The text of an ad you might hear or see in the next few months:
Anncr: “Every year, thousands of innocent children are victimized on the Internet by vicious predators. It's a national disagrace. But (Sen./Rep. X) doesn't care. He voted to allow those who prey upon children to be free to continue their twisted ways. How do we know? Because Sen. X voted for Net Neutrality. It's time to send Sen. X a message, and to send him back home.”
Tagline: “I'm (candidate X) and I approved this message to protect our children.”
This is not (yet) real, nor is it a joke. It has come to this, that opponents of Net Neutrality are now claiming that children won't be protected online if we pass Net Neutrality legislation. How do we know this? From a May 16 letter circulated to the Senate by Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a member of the Commerce Committee, and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a former member of the Committee.
In their letter, the senators write that “opposing the heavy hand of regulation that network neutrality represents is critical if we are to maintain the Internet as an open, evolving, and market-based tool, and to protect children and familites from the negative aspects of Internet content that exist today.”
The argument is that the telephone and cable companies are spending billions to deploy broadband and are investing in new technologies to improve the Internet experience. The senators write: “These technologies also hold the promise of providing parents with new tools to protect their children and families as they explore online.” Network Neutrality, they assert, would “be anything but neutral,” they write. It would “penalize broadband access providers for making major improvements to the Internet.” Net Neutrality, “to be enforced, presumbably by virtually unaccountable bureaucrats,” would “reward content providers who demand regulation in order to tip the scales of Internet competition in their favor.”
And the capper: “It also threatens to deprive parents of new technologies they may use to protect their families from online harm.”
There are any number of arguable statements in this letter. The “unnamed bureaucrats” who would enforce the Net Neutrality regulations are, of course, the same ones who would enforce tighter indecency rules at the FCC advocated by many senators.
No one is pursuing excessive regulation and no one is tipping the Internet in anyone's favor. If anything, Net Neutrality promises the opposite.
But let's focus on the kids. And let's start with the history that the idea of providing blocking and screening technology is an issue that goes back at least 10 years. Companies like CyberPatrol and SurfControl, Net Nanny and CyberWatch started providing that very protection in the mid-90s. The GetNetWise effort, started by the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Internet Education Foundation, started in 1999, providing an online guide to tools to protect parents.
Do an online search for Internet filterting and you will come up with dozens and dozens of companies that provide protection for parents. There are general filters, there are Christian filters, there are Jewish filters. There are ISPs that provide filtering as part of their service, as Earthlink and AOL do. (There were more ISPs, some which also provided filtering, but most closed down as a result of FCC decisions. That's another story.)
And what are the Bell companies doing now to protect kids? What is a company like AT&T, which had $15.8 billion in revenue in the first quarter of this year doing now about blocking and filtering? Nothing. Subscribe to AT&T's DSL service and you get… Yahoo! What will the “AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet Package” do you you? Among other things, according to the AT&T web site, the service allows you to “Protect Your Children — Parental controls allow you to choose what your children are able to access on the Internet.” Verizon offers a choice — Yahoo! or MSN. Those companies provide fine parental controls and it is a good thing that parents have access to them. And yet, they weren't created by the Bells.
Some of the most famous words spoken on Capitol Hill occurred on June 9, 1954, by an attorney named Joseph Welch, in the course of some hearings called by the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, (R-Wis.) to investigate the Army. At one point in the hearing, Welch asked McCarthy: “You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
I'm Art Brodsky, and I approved this blog post.