The leftist group Free Press, which has been pressing the Obama Administration and the Federal Communications Commission to impose stiff regulations on the Internet, celebrated the announcement Thursday that the FCC had ended its weeks-long negotiations with a group of companies like AT&T, Google and the cable TV association. The negotiations ended with no agreement, and it appears now that the FCC will attempt to impose Internet regulations on its own, despite warnings from Congress that it does not have the authority to do so.
The meetings were an attempt by the FCC to get broad agreement from many of the players they regulate on a set of so-called "net neutrality" policies. Such an agreement, which most likely would have had to be put in place via Congressional action, would have given the FCC the authority to regulate broadband and wireless networks that connect to the Internet, but under a far narrower set of regulatory rules that would have been agreeable to those companies that operate broadband networks or Internet sites.
In a statement, Free Press said: "We welcome the FCC's decision to end its backroom meetings. Phones have been ringing off the hook and e-mail inboxes overflowing at the FCC, as an outraged public learned about the closed-door deal-making and saw the biggest players trying to carve up the Internet for themselves. We're relieved to see that the FCC now apparently finds dangerous side deals from companies like Verizon and Google to be distasteful and unproductive."
The only problem with that statement, it turns out, is that Free Press was part of those "backroom meetings" and at the time the FCC negotiations were canceled, Free Press officials were actually holding a private meeting with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in his office.
Free Press, which was founded by Marxist Robert McChesney, and is run by well-known political activist Josh Silver, is a founding member of the Open Internet Coalition. The OIC's executive director, Markham Erickson, had a seat at the table during every negotiating session held by the FCC.
"Silver and Free Press knew more about what was going on behind closed doors at the FCC than the two Republican commissioners of the FCC," says an FCC official. "They had Erickson telling them everything that was going on, which company was proposing what. We assumed given Markham's hardline negotiations that he was doing Free Press's bidding in the meetings."
According to FCC sources, Genachowski chief of staff Edward "Eddie" Lazarus, who chaired the negotiations, at several points believed he had brought the negotiating parties close enough that an overarching policy framework was achievable. "But every time we thought we had agreement, Markham came up with some other complaint or issue. It was absolutely maddening," says the FCC source. "Even the Google folks were unhappy with the proceedings, and they generally support guys like Markham."
Free Pres, however, took pride in derailing the negotiations, sending out a fundraising appeal to its membership after taking credit for scuttling the talks.
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