STATEMENT OF FCC COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS
AT "THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET" PUBLIC HEARING
AUGUST 19, 2010
Thank you, Josh Silver, for the wonderful introduction and for all the great things you
do--like founding Free Press and bringing these critical communications and media issues to the
four corners of the country. Your contribution has been immense--although we still have a long
ways to go. Thanks to the Main Street Project and the Center for Media Justice for co-hosting
and for all the good things they do to serve the public interest.
What an honor that Senator Al Franken joins us tonight to share with us his unique and
always candid and incisive insights on these issues. Who better to talk about this than someone
who has been there, worked there, and has a first-person understanding of how what's going on
now affects the consumers he fights so hard for? Minnesota and the nation are fortunate to have
him in the Senate. And you are fortunate to have my friend Amy Klobuchar there, too. She
serves on our authorizing Senate committee and she is a champion--a true champion--in
fighting for a telecommunications and media environment that will include every citizen and
benefit every citizen. I am also thoroughly pleased that my FCC colleague, Mignon Clyburn, is
here, too. She has already proven herself in her brief tenure at the Commission to be a strong
and dedicated advocate for the public interest and someone not afraid to speak her mind. She is
a great colleague. Each one of these leaders is concerned about the future of the media, the
future of the Internet and the future of our country because they understand that without
progressive media reform and without a progressive digital environment, the promise of
broadband as a tool of new opportunity and open democracy will never be fulfilled.
Most of all, my biggest thanks go to the good citizens of the Twin Cities and surrounding
areas who took the time to come here this evening to share their individual perspectives with us.
I look forward to hearing your ideas--all
your ideas--while we're together tonight. These are
important issues and your presence here inspires me not just to keep on listening, but to keep on
I think most of you understand how important the Internet and access to high-speed
broadband are to the future of our country. This incredible technology intersects with just about
every great challenge confronting our nation--whether it's jobs, education, energy, climate
change and the environment, news, international competitiveness, health care or equal
opportunity. There's no solution for any
of these challenges that does not have a broadband
component to it. We have a technology now with more power to bring about good than any
communications advancement in all of history. The question is: will we use it in such a way as
to maximize its small "d" democratic potential--or will we turn this, too, over to the special
interests and gatekeepers and toll-booth collectors who will short-circuit what this great new
technology can do for our country?
The Internet was born on openness, flourished on openness and depends on openness for
its continued success. Easy to say--not so easy to guarantee. We must not ever
openness of the Internet to become just another pawn in the hands of powerful corporate
interests. The few players that control access to the wonders of the Internet tell us not to worry.
But I am worried. How can we have any confidence that their business plans and network
engineering are not going to stifle our online freedom? You know, history is pretty clear that
when some special interest has control over both the content and distribution of a product or
service--and a financial incentive to exercise that control--someone is going to try it. That's a
monopoly or an oligopoly or whatever you want to call it--I call it a danger to America.
And the present danger is that big business will put us on the road to the cannibalization,
cable-ization and consolidation of broadband and the Internet. Oh, the special interests tell us
not to worry. New technologies always work for the public good. Broadcasters said just give us
a ton of free spectrum--hundreds of billions of dollars as it turned out--and the airwaves would
always serve the people first. You saw what happened there! Then cable came along and said
they would fill the holes in the road that broadcasting ended up creating--you know what
happened there when you look at the programs you get and, worse, the bills you get. In both
cases, we were too quick to take their word. Now the big Internet service providers give us the
same pitch: "Don't worry; be happy; we would never compromise the openness of the Internet."
After what happened to radio and television, and after what happened to cable, should we take
their word? I don't think so!
What happened was that in less than a generation, a media landscape that should have
been moving toward more diversity, more localism and more competition was transformed into a
market controlled by a handful of players, too often providing little more than infotainment,
canned music and program homogenization. Their newsrooms were shuttered, reporters were
yanked off the beat and fired, and investigative journalism consigned to the endangered species
list. The apologists told us this was the natural result of changes in technology and markets, and
things would all work out fine in the world of new media if we just looked the other way a while
longer. The facts told another story. The huge debts these mega-companies took on to curry
favor with investors and hedge-fund operators overwhelmed broadcaster obligations to be good
stewards of the people's airwaves. The public's right to know got lost in the frenzy of financial
I want to be fair here and not pin it all on speculators or even media companies. In fact,
many broadcasters--particularly those of the smaller, independent variety--do an excellent job,
against steep odds, serving the public interest and informing their communities. The problem is
we--and for "we" I mean mostly the FCC--we have made it awfully difficult for such
broadcasters to survive in the newly concentrated environment. First we blessed and facilitated
ever more media industry consolidation by loosening our ownership rules so that fewer and
fewer media giants could buy up more and more media outlets. Then, to further advance the
interests of a powerful few over the interests of consumers, innovators and entrepreneurs, the
Commission moved away from any real oversight of our media infrastructure by wiping the slate
clean of the public interest guidelines that generations of consumers and advocates had managed
to put into place against powerful industry opposition. I'm talking about things like providing
real local news, reflecting the ethnic and cultural diversity of the individual markets broadcasters
serve, limiting commercials and talking with listeners about the kinds of programs people really
Fast forward and along came the Internet. And, one more time, industry found a
compliant Commission to do its work. "Here's the idea," they told their Commission allies.
