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A report from NPR’s news program All Things Considered on the federal appeals court decision upholding federal rules on net neutrality gave false equivalence to critics’ claims that net neutrality would “stifle innovation,” even though numerous tech experts and telecom companies have said the opposite. Tech experts have said net neutrality not only promotes competition, but that it also has been the guiding principle behind internet innovation since its inception.
The U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, in a June 14 decision upheld regulations from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classifying the internet as an essential utility that “should be available to all Americans” like telephone services, “rather than a luxury that does not need close government supervision.” The ruling maintains FCC authority to curb potential abuses and to prevent internet providers from blocking or slowing down certain websites while favoring others.
In a report that same day, NPR All Things Considered co-host Kelly McEvers and NPR tech blogger Alina Selyukh engaged in a false equivalency, providing a platform for the views of net neutrality critics while leaving out certain facts. McEvers said, “Critics like Texas Senator Ted Cruz have called the rules Obamacare for the internet,” and Selyukh detailed the telecom industry’s argument that the FCC rules will “stifle innovation, and it will stop them from investing in these really important networks”:
KELLY MCEVERS (HOST): A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., sided with the Obama administration today on its so-called net neutrality rules. They require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally. Critics like Texas Senator Ted Cruz have called the rules “Obamacare for the internet.” NPR's tech blogger, Alina Selyukh, has been following the story and she's with us now.
OK, so what were the arguments in court in this case?
ALINA SELYUKH: Well, as you can imagine, the telecom industry did not like this expansion of authority. Telecom, wireless, cable associations, and then AT&T, CenturyLink and a bunch of smaller broadband providers sued the FCC, arguing that it overstepped its authority. And one of the major arguments they make is that this approach is so outdated that it will stifle innovation and it will stop them from investing in these really important networks.
But neither McEvers nor Selyukh acknowledged that the prevailing opinion is that these arguments are false. Tech experts have called net neutrality the guiding principle that has made the internet successful, Google's director of communications has said the net neutrality rules would promote competition and help the economy, and the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that "there is unlikely to be any negative impact from such regulation on [internet service provider] investment." Furthermore, numerous telecom companies in 2014 told their investors they would continue to improve their networks even under the FCC regulations.
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The Boston Globe says columnist John E. Sununu will no longer write about cable and Internet issues because of his financial conflict of interest. Media Matters criticized the paper after it allowed the former Republican senator to complain about the "unnecessary regulation of the internet" without disclosing he has been paid over $750,000 by broadband interests.
In an August 17 column, Sununu attacked the Obama administration for reaching "ever deeper into the economy, pursuing expensive and unnecessary regulation of the internet, carbon emissions, and even car loans." Sununu serves on the board of directors for Time Warner Cable, and is a paid "honorary co-chair" for Broadband for America, which has been supported by broadband providers and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Dan Kennedy, an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, wrote that Globe Editorial Page Editor Ellen Clegg stated "Sununu has told me he will avoid writing about issues pertaining to cable and internet access because of his seat on the Time Warner Cable board." Clegg reaffirmed that the Globe is "posting bios for our regular freelance op-ed columnists online and linking those bios to their bylines" to provide "more transparency."
She added in her email to Kennedy that Sununu "has also assured me that he will disclose his support of GOP presidential candidate John Kasich in the text of any columns he writes about presidential politics (he is chair of his campaign in New Hampshire.)" Sununu devoted his June 22 column to Donald Trump, writing that he's "running a race where both the chance of winning and the risk of losing are zero." The piece did not note Sununu's ties to Kasich.
Sununu is also an "Adjunct Senior Policy Advisor" for lobbying firm Akin Gump and "advises clients on a wide range of public policy, strategic and regulatory issues" including "policy and regulation." Media Matters has noted that Sununu's Globe columns frequently intersect with Akin Gump's subject areas such as environmental regulation.
The Boston Globe continues to publish columns by former Republican Sen. John E. Sununu that carry massive conflicts of interest. The Globe today allowed Sununu to advocate against "unnecessary regulation" of the Internet and coal power plants without noting his financial ties to those industries.
Sununu wrote in his August 17 column that "Obama's bureaucrats reach ever deeper into the economy, pursuing expensive and unnecessary regulation of the internet." Sununu and the Globe did not disclose that he is the highly-paid honorary co-chair of Broadband for America, an organization whose members have included major broadband providers and has been heavily funded by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Sununu also serves on the board of directors for Time Warner Cable (TWC), which fights Internet regulation. TWC wrote in its 2014 annual report that "'Net neutrality' regulation or legislation could limit TWC's ability to operate its business profitably and to manage its broadband facilities efficiently and could result in increased taxes and fees imposed on TWC." It added that "TWC's business is subject to extensive governmental regulation, which could adversely affect its operations." TWC is merging with Charter Communications, pending regulatory approval.
In his column, Sununu also criticized the Obama administration for environmental regulations, writing that at the "EPA as elsewhere, arrogant leadership and incompetent bureaucracy are a dangerous combination. Today, America's coal plants have never been cleaner, our nuclear plants have never been safer, and the evolution of fracking (a 40-year-old technology) has driven down energy costs to their lowest levels in decades."
