Zephyr Teachout, the progressive candidate who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo in this year’s Democratic Party primary, joined a chorus of activists outside City Hall on Monday in warning that the possible merger of cable giants Comcast and Time Warner, as well as proposed regulations to weaken net neutrality laws, would turn over control of the Internet to a handful of corporations.
Speaking into a megaphone, Teachout told the people gathered outside City Hall that the future of the web had become a “kitchen table issue” for New Yorkers she met during her campaign. She made a strong showing in her challenge to Cuomo earlier this month, garnering 34 percent of the vote.
“From now on, you should not be able to be a politician in New York State, let alone in this country, who does not take a strong, clear stand against the Comcast/Time Warner merger and in favor of net neutrality,” she said. “Politicians have an opportunity to take the lead against big cable and I’ll tell you, it’s a big opportunity.”
The rally, which was organized by advocacy groups Common Cause and Free Press, coincided with other protests taking place in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. It was also the last day that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) accepted public comments about new rules that would allow broadband providers, like Comcast or Verizon, to charge websites more money in exchange for faster service.
Advocates of net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, argue that the FCC’s new rules would allow cable companies to create fast and slow lanes and would only benefit businesses that could afford to pay the higher fees. The issue generated 3.7 million public comments to the FCC, most of them opposing weakening net neutrality.
Teachout told The Indypendent that New Yorkers understand that greater corporate power over the Internet was not how a vibrant marketplace was supposed to work and that it could impact the small businesses that characterize their state. She said New York has a long history of opposing big monopolies and pointed out that Presidents Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, both New York politicians, were instrumental in breaking up the robber barons of the early 20th century.
“We need to reintroduce anti-trust, anti-monopoly into politics and that’s true in cable, banks, big agriculture. In our society, we have a real crisis of consolidation,” she said. “And the fight right now is against Comcast and Time Warner. It’s an extraordinary consolidation of power that is not justified by any public interest.”
Earlier this year, Cuomo signed a law that instructed the state’s Public Service Commission to allow the merger only if the companies could prove it was in the public interest. A decision not to allow the merger in New York could torpedo the deal. The protestors outside City Hall, however, urged Cuomo and other city and state officials to immediately stop the merger, which would give the companies control over a third of the U.S. cable market.
“The Internet is absolutely essential for business and political communications in today’s world,” said Susan Lerner, executive director for Common Cause New York. “It shouldn’t be dominated by a small number of behemoth corporations whose sole purpose is too squeeze out as much profit from ordinary Americans as they can.”
Women’s rights activist and executive director of Women in Media & News Jennifer Pozner said that net neutrality was an issue of life and death for women and people of color. She highlighted the role of social media in drawing attention to the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the culture of misogyny involved in the Isla Vista shooting spree earlier this summer.
“That genie gets put back in the bottle right quick, let me tell you, if we don’t have open, equal access to the Internet for activist voices and for independent media voices,” she said.
Teachout’s running mate, Columbia law school professor Tim Wu, who coined the term net neutrality in a 2003 academic paper, was also present at the rally. He said that Americans were speaking out in favor of net neutrality because they understand that “some parts of the public sector are just too basic to be divided between the haves and the have-nots.”
Wu later told The Indypendent that technology is the golden goose of the American economy and that net neutrality laws have served to encourage innovation and growth in the industry.
“The Internet has reinvented the idea that America is really the world’s center of online innovation and I don’t know why we would do anything to get in the way of that,” he said.