Organizer Kevin Zeese argues that the internet should be treated as a basic utility like in Nashville, TN, which has one of the highest internet speeds in the U.S.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
The FCC will be putting forward a proposal on net neutrality on May 15.
Now joining us in-studio to discuss this is Kevin Zeese. Kevin Zeese is the spokesperson for PopularResistance.org.
Thanks for joining us, Kevin.
KEVIN ZEESE, ORGANIZER, POPULARRESISTANCE.ORG: Glad to be here.
DESVARIEUX: So, first of all, Kevin, just explain really briefly what is net neutrality.
ZEESE: It means we all have equal access to the internet. The network is neutral, and it’s neutral on who gets access, what content gets access. We all have equal access, and that’s what we want to keep. We want the internet to be an equal-access, open-to-all service.
DESVARIEUX: And I know you’re planning some actions in order to fight for this.
ZEESE: Exactly. We’re starting actions on Wednesday the 17th [incompr.] interesting day. And then we’re going to be–excuse me. Wednesday the seventh, and [we’re going to] continue to work our way through the 15th. We’re going to be there every day, two actions a day [incompr.] spend overnight again. I hate to go back to sleeping on a sidewalk, back to the sleeping inside the city kind of thing. I really don’t enjoy it.
But we want the FCC to see the anger of people. We want them to know that keeping net neutrality, keeping an internet that’s not class-based is something that’s very important to us. We want them to come in the morning and see us there with our signs and our chants. We want them to see us at lunch, want them to see is when they leave. We want them to know we’re going to be there until the 15th, putting the pressure on.
And a lot of organizations are working on this. On the 15th it will be a very big day of action that–a lot of groups are coming together for that peaked day. We’re going to try to build up to that from between now and the 15th.
And we also see a lot of online action. There have been over a million emails to the commissioners telling them to support net neutrality or thousands and thousands of phone calls going to the commissioners. We urge people to call the FCC and let them know, especially to their chairman, and let him know that we want net neutrality. We don’t want the corporate domination of communication for the 21st century.
I mean, the internet’s become the free speech zone. It’s where issues are debated. It’s where we respond and discuss, where we can equalize the media, because right now, you know, [incompr.] look at the cable TV and television networks, it’s corporate-dominated by a handful of corporations. We don’t want the internet to be that. We want the internet to be democratized, where all people have access, free, open, and equal.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And you mentioned the chairman, Tom Wheeler. So can you talk a little bit about him? And what role does he play making this decision?
ZEESE: Well, Tom Wheeler’s one of five commissioners who will make the decision. All five were appointed by President Obama. And that’s not the way it always works out, because they serve longer than a president does. They serve seven-year terms. But coincidentally, President Obama has appointed all five. So this is pretty much President Obama’s commission, and they were all confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate. And so [if you don’t like what] this commission’s doing, that’s where the source of the issue comes from is the Democrats in the Senate and President Obama.
Now, President Obama ran as the net neutrality president. Those were his own words in Iowa in 2008: I will be the net neutrality president. And he strongly believes in equal access to the internet.
Now, the commissioner you mentioned is Tom Wheeler, [comes out of] industry. And when President Obama appointed him, he called him the Bo Jackson of the internet, because he was in the Hall of Fame for two aspects of the internet, both telecom [and the] internet. He was a hall of famer for both industries, ’cause he’s been involved in this for a long time as a lobbyist, as an investor, as someone who’s made a profit off the internet for himself. He’s worked for different trade associations as a lobbyist. And so he’s representing the industry.
Now, when he gets to the FCC, you hope that he would represent the public interest rather than the commercial interests of Comcast and Verizon and AT&T, the big three that dominate the internet, both on our telephones and on our computers. And so you’d hope that’s what would happen. That’s what we really want to see happen.
And so we’re actually making two demands of the FCC at this point. One, they need to reclassify the internet as a telecom information service, as a telecom service, as opposed to an information service. During the Bush administration, it was–the internet was classified as an information service, and that limited the amount of regulation that was possible. And so when the recent court decision happened that threw out an FCC rule on net neutrality, that was the reason why. If they reclassify it and make it a telecom service, then they have much broader authority to regulate, and you can regulate in the public interest. That’s the first thing. We want to reclassify it so they can regulate in the public interest.