Akin Gump, the largest Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, lists Sununu as an "Adjunct Senior Policy Advisor" who "advises clients on a wide range of public policy, strategic and regulatory issues" including "policy and regulation." Akin Gump's policy and regulation page lists subpractices such as "Energy Regulation, Markets and Enforcement," "Environment and Natural Resources," and "Environmental Permitting and Approvals."
Akin Gump's policy and regulation page states that their clients include the coal industry. They write elsewhere in the "environmental litigation" section of their site that "Akin Gump's environmental lawyers remain at the forefront of the defense of coal-fired power plants sued as part of EPA's Utility Enforcement Initiative."
Media Matters previously noted that Sununu has written about issues related to Akin Gump's business practices without disclosing his role in the firm. The Boston Globe told Media Matters in 2012 that Sununu's role with Akin Gump was "very limited" and "We looked into whether he should make some sort of blanket disclosure, but it doesn't seem warranted by the small amount of work he does for the firm."
UPDATE: Reached by phone by Media Matters' Joe Strupp, Editorial Page Editor Ellen Clegg said she's on vacation and hasn't "read this column closely." She said the Globe plans to include online biographical sketches that "should help readers learn more about who the freelance contributors are and opt for more disclosure. They will be able to link to the italicized tagline at the bottom. It's been in the works for some time. Our contract with freelancers requires that they disclose conflicts of interest. We rely on them to push it out. We're going to disclose board memberships and consulting gigs and other paid work as well as books they've written and things like that." She said that "on this particular column, we'll link to the bio sketch when it's up."
Asked how the Globe would address the print edition of columns -- Sununu's column ran in the print edition, according to the Nexis database -- Clegg said she'll "take a look at it" and "we do require that [disclosure] when we think it's warranted."
Fox News, Wall Street Journal, And New York Post Mimic Murdoch By Attacking Google
Three of Rupert Murdoch's largest and most powerful news outlets promoted baseless conspiracy theories that Google is using its alleged "close ties" with the Obama administration to receive favorable treatment and to push its policy agenda. Murdoch has a long history of attacking Google.
On March 24, News Corp's Wall Street Journal reported on the purportedly close ties between the Obama administration and Google after discovering that Google employees have visited the White House multiple times since President Obama took office. The piece went on to allege that Google used its ties with the White House to get favorable action from a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) antitrust probe into the company.
The New York Post (News Corp) went further on March 28 in an article titled "Google controls what we buy, the news we read - and Obama's policies." The article speculated that Google has used its influence and financial contributions to the Obama administration to receive favors including net neutrality regulation, favorable FTC action, and contracts to fix the Affordable Care Act's website. The piece speculated on "what's coming next: politically filtered information."
21st Century Fox's Fox News echoed the New York Post during the March 30 edition of Fox & Friends, with co-host Clayton Morris claiming "the same search engine that controls our news also controls the White House." During the show, Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo claimed that Google was "being investigated, the president dropped it -- net neutrality -- Google wanted the president to go that way." Bartiromo also speculated on whether Google was "editing" the news "to make it more favorable for the president."
But the Wall Street Journal admitted that the "FTC closed its investigation after Google agreed to make voluntary changes to its business practices." And the FTC pushed back critically to the Journal's piece, writing:
The article suggests that a series of disparate and unrelated meetings involving FTC officials and executive branch officials or Google representatives somehow affected the Commission's decision to close the search investigation in early 2013. Not a single fact is offered to substantiate this misleading narrative.
Rupert Murdoch, head of both News Corp and Twenty-First Century Fox, has a history of attacking Google. Murdoch has accused Google of being "piracy leaders," and in 2009 found himself in a war of words against Google and threatened to block his content from the search engine.
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A Fox News Special Report segment attacked new rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure net neutrality, claiming the rules were done in secret and would slow down the Internet. But the FCC received millions of public comments in favor of net neutrality, and experts say the rules will ensure Internet fairness.
Today, the FCC passed "net neutrality" rules, which allows the agency to regulate Internet service as a utility and prohibits "Internet service providers from granting faster access to companies that pay for the privilege."
On the February 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier reported that "the FCC approved sweeping new rules that no member of the public has even seen." Correspondent Peter Doocy called the new regulations a government "power grab" that will result in consumers having slower Internet.
In fact, the public overwhelmingly supports new net neutrality regulations. During the public comment period, the FCC received a record 3.7 million comments on the topic of net neutrality. According to a report by the Sunlight Foundation, fewer than one percent of the first 800,000 public comments were opposed to net neutrality enforcement.
Furthermore, tech experts have called net neutrality the guiding principle that has made the Internet successful. Google's director of communications explained that the new net neutrality rules would promote competition and help the economy. And the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that "there is unlikely to be any negative impact from such regulation on [Internet Service Provider] investment."
Radio host Rush Limbaugh suggested that reports of the recent arrests of three suspected American supporters of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) are actually a ploy by the Obama administration to push net neutrality regulations and a ruse to "ban the sale of bullets."