"We don't want the next generation of telecommunications to be saddled with all those
protections that consumers and advocates had fought so hard for with plain old telephones"--I'm
talking about things like ensuring reasonable and comparable services and rates across the
country no matter where you live, protecting privacy, supporting public safety--"so," they went
on, "why not take access to broadband out of that part of the law that protects consumers and put
it in a really vague part of the statute where nothing is really guaranteed, where every protection
for consumers would have to be built from the ground up, and where whenever any future
Commission tries to do something positive, we can drag them into court and have a much better
chance of keeping it from happening?" "Done deal," two previous FCCs replied. "We'll call
access to the Internet an `information service' instead of `telecommunications.'" And, presto, the
deed was done. They moved it out from where it was and that meant that the safeguards that
accompanied plain old telephone service would have no guaranteed place in the digital world.
Can you believe it? Well, it happened--although, I should point out, only over my strong
objections and those of my friend and then-colleague, Jonathan Adelstein. By the way, no other
country in the world that I can find ever played a semantic game like this wherein they stopped
calling "telecommunications" telecommunications, gave it a new name, and used that as the
excuse to undercut how an industry meets its responsibilities to the public.
Our job now is to correct course by reclassifying broadband as the telecommunications
service that it is (you know: actually call an apple an apple) and then craft rules and procedures
that will protect consumers against discrimination, protect against a privatized Internet, and
protect against the cannibalization, cable-ization and further consolidation of broadband
technology. That doesn't mean that every regulation that applied to a dial phone applies to
access to the Internet--but it means someone has the authority to make sure our
telecommunications infrastructure truly serves the people.
All this came to a head last week with an announcement by Verizon and Google. These
very big, very powerful, very wealthy companies pronounced to Capitol Hill, the FCC and the
public that they have now agreed upon a policy framework that will work for the benefit of the
American people. Of course it wasn't developed with input from
the American people, but it is,
they assure us, for
the American people. It's "trust us," one more time. Well, you don't have to
read very far in their joint handiwork to discover that, as much as these companies say they
support an open Internet, this new framework isn't what we've been waiting for, not by a long
In fact, the Verizon-Google Gaggle would almost completely exclude
from the future of Internet openness--even though wireless is how more and more Americans
will be getting their Internet access with each passing year. Don't we want open Internet rules
that apply to all
gatekeepers? Don't we want openness in the mobile world, too? Next, the
Gaggle's proposal would eliminate any meaningful, effective FCC oversight of the open Internet,
and that means such critically-important responsibilities as the setting of standards and the swift
resolution of controversies. Our function would be to do some basic monitoring, write an
occasional report, get out of the way and entrust the public interest to the special interests.
"Don't worry, be happy," they say. I say, "No thanks."
But wait, there's more. Here's the real kicker. The Verizon-Google Gaggle wants to
build a world of private Internets that would vastly diminish the centrality of the Internet that you
and I know. They want a tiered Internet. "Managed services" is what they call this. "Gated
communities for the Affluent" is what I call them. So, for example, a special Verizon-Google or
Comcast-NBC service could come to you extra quickly, with special quality of service or
priority, and thereby decrease the amount of bandwidth left for the open Internet we know today.
And that also means that those of us who can't pay for higher speeds, better quality of service
and special priority are relegated to second-class service. As for new competitors who might
want to offer Internet access service...well, good luck. Finally, you might ask, if the big guys
can build these privileged private networks, why would they bother with getting higher speeds
and more bandwidth to the rest of us?
I suppose you can't blame companies for seeking to protect their own interests. But you
can blame policy-makers if we let them get away with it. Deal-making between big Internet
players is not policy-making for the common good. Special interests are not the public interest.
Stockholders are not the only stakeholders. I will not settle--you
should not settle--for
gatekeepers of the Internet striking deals that exchange Internet freedom--yours and mine--for
bloated profits on their quarterly reports to Wall Street.
You know, what I'm talking about here this evening, it isn't just something that would be
nice for us, the FCC, to do. It's something we have to do
if the enormous potential of broadband
and the Internet is ever to be fully realized. And it's something we have to do
if we are really
serious about making the FCC what it was intended to be--an honest-to-goodness consumer
We will be successful in this crucial undertaking only if truth flows out like water across
the land and people understand--really understand--what's at stake here. And that depends on
you as much as it depends upon Al Franken or Amy Klobuchar or Mignon Clyburn or Josh
Silver or me.
Truth tells its story only when it can be heard. Powerful interests are spending millions
of dollars to make sure the waters of truth don't flow on this issue. What can counter them is
you. I know, Josh knows, many of you know, that citizen action--even in this age when too few
people wield far too much influence--can stop them in their tracks. Citizen action can still
work--I've seen it happen. But does it take work! Our history testifies to reformers, civil rights
crusaders, women's rights champions, labor organizers, consumer advocates, even media-rights
defenders, committing to the cause, making a difference and moving our country forward. It's
never easy, but it's always necessary. This is one of those necessary times.
So don't take "No" for an answer. Don't take delay for an answer. Take action for an
answer. Action NOW.
Thank you very much.