Guess Who's Afraid of an Open Internet?

While Gonzales' feckless reign at Justice is near an end, his legacy is clear: when his department files against you it's likely you're doing something right in defense of our freedoms.
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Open Internet advocates just received a parting gift from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

In a Thursday filing to the Federal Communications Commission, Gonzales' Department of Justice urged the agency to oppose Net Neutrality -- the principle that all Internet sites should be treated equally.

The DOJ stated that broadband companies like AT&T should be able to erect toll booths and filter traffic -- upending the even playing field that has made the Web an unrivaled engine of democratic discourse and new ideas.

The DOJ ruling once again proves the point -- argued here at Huffington Post and elsewhere -- that powerful corporate and government gatekeepers are working together to dismantle Internet freedoms and impose their will upon the Web.

While Gonzales' feckless reign at Justice is near an end, his department's legacy is becoming clear: The DOJ has established itself as a friend to the powerful and enemy to the basic freedoms that Americans once took for granted.

As Gonzales slinks back to Texas, he is pulling last-minute favors for friends in high places. This week's filing reeks of the same sort of cronyism that has left a slime trail wherever the Attorney General has gone.

Going AWOL on Internet Freedom

In October 2006, the DOJ went AWOL on its duty to protect consumers and competition when it rubber-stamped AT&T's bid to gobble up BellSouth. It was left to the FCC to step in and restore Net Neutrality safeguards to the massive merger.

When AT&T was accused of illegally tapping its customers' lines, it was DOJ lawyers that moved in under the cover of night with an attempt to dismiss the suit.

It was late last month that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell admitted the extent to which the government and AT&T had conspired in far-reaching efforts to spy on Americans without legal warrant. The Bush administration is now pushing for immunity from prosecution for telecom firms that eavesdrop on customers.

AT&T has long sought to use "deep packet inspection" tools to sift Internet user content. The company has already 'demoed' this technology to the RIAA and MPA as part of a plan to scour the Web for file sharing that doesn't conform to the industry's draconian interpretation of copyright.

Without Net Neutrality protections, it was only a matter of time before phone companies and government used this same technology to spy on the everyday activities of Net users.

Parroting Ma Bell

Thursday's filing by a lame duck Attorney General is instructive in this context. According to public interest lawyer Harold Feld of Media Access Project, the DOJ document reads like the "Cliffsnotes version" of AT&T's own anti-Net Neutrality filing.

"The filing parrots the industry arguments that adopting a rule that would prevent telephone and cable companies from monitoring and filtering internet traffic would harm investment and innovation," Feld writes, "despite mounting evidence from Europe and Asia that the opposite is true."

Indeed, the DOJ filing uses hollow industry rhetoric about market forces to provide cover for more nefarious aims. According to the filing:

Other proposals would require interconnection, open access and structural separation of companies offering both Internet access services or transmission and content or applications deliverable over the Internet.

The Department submits, however, that free market competition, unfettered by unnecessary government regulatory restraints is the best way to foster innovation and development of the Internet.

This is utter nonsense. The DOJ knows, as does anyone paying attention to American broadband, that there is no "free market competition" or consumer choice when high speed Internet services are controlled by so few.

Open Internet = Free Market

Free market competition is exactly what we need. To get it, we must move beyond the broadband duopoly that has left America far behind the rest of the world in services and connectivity.

Moreover, we need to safeguard Internet traffic from the types of surveillance and "content shaping" now being deployed by these same companies.

Net Neutrality should be the cornerstone of any nation broadband plan. It frees the types of economic innovation and competition that have been a hallmark of the Internet's development until very recently.

Net Neutrality guarantees that each of us gets an equal voice and equal choice without meddling from the likes of Gonzales and his friends at Ma Bell.

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