USCCB: Retain open internet 'by strongest legal authority available'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Susanna Bates, EPA

By Mark Pattison

(CNS) — In comments delivered July 17 to the Federal Communications
Commission, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the FCC to use
“the strongest legal authority available” to “retain open
internet regulations.”

current regulations, adopted in 2015 by a Democratic-majority FCC, treat the internet as a utility. A prior FCC effort to regulate the internet as a
communication service did not stand up to judicial scrutiny. The regulations are
now under review by a Republican-led FCC. The concept of an open internet has
long been called “net neutrality,” in which internet service
providers neither favor nor discriminate against internet users or websites.

USCCB is “concerned that the FCC is contemplating eliminating current
regulations limiting the manner by which the companies controlling the
infrastructure connect people to the internet,” said USCCB assistant general
counsel Katherine Grincewich.

the current strong open internet regulations, including prohibitions on paid
prioritization, the public has no effective recourse against internet service
providers’ interference with accessibility to content,” Grincewich said.

will be uncertainty about how and whether those companies can block, speed up
or slow down access to internet content, and nonprofit religious entities will
be relegated to an internet slow lane,” she added. “Since public
interest noncommercial — including religious — programming is a low priority
for broadcasters and cable companies, the internet is one of the few mediums
available to churches and religious groups to communicate their messages and
the values fundamental to the fabric of our communities.”

noted, “Without protections to prohibit internet providers from tampering
with content delivery on the internet, the fundamental attributes of the
internet, in which users have unfettered access to content and capacity to
provide content to others, are jeopardized.” Such protections, she added,
“have particular importance” for those “committed to religious principles” who depend on the internet to convey
to the public information “on matters of faith” and on the services provided to the public by those organizations or individuals.

internet is an indispensable medium for Catholics — and others with principled
values — to convey views on matters of public concern and religious
teachings,” Grincewich said.

internet was constructed as a unique medium without the editorial control
functions of broadcast television, radio or cable television. The internet is
open to any speaker, commercial or noncommercial, whether or not the speech is
connected financially to the company priding internet access or whether it is
popular or prophetic These characteristics make the internet critical to
noncommercial religious speakers.”

added, “Just as importantly, the internet is increasingly the preferred
method for the disenfranchised and vulnerable — the poor that the church
professes a fundamental preference toward — to access services, including educational
and vocational opportunities to improve their lives and their children’s lives.”

USCCB “also supports the rights of parents to protect their children from
pornography,” one consequence of an open internet, Grincewich said.
“The means of protecting children from such material is available to
parents,” she added, “without ceding it to companies providing
internet access.”

In the
USCCB’s filing, Grincewich noted how Pope Benedict XVI warned against the “distortion
that occurs when the media industry becomes self-serving or solely
profit-driven, losing the sense of accountability to the common good,”
which the pope said in this 2006 World Day of Communication message.

a public service, social communication requires a spirit of cooperation and
co-responsibility with vigorous accountability of the use of public resources
and the performance of roles of public trust,” Pope Benedict said,
“including recourse to regulatory standards and other measure or
structures designed to affect this goal.”

Grincewich also noted Pope Francis has called the digital world “a public square” and said the internet “can help us be better citizens.”

An online
“day of action” July 12 on net neutrality issues resulted in a
reported 2 million comments on the FCC proposal being sent online to the FCC.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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