On Speaking FreelyAn open Internet figures into regulators’ speech calculations 10/25/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Last week was National Freedom of Speech Week, the goal of
which is to put a spotlight on what that freedom means both to
individuals and the nation.
B&C asked that question of the top officials at the FCC, the five regulators
faced with the challenge of overseeing the most powerful communications
media in history.
Not surprisingly, an open Internet, which the ACLU last week called
one of the key First Amendment issues of our time, figured prominently
among the answers.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski: I am a
passionate believer in the importance of the First
Amendment and a free and vibrant marketplace
of ideas. So much of what we do in encouraging
competition, encouraging innovation and encouraging
the spread of knowledge is deeply consistent
with First Amendment principles.
One of my great inspirations on the First Amendment
is Fred Friendly. I had the privilege of working
for Fred Friendly in the 1980s, and he was a
living, breathing, fiery embodiment of First Amendment principles. He
lived [them] as Ed Murrow’s producer and as president of CBS News.
One of the most fortunate things to happen to me was to be in a position
to work for Fred Friendly and learn from someone like him about the
importance of the First Amendment in a Democratic society.
Commissioner Robert McDowell: In 1787, the
framers of the Constitution faced a classic legislative
dilemma: They couldn’t attract enough support
for their proposed new law, as originally written,
to propel it smoothly through ratifi cation. Many
patriots who generally supported the concept for a
stronger national government still hesitated to vote
for the Constitution because the first draft provided
no explicit protections for individual rights. Having
just won a war against government tyranny, they
were wary of recreating the very ills that had sparked the Revolution—the
ills against which so many individual Americans had risked their lives,
fortunes and sacred honor to overcome. And so the Bill Rights was added
to the Constitution in 1789 as a plain-English guarantee that individual
liberties, including the freedom of speech, would stand strong as well.
Two hundred twenty-one years later, our daily challenges are different,
but the constitutional principles remain the same. The First Amendment
begins with the phrase “Congress shall make no law” for a reason. It was intended, and functions, as a safeguard against the state trampling on the
rights of individuals to think and speak freely.
Commissioner Michael Copps: Freedom of
speech is the cornerstone of our democracy. But
it endures only if people fi ght for it, generation by
generation. That challenge confronts us once again
now. As we enter this new digital century, we must
take extra care that the tools of new technology
support, rather than subvert, freedom of speech.
The Open Internet is clearly a freedom of speech
issue. The ability to go anywhere online, communicate
with anyone, and not be prevented from viewing
any legal content is key to sustaining freedom of speech in the digital world.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn: This week’s celebration
of our nation’s freedom of speech highlights
a fundamental civil liberty that our forefathers, with
profound foresight, preserved under the First Amendment.
They may have originally envisioned that freedom
of speech principles protected a lone individual’s
expressions in a town square, but today the Internet
and other technological advancements provide the
ability to connect people all over the globe—transforming
that town square into a world square. Our
public debates are now more dynamic, interactive and expansive.
Thus, as we face new challenges in the 21st Century, it is important that
we ensure our world square affords the same protections as those envisioned
for that lone individual. Just as any person should be able to walk
into a town square and engage in public discourse, that same individual
should have the ability to enter and participate electronically within the
world square. The first step to achieve this goal is to ensure that all groups
have the ability to gain access to these emerging platforms.
Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker: In my
capacity as an FCC commissioner, the freedom
of speech is a consistent and powerful reminder
of the need for public officials to respect the First
Amendment rights of speakers, many of which
are our licensees. When we consider regulation—
whether it be broadcast regulation, net neutrality,
or online video rules—we must always be vigilant
that our efforts do not impinge on our core constitutional
protections and recognize the broader
impact of our actions, particularly for those living abroad without the
protections of the First Amendment we too often take for granted.