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Will Henry Waxman sell out the Internet to big corporations? Worse than Google/Verizon?

Press reports are circulating that the Democratic Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman from California, is preparing to introduce legislation that would — if press reports are to be believed — give the Internet over to corporate control and kill free speech online.

Reportedly, the bill would be even worse than the backroom deal Google made with Verizon last month (emphasis added):

According to Hill sources who were not authorized to speak publicly, the committee staffers have gained momentum in recent days on a narrow proposal that would give the FCC authority for two years to enforce its four open Internet principles.

But discussions have moved away from rules against paid “managed services” – where a company can pay for prioritization on a network – and a rule against discrimination. A provision that would include wireless services is still being hotly debated, according to one source. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have vocally opposed legislation that doesn’t pertain to mobile technology networks.

The talks could still fall apart, though lawmakers hope to get a bill together by next week to make it available for vote in his Congressional session.

“This would be a big win for the Bells and cable,” wrote Rebecca Arbogast, head of tech policy research at Stifel Nicholaus. “The strategy appears to reflect a strong stance by House Republicans, and an effort by the Democrats to obtain a minimum level of protection that would get the support of both the Republicans and Democrats.”

Why is Henry Waxman, a champion for progressive causes in the past, driving this awful legislation? According to sources I’ve spoken with, the forces behind a bill like this think this is the "best they can get" and the goal is to "avoid a fight" over Internet freedom.

Only in the hallways of Congress is a "fight" to protect the First Amendment of the Internet controversial or undesirable. Outside of Washington, DC, voters love the Internet that has been governed by Net Neutrality since its inception, until recently challenged by phone and cable companies that are willing kill free speech and innovation online in order to make a buck. There’s no excuse for someone like Waxman to do anything other than unabashedly fight for the people.

In fact, there is no need for Congress to pass legislation dealing with Net Neutrality right now at all. All that needs to be done to protect the Internet is for the FCC to assert its authority. Despite declaring exactly one year ago his intention to uphold President Obama’s campaign promise and enforce Net Neutrality, Obama FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has done nothing, showing his cowardice and embarrassing the President who put him on the job.

Waxman’s rumored bill is worse than a solution in search of a problem, however. The last thing Democrats need going into an election season where the majority of the electorate wants leaders who will challenge corporate control of Washington is a bill that sells out the Internet to the highest corporate bidder.

As recently as September, 2009, Rep. Waxman stood up for the free and open Internet. Now he may be planning to preemptively cede control of the House to Republicans and give their corporate masters everything they want.

We’ve seen what happens when industry writes their own rules (see: Wall Street, BP). We’ve seen what happens when they are allowed to discriminate (see: Comcast blocking legal traffic, Verizon censoring NARAL’s pro-choice messages). And we’ve seen how the public reacts to corporations proposing to take over the Internet (see: Verizon/Google backlash). We need to protect the Internet, not sell out to the big corporations.

The PCCC is fighting against the Google/Verizon deal and for the free and open Internet. We believe there’s still hope for Waxman to clear the air, dispel the rumors, and stand up for the values we share. Today, we’re calling on progressives who value their free speech online to make it clear to Rep. Waxman that we want him to do the right thing.

Give Rep. Waxman a call at (202) 225-3976 and (310) 652-3095 and tell him to clear the air and drop any bills that would sell out Internet freedom.

(And join over 300,000 others and sign the PCCC’s petition against Google and Verizon’s sellout.)

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Jason Rosenbaum

Jason Rosenbaum

Writer, musician, activist. Currently consulting for Bill Halter for U.S. Senate and a fellow at the New Organizing Institute.