On October 24th, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly spoke before the Media Institute at their “Free Speech America” Gala. In a speech for the telecom-backed group, O’Rielly delivered exactly what many of the big hitters in the audience would want to hear. He falsely accused, with nothing to back up his claims, municipal networks of posing an “ominous threat to the First Amendment.”
Karl Bode reported on the event, noting that O’Rielly goes on to falsely claim that local governments have or will attempt to limit free speech through municipal networks. Bode immediately addressed the baseless statements and reached out to Christopher, who confirmed that, ”There is no history of municipal networks censoring anyone’s speech.” Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica also wrote a well-reasoned article reminding readers that O’Rielly previously called rules to protect against censorshop by ISPs “baseless fearmongering.” Huh… that sounds right.
Apparently, the impressionable O’Rielly had been reading up before his speech and had just put down a copy of a document from the Free State Foundation, an organization funded in part by deep pocketed ISPs. The document implied that community networks would be more likely to interfere with free speech. Such is the disinformation game.
The American Civil Liberties Union has addressed this concern in the past because they oppose any efforts to censor speech, whether by government or corporations. In their paper on municipal broadband networks, they wrote:
And indeed, First Amendment principles prevent the government from targeting certain ideas or viewpoints for censorship or reduced access. Governments risk violating the Constitution if they create blacklists of disfavored websites, only permit access to “approved” websites, engage in content filtering, or ban anonymous online browsing or writing.
Subscribers living in communities with publicly owned networks often boast about how satisfied they are with their connectivity, customer service, and the benefits their networks have brought. Big ISPs and the officials they support struggle to find negative things to say about publicly owned networks. As a result, they find themselves relying on false and misleading statements to paint munis with a dark brush.
Bode also noted that publicly owned networks are accountable to subscribers and the local communities they serve, reliable, and have been rated higher than most of the large private sector national ISPs, such as Comcast, AT&T, and CenturyLink.
Christopher scoffed at O’Rielly’s statements and elaborate:
O’Rielly gets it totally backwards. Municipal networks are far less likely to censor because they are prohibited from doing so under the First Amendment. Further, because they are accountable to the community, any efforts to violate freedom of speech would likely result in new leadership for the city following the next election. In contrast, big monopolies like AT&T and Comcast Xfinity are not limited by the first amendment and have very limited accountability if they limit freedom of speech.