The second thing is we want net neutrality to be put into stone. We want it very clear that the internet will be open, free, and equal access to all. And that’s what net neutrality is [and that’s what we want to see demanded].
So that’s why we’re out there. We’ll be out there, you know, protesting constantly between now and the 15th. We hope people will come out and join us.
And, by the way, there is also 27 FCC offices around the country. On Popular Resistance we have an article–if you just go to “Internet Freedom” on the cloud on the right-hand side, you get all these articles about net neutrality and the protests and stuff. And there’s 27 cities around the country where you have FCC offices. So if you can’t come to Washington, D.C., we want you to organize actions in your own community to show people in the FCC there that people are angry and want to make sure that the internet stays democratized and not corporatized.
DESVARIEUX: Kevin, I know this is not the first time you’re fighting for net neutrality. I mean, it seems like for me, like, every couple of years or so this comes up. How do we–I know you mentioned those two demands that you guys are making, but what do you see really as being the solution for us to not have to continue waging this battle?
ZEESE: Well, the problem, like with many other issues in this country, is this is dominated by big corporate interests, and money rules Washington rather than people. So we have to really recognize this as part of the issue of whether or not we have a legitimate democratic government or whether we–a government that’s ruled by money. And I think that’s the big issue.
On this issue’s specifics, I would say I’d much rather see us treat the internet as a public good, as a public service, rather than as a profit center for investors and for big corporations. I think–you know, the internet was invented by the United States. U.S. tax dollars funded the research and have continued to fund the research to improve the technology. We’ve given these corporations near-monopoly, in some cities monopoly status. We’ve given them power to go on rights of way of government public lands so they can put their lines in and such. So they’re getting a lot of benefit from the taxpayers and from the government. So they need to recognize that their job is to be a public service.
Now, even though the United States invented the internet and has spent so much money to improve it, our service is actually more expensive and slower than many other countries.
DESVARIEUX: But then you’re going to get those people who are going to say it’s going to get even slower if you put it in the public domain, because, you know, it’s like the DMV syndrome. Like, oh, I’m going to have to be waiting and I don’t know when it’s going to–.
ZEESE: Well, the DMV’s got a lot better at healing their problems.
But if you want to compare the Post Office to Federal Express, you’ll see the cost benefit there. The Post Office is actually less expensive and very reliable. They go to any part of the country. They–even the most rural area gets covered. The thing about you, if you make this into a public service, what changes is the goal is provide public service. When it becomes corporate-dominated, the goal is make profit, make profit for your shareholders, make big salaries for your executives. That comes first. And that’s why they’re not investing in the faster lines, that’s why the prices are too high, because they’re not–they want to keep the profit and invest as minimal as they can, just enough to keep their client base. So that’s the choice we have. Do you want a profit-driven system that serves the interests of investors? Or do you want a public-driven system that serves the public interest? And that really comes down to the choice.
And we’re seeing, by the way, around the country at the local level more and more municipalities and rural areas are starting to form up rural cooperatives. They’re starting to form public–.
DESVARIEUX: Which specific cities?
ZEESE: Well, the one that’s–one of the fastest is–Nashville, Tennessee’s is one–has gone totally public. And, essentially, cities that have public utilities, as opposed to private utilities, are much more likely to do it. And so it’s–if you want to to guess where they are, it’s in the cities that have public utilities. In Nashville, they have a public utility, and its internet’s part of that. And it’s one of the fastest–it is the fastest system in the country.
ZEESE: And so we could–you know, so cities can do this on their own. You know, a thousand cities have already done public service internet between anchors institutions–government buildings and schools and hospitals. So they’ve already started to do that, about 1,000. Hundreds and hundreds are starting to do even broader than that and started to actually bring internet in a public way to people’s homes. And that’s really–andf I think that’s where you’ve got to go. We’ve got to open up that so we have more ability for a public service rather than a private profit.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Kevin Zeese, spokesperson for PopularResistance.org, we’ll certainly keep track of this story.
ZEESE: I hope you’ll come down to FCC and check out the scene.
DESVARIEUX: I would love to come check it out in DC, absolutely. Absolutely.
Thanks so much for joining us in-studio.
ZEESE: I’m happy to do it.
KENNEY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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