On February 25, two men were arrested in New York City, along with an accomplice in Florida, charged with "providing support for the Islamic State" according to The New York Times.
During the February 25 edition of his radio program, Limbaugh suggested that the news of the arrests was politically timed to coincide with the FCC's ruling on net neutrality regulations. Limbaugh also described the arrests as a media conspiracy meant to give cover for the government to "ban the sale of bullets," an apparent reference to a proposal by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to limit the availability of ammunition that when fired from a handgun is capable of penetrating body armor worn by law enforcement officers. Listen:
LIMBAUGH: Barack Obama is taking over the Internet today. He's gonna be sued. It's going to have a long shake out period. I mean, it's not gonna cease to operate today the way you're used to it. But the objective is to put it all under the control of government -- and here comes the story how ISIS has sympathizers in New York City. They're in Brooklyn and in all 57 states, and ISIS is using the Internet to recruit terrorists, and the government must have control of the Internet if we are to be safe.
The narrative just happens to magically fit the Democrat Party agenda every day. The narrative in the news media just happens to be exactly what the issues that Barack Obama cares about happen to be. And banning bullets -- what do you bet, when the story breaks, it becomes mainstream that this action, that this stuff we've learned about ISIS operating in New York City -- well, we have to, we have to take extraordinary actions to maintain homeland security. We can't have bullets readily available over-the-counter with ISIS in the country -- 57 states with outposts buying up weapons themselves and ammo. It all happens under the aegis of your safety. It all happens under the claim of making you safe and secure. Because the Democrat Party really cares about you -- and they know they can't ban everybody's guns, but to keep you safe they will ban the sale of bullets.
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Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy pushed a Republican attempt to tar net neutrality when he said that it "could do to the Internet what Obamacare did to the healthcare system," a right-wing attack widely discredited when Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) pushed the idea in November.
During the February 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Peter Doocy reported that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on net neutrality protections for the Internet on February 26. Doocy compared the alleged lack of transparency in the FCC's proposed plans to the Affordable Care Act's passage and claimed, "some critics already calling a slowed down web Obamanet, and their fear is that these changes could do to the internet what Obamacare did to the healthcare system."
This attack echoes right-wing media outlets and Republican lawmakers who pushed the analogy that net neutrality regulations would be like "ObamaCare for the web." In a February 22 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, L. Gordon Crovitz dubbed net neutrality regulations "Obamanet." But the idea behind the term gained popularity after a November tweet sent by Sen. Ted Cruz where he asserted that "'Net Neutrality' is Obamacare for the Internet."
"Net Neutrality" is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
-- Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) November 10, 2014
Cruz was roundly criticized for his misleading attack. Tech blog Gizmodo called Cruz' tweet "disingenuous" and "dangerous." And according to Salon, "Cruz was absurdly wrong on the substance and demonstrated an ignorance of both healthcare and tech policy." Salon did concede however that healthcare and internet service did share some "common features":
Healthcare and Internet service in America do share some common features - specifically, we pay a lot for both, and the product we get in return kinda sucks relative to how much we spend. Head to Europe or Asia and chances are that you'll be able to purchase faster Internet access for far less money than you'd pay here. Also, Internet connections abroad are getting faster and cheaper, while prices and speeds are pretty much staying the same in the U.S.
Click here for more information on net neutrality
The Hill legitimized Republican claims that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs to delay its vote on net neutrality to give the public time to review the idea, ignoring the fact that the agency received nearly 4 million comments -- which overwhelmingly favored net neutrality -- during an open-comment period in 2014.
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The New York Times legitimized a discredited study from the Progressive Policy Institute claiming that net neutrality could cost American consumers up to $15 billion annually -- a claim that has been widely debunked for relying on "fuzzy math" and "significant factual error[s]."
In a February 20 Bits blog, The New York Times reported that a bipartisan group of senators "presented legislation that would permanently ban taxes on high-speed Internet service to American homes," under the Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998.
The Times blog cited research from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) to claim that implementing the stricter net neutrality rules proposed by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to protect consumers from paid prioritization of Internet access would cost "$15 billion a year," and the recently presented bipartisan legislation would lower the cost to $11 billion.
Buried in a single paragraph at the bottom of the blog, the Times noted that FCC spokesperson Kim Hart has asserted Wheeler's plan "'does not raise taxes or fees. Period.'" Left unsaid was the fact that PPI's net neutrality cost estimate has been thoroughly discredited. In a January 16 blog, The Washington Post's Fact Checker shattered PPI's net neutrality cost estimate, awarding the claim that utility-style net neutrality regulation could cost $15 billion "Three Pinnochios," for what it called "significant factual error[s] and/or obvious contradictions." And as the nonpartisan Internet advocacy group Free Press pointed out, PPI's claim is based on a critically flawed methodology that overstates the worst-case scenario tax burden by nearly 75 percent.
Furthermore, Congress passed a moratorium last year banning states from imposing new taxes on internet access through October 2015, regardless of any new FCC regulations.