell would leave the United
States literally unable to respond to a nuclear threat. In recent years, we were told that
forcing telecom carriers to accept enforceable network neutrality rules would jeopardize
their financial future, as they were consolidating. And in 2007, we were told that
wireless carriers couldn’t make an open access model work—until these very same
carriers changed their mind and came out in favor of just such a model. I recount this
brief history to you to remind you that we need to proceed thoughtfully and with a
healthy dose of skepticism.
As we work to deliver a worthy National Broadband Plan, I’m excited about the
potential of broadband to the citizens of this country. Broadband intersects with just
about every great challenge confronting our nation—jobs, business growth, education,
energy, climate change and the environment, international competitiveness, health care,
overcoming disabilities, opening doors of equal opportunity, to name only the most
obvious. Every one of these great national challenges has a broadband component as a
critical part of its solution. But broadband connectivity is about even more than that.
Increasingly our national conversation, our source for news and information, our
knowledge of one another, will depend upon the Internet. So this goes to the future of
our civic engagement and our democratic dialogue. Universal broadband not only offers
a unique opportunity to connect the lives of those chronically underserved today; it can
also expand our opportunities for self-government. I, for one, believe that our National

Broadband Plan would be lacking if it does not address broadband as a tool for
democratic engagement.
Every one of our citizens must have access to this enabling technology to
participate fully in 21st Century life. As I’ve stated before, the genius of the Internet is
its openness, its dynamism, its availability to one and all. That’s why I believe the FCC
needs to play a proactive role in preserving the Internet as a vibrant place for democratic
values, innovation and economic growth. A solid democracy in the future is going to
depend on broad pipes, private sector vision, and thoughtful public policy to make sure
that everyone has access to the information they need to exercise their citizen rights and
responsibilities.
Building the infrastructure for America’s democracy is an age old challenge.
Thomas Jefferson and the Founders worried about it long ago. Back then, the
infrastructure for news and information was the newspaper. We all remember that
famous quote from Thomas Jefferson who, when talking about newspapers—the
broadband of its time—said that, if given the choice, he would prefer newspapers without
government over a government without newspapers. But that wasn’t all he said. Our
friends at Free Press, with their usual diligence, dug up the rest of the quote. It turns out
Jefferson went on to say, “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers,
and be capable of reading them.” Isn’t that something? Jefferson is talking about
deployment—getting those newspapers out ubiquitously. And he’s talking about
adoption—people knowing how to read, recognizing the value, and making use of the
information infrastructure. Our technology is new—our democratic challenge is exactly
the same—and an open Internet today goes to the heart of our civic engagement and our
democratic dialogue.
History teaches us that when a company has the technical capacity and a financial
incentive to interfere, there will be some bad apples who will. Given what’s at stake, we
need hard and fast rules—not just idyllic principles and an honesty system arrangement
to keep them from doing so. There are founded and unfounded fears in this debate—and
we need to have all the facts while considering the future ramifications for this powerful
tool. I don’t believe that the importance of our Open Internet proceeding can be
overstated—it is about safeguarding America’s broadband users, whoever they are and
however they choose to access the Internet, so that they may use the Internet to go freely
to any legal content, so long as no harm is caused to the network.
With that in mind, I look forward to hearing from today’s panelists. Again, thank
you for joining us for this important discussion.

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