Religious Leaders, Celebrities Call For Net Neutrality Ahead Of Nationwide Protests
As time runs out before the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) expected rollback of net neutrality protections next week (and before tomorrow’s nationwide protests), groups representing the hearts and minds of many millions of Americans are rallying to keep the rules for Big Telecom intact.
On Monday, religious leaders from across the U.S. released an open letter to FCC Chairmain Ajit Pai, who’s spent much of 2017 working to reverse Obama-era rules created to protect consumers and promote fairness online. In it, many of the country’s preeminent religious organizations seek to “describe the fundamental importance of communications rights in our society, and thus our strong support for domestic policies that enhance, and do not curtail, those rights.”
Signed by such groups as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, the Islamic Society of North America, the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness, the letter argues for maintaining net neutrality rules on behalf of more than 50 million people worldwide whose interests the groups are dedicated to protecting.
Among other things, the letter notes that unadulterated communication tools can allow countless individuals to lift themselves from poverty, seek insight and education, and draw closer to achieving fundamental human rights. It also points out that these gains can be diminished or downright reversed if such tools aren’t treated properly.
“We see that these modern communication tools can be used and designed to maximize individual freedoms and human dignity or they can be developed with an eye only to maximize profit and power by the entities that control them,” the groups wrote.
“As people of faith we adhere to a moral code that stands apart from the values of the commercial sphere, even as we appreciate the benefits that economic development brings to our communities.”
The groups also said they “specifically encourage [that] the technologies used by the least enfranchised in our country are equally as open to robust self-determination, economic empowerment, and creative expression as the networks used by the more fortunate,” including through policies that will establish the same freedoms for wireless networks that are held by today’s wired ones.
“We can either adopt policies that promote communications rights or that lessen them,” the religious leadership wrote. They continued,
As we look to a new era when electronic communication via the Internet or other data networks comprise the fundamental backbone over which all media flow, we implore the policymakers at the [FCC] to retain the existing policies which maximize an open and free Internet. Communications policy in this country should maximize individual freedom and dignity to promote the highest achievements of our own citizens and maximize our ability to assist others internationally.
The groups also reflected, “Communication is one of God’s great gifts to humanity. Without communication, we could not be fully human.”
United Church of Christ Policy Adviser Cheryl Leanza, who’s been helping promote collaborative net neutrality efforts through the the church and who organized the letter, commented by email, “Faith communicators know first-hand the difficulties in reaching the public with our messages. Whether it is a message of peace and justice, a fundraising campaign, or a sermon via podcast, members of the public would rarely hear from faith leaders if it weren’t for the free and open internet.”
She added, “This current threat means we must speak out.”
Ahead of next week’s expected FCC vote and this Thursday’s planned protests at Verizon stores around the country, a wave of entertainment industry leaders has also been broadcasting their support for net neutrality this week.
On Monday, hundreds of musicians and industry members released their own letter advocating for internet freedom and urging the FCC to scrap its plans to roll back net neutrality rules.
“To truly make good on the remarkable democratic potential of the internet, the fundamental infrastructure underpinning it all must be neutral and nondiscriminatory. Unfortunately, the FCC’s current proposal would amount to a sharp turn in the opposite direction,” the music industry members wrote.
“It would allow big cable and wireless companies to create new pay-to-play fast lanes, disadvantaging those who cannot pay for preferential treatment, and replicating the industry’s past problems with payola,” they explained. “Allowing broadband providers to control this once-open platform shifts leverage away from individual artists, creators, and small businesses, and interferes with freedom of speech and expression.”
On Wednesday, a group of more than 100 actors, musicians, and other performers published another firm letter aimed at the FCC, too. Signers include such headliners as Talib Kweli, REM’s Michael Stipe, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave fame, Amanda Palmer, and actress Alyssa Milano, along with a long list of other big names and more locally known performers.
“The medium that allows us to be great artists is under threat. Without a free and open internet, so much music, writing, film, art, culture, passion, and creativity would be lost,” they wrote. “For the artists of the future, and the culture of the future, we will not be silent.”
“Title II guarantees net neutrality and prevents powerful telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from deciding what art, as well as what news, is easily accessible online,” the group explained. “If the FCC votes to gut these protections it will explicitly allow Internet providers to charge extra fees that amount to a tax on the entire creative economy. A few corporations will have control over what you see and hear, while independent and up-and-coming artists’ ability to make a living will be devastated.”
They continued, “Without net neutrality there will be less awesome art. Period.”
The performers also encouraged the public to join in protests against net neutrality rollback that are scheduled for tomorrow at Verizon locations across the country (chosen in large part for the company’s affiliation with and former employment of FCC Chairman Pai).
“We support the people from across the political spectrum protesting across the country on December 7, and we echo their call for our members of Congress to do their jobs and take action to stop the FCC vote that’s planned for December 14.”
“By fighting for net neutrality,” they added, “you fight for the future of art.”
Between net neutrality’s enormous impacts on art, prosperity, and human rights, it seems apparent that every American has something significant at stake–and worth fighting for–in the coming days.