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Consumer advocates say net neutrality ruling could turn Internet into another version of cable television

Free Press, a strong supporter of net neutrality and the organizer of a campaign that put millions of petition signatures before the FCC, expressed deep disappointment in both President Obama and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

“The chairman chose to ignore the overwhelming public support for real net neutrality, instead moving forward with industry-written rules that will for the first time in Internet history allow discrimination online,” said Craig Aaron, the Free Press’s managing director. “This proceeding was a squandered opportunity to enact clear, meaningful rules to safeguard the Internet’s level playing field and protect consumers.”

Aaron said the new rules are riddled with loopholes, evidence that the chairman sought approval from AT&T instead of listening to the millions of Americans who asked for real net neutrality. “These rules don’t do enough to stop the phone and cable companies from dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes, and they fail to protect wireless users from discrimination,” he said.

Democrats, including Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota, slammed the new rules. In an op-ed article, Franken wrote that, “The rules are woefully inadequate to protect the public from the predations of an industry keen on turning the Internet into a cyber-version of cable TV, with tiers and premium packages affordable by the wealthy.” He termed the issue “the most important free speech issue of our time.”

Most troubling of all, Franken said, is that “Chairman Genachowski and President Obama — who nominated him — have argued convincingly that they support net neutrality. But grassroots supporters of net neutrality are beginning to wonder if we’ve been had.”

No FCC chairman, Franken said, should be soliciting sign-offs from the corporations that his agency is supposed to regulate — and no true advocate of a free and open Internet should be seeking the permission of large media conglomerates before issuing new rules.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak wrote an open letter to the FCC noting, ���The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created.” But those freedoms, he said, are being chipped away.

“Please, I beg you, open your senses to the will of the people to keep the Internet as free as possible,” Wozniak wrote. “Local ISPs should provide connection to the Internet but then it should be treated as though you own those wires and can choose what to do with them when and how you want to, as long as you don’t destruct them.

“I don’t want to feel that whichever content supplier had the best government connections or paid the most money determined what I can watch and for how much,” Wozniak continued. “This is the monopolistic approach and not representative of a truly free market in the case of today’s Internet.”

Even Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps — long a strong supporter of net neutrality — took heat, though he said he opposed much of what he voted for. “While I cannot vote wholeheartedly to approve the item, I will not block it by voting against it,” Copps said.

However, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an advocacy group that supports net neutrality, instantly launched a fusillade against Copps after the vote.

PCCC Senior Online Campaigns Director Jason Rosenbaum said Internet users across America have lost a hero in Copps, who, he said, “caved” and supported Genachowski’s “fake net neutrality” rules.