Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My comments to a Net Neutrality hearing for the FCC

Late last summer I presented testimony below at a meeting on the Future of the Internet. It is still relevant. The meeting included two FCC Commissioners, US Senator Al Franken and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Richie and Free Press CEO Josh Silver. You can find details of the meeting, including video from The UpTake in the Twin Cities Daily Planet here. Another good article, "Communities of color may have most to lose if net neutrality goes" was also in the Daily Planet.

Testimony of Sheldon Mains, August 19, 2010, South High School, Minneapolis, MN:
Commissioners, welcome to Minneapolis. My name is Sheldon Mains. Although I am the president of my neighborhood association in Minneapolis and chair of the board of the Twin Cities Media Alliance. I am here representing myself. I live in the Seward Neighborhood of Minneapolis.

My work with the Internet started in 1992 when I started working to establish an Internet service to meet the needs of nonprofit organizations in Minnesota. That service started operations in 1994 and provided email, web, FTP and gopher services to nonprofits and provided classes to help nonprofits and artists learn to use the Internet. The service had to shut down a few years latter because of pressure from local cable TV provider.

I’d like to tell a short story:

In January 2009 my neighborhood was the site of a triple murder at a store owned by Somali immigrants.

The next morning the “neighborhood leaders” (including myself) met to decide on a response. We had no good ideas. Then someone sent an email to our neighborhood discussion forum suggesting that we hold a vigil that night. The leaders’ response was: “Wow, what a great idea.” We got the word out through email, local blogs, Facebook, Twitter, local websites and face-to-face organizing. We ended up with over 800 people outside in 20 degree below zero weather. That vigil was one reason that the Somali community cooperated with the police. With that cooperation this crime was solved in less than a week.

The vigil would not have happened with an open Internet.
  • First, Our small community could not afford to pay for the “premium delivery service” some providers now want to charge.
  • Second, without home access, that one great idea would not have reached the people who could make it happen.
This raises a number of important issues:
  1. The FCC needs to reestablish its authority to regulate the corporations that sell Internet service at a healthy profit. Remember, the Internet was invented and developed using our tax dollars. The Internet is not the property of the large telecommunications firms; it is ours.
  2. We need to insure real competition: Most residential consumers have at most two choices for Internet service. This is not real competition. Even three or four competitors is not real competition. In economics terms its an "oligopoly"—not really any more meaningful competition than a monopoly. This so-called competition will not solve any problems that could be caused by not having strong net neutrality regulation.
  3. We need strong Net Neutrality regulations that apply to all of the Internet: Net Neutrality has to apply to the whole Internet, including networks that the industry may call by other names but serve the same function. Anything less than that will result in telecommunications companies under-investing in the Internet.
Finally, we do need to improve access. If more people had access in their homes—especially many of our immigrant neighbors who have to rely on a computer lab for access—that vigil would have been even more successful.

I urge the FCC to do its job—Protect the public interest.

Thank you

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