FCC Commissioner Michael Copps on Pearl Jam

by: Matt Stoller

Fri Aug 17, 2007 at 10:01

Here's part two of my interview with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.  In this clip, Copps discusses the Pearl Jam censorship incident in the context of net neutrality.  He points out that without net neutrality protections, there is nothing stopping AT&T from engaging in political censorship over the internet at large, and that network companies are only on their 'best behavior' because of the large public debate over net neutrality.

The transcript is below.

Matt Stoller :: FCC Commissioner Michael Copps on Pearl Jam
Matt Stoller: A lot of people these days are talking about AT&T's censorship of Pearl Jam's political speech at their recent concert.  And when people heard of it, a lot of people thought of the fight over net neutrality because in both areas AT&T wants to give itself the role of gatekeeper of political speech.  I'm wondering what lessons can be learned from the Pearl Jam incident about the dangers of letting companies like AT&T be the gatekeepers of political speech or if you're concerned about that at all?

Michael Copps: I am concerned and the best lesson they can learn  is exactly the connection you've talked about.  Events like this are connected to the larger issue of network neutrality so it is very very important.  I think you're dealing here with a technology that's perhaps the most dynamic and liberating maybe in all of human history with the internet and our challenge is to keep that open and accessible to folks and running in a neutral fashion and to avoid those who may be in control of the distribution of that technology from also controlling the content on it.  So when something like the episode occurs with Pearl Jam that you're referencing that ought to concern all of us.  It ought to concern us whether we're liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, young or old, because if you can do it for one group you can do it to any group and say well it's not intentional and things like that.  But nobody should have that power to do that and then be able to exercise distributive, control over the distribution and control over the content too. 

Matt Stoller: Is there anything preventing a company like AT&T from doing this to content generally or generically on the internet?

Michael Copps: Well not really.  We have to have some guarantees for how this technology is going to be utilized.  Keeping it open, keeping it accessible to everyone.  That doesn't imply any excessive governmental control over anything, it just means having some rules of the road to ensure it remains that small 'd' democratic platform that it has become.  We are seriously in danger of going down another road and it seems to me if you look back over history, if you have the power, the technology to do something, and you have a commercial or business incentive to do it, you can be damn sure someone's going to try it somewhere down the line.  That's what we're seeing here.  And I think also that had we not had this debate over network neutrality that you'd probably be seeing a lot more of this.  I think some of these companies have been on better behavior than they might otherwise have been.  But you know, if they ever got the green light where we're never going to have network neutrality then I think our problems will really proliferate.

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