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After Election Loss, Teachout and Wu Keep Up Net Neutrality and Anti-Comcast Merger Campaign

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, September 15 2014

Tim Wu and Zephyr Teachout at NYC Rally

The Teachout/Wu campaign may have lost, but their pro net-neutrality campaign continued Monday as both former candidates participated in a rally in New York City marking the final day to comment on the Federal Communications Commission's Internet proposals and kept up their pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo.

"A lot of people are asking, if this is happening in Washington, why are you in New York?," Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, which organized the really along with other groups, began at the gathering by New York City Hall. "This is why. Because In New York, people understand the importance of the free and open Internet. They understand how important it is to our economy and our society and to our Democracy and to the future of this city." He added that "even politicians in New York seem to understand the importance of net neutrality," as he cited support from Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand as well as Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

That full understanding has not yet been seen with FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, he said. "If you're considering letting Comcast merge with Time Warner Cable, you're doing it wrong," he said. "When it is 99 to 1 against you in the comments about net neutrality, you're still doing it wrong. There is one path to an open Internet, it's called Title II," he stated, which would reclassify broadband under the Communications Act.

One week after his loss, Tim Wu noted that the number of FCC comments had grown from one million to 2.5 million over the course of his campaign in support of the concept that he had coined. "Net Neutrality stands for the idea that there are some essential parts of the public sector that are just too basic to be divided between the haves and have-notes, that are just too essential and fundamental to let some people go faster and other people go slower," he said. "What kind of country would we live in, if there were different sidewalks for the rich and different sidewalks for the poor. That's not the kind of country I want to live in, and that's not how I want the Internet to be." Evoking America's history, he said that the "frontier nature of this country has meant that from the beginning we were all struggling together, we all had a rough equality. This has always been a country of opportunity where people take their shots, say their thing, start their company...and see what happens...that frontier today is the Internet, and we don't want to have it closed."

Zephyr Teachout praised activists for "for turning an issue that lobbyists want to be an issue decided by money and turning it into a key political issue" and then drew on the message of her campaign. "From now on out, you should not be able to be a politician in New York state, let alone in this country who does not take a strong clear stand against the Comcast/Time Warner merger and in favor of net neutrality. Politicians have the opportunity to take the lead against big cable," she said.

She noted the map of the counties that she and Wu had won and said that "in a lot of those counties we were talking about big cable, we were campaigning outside cable companies because people on the ground know that net neutrality and Time Warner/Comcast merger is political, it's a kitchen table issue...they know the service is too slow already, too expensive already and not fair, you don't get more political than that." Noting the October 2 date when New York's Public Service Commission is expected to vote on the proposal and the upcoming FCC decision, Teachout said it was time to "ask Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul and every other New York politician if they have made their voice heard in Washington on net neutrality and on this merger."

In between chants of "Save the net," "FCC can't you see, we want net neutrality," and "LOL, OMG, We want net neutrality," the protest participants also heard from Will Cosgrove, a staffer from the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Invoking de Blasio's "Tale of Two Cities" campaign message, he emphasized on Brewer's behalf that "we don't want to have a tale of two Internets in New York or in this country."

Wu was not the only one to draw historical comparisons, as Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, emphasized the equal "unfettered access" the Founding Fathers had had to the printing press, while Personal Democracy Media's Andrew Rasiej highlighted the extensive and expensive 19th century effort to connect all New Yorkers to a common clean water supply through aqueducts.

Jennifer Pozner, founder and executive director of Women In Media & News, emphasized that net neutrality was crucial to ensure that women and minorities could continue to make their voices heard outside the mainstream media through the power of online communities. As an example, she pointed to the success online feminist activists had in raising awareness of the misogynist aspect of a mass shooting in Santa Barbara earlier this year and awareness about the racial violence and tensions in Ferguson, Missouri. "[The feminist blogosphere] shifted the corporate media narrative," she said. "Then you end up having millions online influencing millions upon millions through television, cable and corporate magazines and radio." In Ferguson, the narrative focusing on entrenched racism came into mainstream focus "because from the first day black Twitter was on it," she emphasized, and helped "connect the dots" to other incidents across the country. "Then corporate media had to cover that and policy may change now," she said. "We need to maintain the infrastructure that allows our voices to be heard independently and in corporate media."

The FCC's decision will also have implications abroad, as Josh Levy, advocacy director at Access, noted that many countries had had their eyes on the U.S. deliberations at the recent Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul.

Wu called the risk of weakened net neutrality and the possible merger "joint threats" as he talked to reporters after the event. "Net neutrality is a limit on the power of the cable companies but their consolidation gives them more power," he said.

While he said he had generally focused on his advocacy on the federal level, he expressed concern about the upcoming New York decision on the merger. "Cuomo has remained, I would say, suspiciously quiet," he said. "There's been a lot of politicians in the state who I'm proud to say have come out strong in favor of net neutrality. Cuomo has been sitting on his hands and he needs to speak...If he doesn't stop this merger, it's his responsibility," he said noting Cuomo's influence over the appointees on the PSC. He emphasized that he had not heard any testimony from Comcast about how the merger would be in the public interest or lead to lower prices.

"What I'm worried about is that Governor Cuomo and other politicians in New York will be tempted to say, Oh, well, they're going to us this and give us that, that's public interest, little giveaways that they can use to generate more political loyalty," he said. He said that previous Comcast offer for a programming package for low-income people was not that cheap, not advertised and difficult to obtain. "In theory cable companies are a public utility, in theory their prices are supervisable by the state, but they've fallen asleep on the job and let cable prices rise completely out of control."

When Como announced the review of the Comcast/Time Warner in May, he emphasized that recent legislation he had signed had shifted the burden of proof to require the company to prove that the merger was in the public interest, whereas previously the Commission "was required to grant its approval unless it found that the transaction was not in the public interest," the press release noted. "The Public Service Commission's actions will help protect consumers by demanding company commitments to strong service quality, affordability, and availability," the statement said. "The PSC will critically review the protections being offered to low-income customers as well as how the proposed merger might impact consumer pricing and telecommunication competition overall."

PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman said in the statement that "to determine whether the proposed transaction is in the public interest, the Commission will examine the proposal to ensure services the merged company would provide will be better than the service customers currently receive."

In Washington D.C., Fight for the Future has partnered with domain registrar Namecheap to park a truck with a video billboard across the street from the FCC, featuring pro net neutrality video footage submitted from Internet users, including from the Free Press' demonstrations in New York City and Philadelphia.