Michigan Catholic Conference Urges Support for Net Neutrality
Measures Needed to Protect Internet-Based Religious Speech
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(LANSING)—With broadcast stations owned by a handful of corporations that marginalize public interest programs in favor of profitable entertainment, the Internet has become a significant catalyst for messages of faith and values, the Michigan Catholic Conference today explained in a letter sent to all members of the Michigan Senate. As the chamber prepares to deliberate measures deregulating the cable television market, the Conference is urging members to ensure “net neutrality” protections are included with the legislation in order to safeguard Internet-based religious speech.
According to the letter, sent by Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy Paul A. Long: “If the Internet becomes, as it inevitably will without strong protections for net neutrality, a medium where speakers must pay to deliver their messages, religious speech will be effectively barred from the Internet.”
New rules from the Federal Communications Commission that allow Internet service providers to control speech by speeding up or slowing down access to websites threaten to place an unreasonable price on such communication. Presently, any company providing high-speed access can require Internet content providers to pay fees for “premium service,” while those who do not pay are left with slower, second-class service. This would have severe ramifications as non-profit and religious based organizations that utilize Podcasting and streaming video, for example, would be faced with snail’s pace downloads that dissuade listeners and viewers.
“As you know, the Internet is an indispensable medium and was constructed without the editorial control functions of radio or broadcast and cable television,” reads the Conference’s letter to Senate members. “The Internet is open to any speaker, commercial or noncommercial, whether or not the speech is connected financially to the company providing Internet access, whether it is popular or prophetic. Those characteristics make the Internet critical to non-profit and religious speakers.”
House Bill 6456, which currently lacks net neutrality protections, will be addressed by the full Senate tomorrow. The entire text of Mr. Long’s letter to the Senate regarding net neutrality may be read below.
TO: Members of the Michigan Senate FROM: Paul A. Long, Vice President, Public Policy RE: Protecting Religious Speech with Net Neutrality DATE: 11 December 2006
Tomorrow the full Senate is expected to deliberate legislation that addresses cable deregulation, yet does not include provisions for “net neutrality.” As you know, net neutrality ensures that those who control the infrastructure connecting people to the Internet do not interfere with the content distributed on the Internet.
Unless there are protections in place against Internet access providers’ control over content, noncommercial religious speech is threatened.
House Bill 6456 lacks net neutrality protections. Those protections have particular importance for religious organizations which must rely on the Internet to convey information on matters of faith and on the services they provide to the general public. The Internet is an indispensable medium and was constructed without the editorial control functions of radio and broadcast or cable television. It is open to any speaker, commercial or noncommercial, whether or not the speech is connected financially to the company providing Internet access, whether it is popular or prophetic. Those characteristics make the web critical to noncommercial religious speakers.
Unless House Bill 6456 requires companies to act as neutral providers of Internet access, as they had been required to do since the birth and through the spectacular growth of the Internet, those companies will use their control over access to speed up or down connections to Web sites for financial benefit. How can spiritually based Podcasts or streaming video of religious programming that downloads at a snail’s pace attract listeners or viewers?
The Internet is a critical catalyst for religious speech. Radio, broadcast and cable television are, in large part, closed to religious messages. Years of deregulation and growing consolidation of the media industry have inevitably led to a hostile environment for noncommercial religious voices in broadcasting, whether in the form of programs on religious themes, news coverage of religious events, or local public affairs programs featuring representatives of local religious organizations. If the Internet becomes, as it inevitably will without strong protections for net neutrality, a medium where speakers must pay to deliver their messages, religious speech will be effectively barred from the Internet.
I urge your support for net neutrality provisions to be included with House Bill 6456.
Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.