Christian Broadcasters Cite Problems in Net Neutrality

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By Katherine T. Phan, Christian Post Reporter
December 22, 2010|5:20 pm

The nation's largest group of Christian broadcasters anticipate that FCC's passage of "net neutrality" rules will pose problems for communicating the Gospel on the internet and new media technologies.

In a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday passed rules that would allow the agency to regulate how internet service providers manage their networks.

Under net neutrality, internet service providers must provide equal access to all legal Web content on their networks.

That's not such a good idea, Dr. Frank Wright, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, told The Christian Post.

The rules would prevent "tier-pricing," resulting in higher rates for bandwidth used by websites that have more digital-dense content like videos.

"This essentially says that no matter how much data that someone puts into the internet pipeline it can't be favored over somebody else who is putting less data," said Wright. "The industry should have the privilege of pricing the more digitally dense content differently."

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Overregulation could also slow capital investment in the internet and prevent breakthrough innovations such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter that aid NRB member organizations in their mission to spread the Christian message, he added.

"Half of the NRB association are content producers," said Wright. "The radio and television stations are increasingly using the internet as a way of a means of augmenting their terrestrial broadcast platform."

"These questions of whether our content is going be hindered because of lack of capital investment is a real concern to us."

The NRB is also worried that the new regulations will stifle free speech rights.

Although the FCC has yet to release the full text of the rules, key excerpts from the order leaves open the possibility of broadband providers blocking internet access on the basis of "reasonable network management."

Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel of NRB, said Christian content could be at risk for discrimination since there is no explanation of what is considered "reasonable."

"Instead of creating a neutral platform for all comers, a neutral marketplace of all viewpoints, they've actually empowered internet service providers to censor out viewpoints they don't like as long it's 'reasonable network management,'" Parshall told The Christian Post.

He cited recent examples of censorship, including Apple's decision to block the Manhattan Declaration, a document affirming Christian values like traditional marriage. Facebook has also agreed with a gay rights lobby to remove or block anything that opposes homosexuality in certain kinds of ways.

Wright questioned whether the FCC has "legitimate statutory authority" in setting rules over the internet without Congress.

In April, a federal appeals court ruled that the federal communications agency had no legal authority to sanction Comcast for blocking traffic on a file sharing application.

"You can be sure that this regulation will be challenged in court," said Wright.

He said that once the FCC gets started on regulating Web traffic, it will eventually eject itself to control other aspects of the internet like controlling content.

In response to threats of anti-Christian censorship, the NRB recently launched the John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech. The effort will monitor the threats of anti-Christian censorship on new media platforms in both the public and private sectors.

Parshall said he and his team will be making formal reports and recommendations in the coming months on the dangers of these new media platforms and in regards to overregulation of the internet.

He said the only benefit from the FCC's decision is that it is making the public aware of net neutrality.

"It wasn't on the front burner and now it is," said Parshall. "Now the American public will have a dialogue on this issue."

 

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