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Respecting the Individual.

Net Neutrality

December 26th, 2017


I will be filing a lawsuit with some of my colleagues from other states asking the court to overturn the Federal Communication Commission’s repeal of the “net neutrality” rules that guarantee a free and open internet.  Net neutrality is essential for consumers and an informed electorate.


Background.  The internet is an important part of daily life.  Each day, tens of millions of Americans go online to shop, communicate, work, and stay informed.  

For years, we have counted on a free and open internet—where service providers don’t get to dictate the online content that reaches our homes and workplaces.  In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reinforced these expectations with “net neutrality” regulations[1]


The net neutrality rules say that all internet traffic should be treated equally by internet companies.  The rules prohibited internet companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon from blocking or slowing down online content or creating “fast lanes” for companies that pay them money.  In 2016, the courts upheld the legality of these rules[2].  


Earlier this month, the FCC—led by a former Verizon attorney—voted 3-2 to repeal the net neutrality rules for internet providers[3]. Public reports indicate that as many as 2 million comments filed with the FCC ostensibly in support of net neutrality repeal may have been submitted using stolen identities[4], with as many as 500,000 fake comments reportedly linked to Russian addresses[5].  The Pew Research Center found that 94 percent of these comments were submitted multiple times and that the name of the commentator was “The Internet” 7,400 times[6].


Net neutrality matters.  Without net neutrality, broadband companies are free to block content they don’t want you to see, to slow it down and make it harder to access, or to prioritize content based on who pays them money.  Mega corporations can dominate the content people see online by paying money to obtain faster speeds.  This will make it more difficult and more expensive for consumers to access the content they want.  Many commentators predict that internet companies will adopt the business model of the cable companies, which charge consumers more to access popular programs.


But this isn’t just a consumer protection issue—it’s a democracy protection issue too.  Tens of millions of Americans now get at least some of their news online.  We see corporate conglomerates buy up media companies.  AT&T has announced plans to buy Time Warner, which operates CNN[7], and the Koch Brothers are bankrolling an acquisition of TimeMagazine[8].  Without net neutrality, internet companies can control what content to make prominent or to obscure, including by promoting sites they own or favor.  This will influence the information to which voters and the public have access and will impact elections.  Think of the role the internet played in the Arab Spring.


Next Steps.  Senator Al Franken deserves enormous credit for his bulldog defense of equal access to the internet.  In the face of lawsuits like ours to stop the repeal of net neutrality, many people believe that Congress might try to pass a law next year to cement the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality.  If you share my concerns, I hope you will consider contacting your members of Congressto let them know that you support an internet that is free, fair, open, and accessible by everyone.
 

[1]https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/13/technology/fcc-releases-net-neutrality-rules.html.

[2]https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/14/471286113/u-s-appeals-court-holds-up-net-neutrality-rules-in-full.

[3]https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/14/technology/net-neutrality-repeal-vote.html.

[4]https://www.wsj.com/articles/millions-of-people-post-comments-on-federal-regulations-many-are-fake-1513099188.

[5]https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-29/fake-views-444-938-russian-emails-among-suspect-comments-to-fcc.

[6]http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/11/29/public-comments-to-the-federal-communications-commission-about-net-neutrality-contain-many-inaccuracies-and-duplicates/.

[7]http://about.att.com/story/att_to_acquire_time_warner.html.

[8]http://money.cnn.com/2017/11/27/media/koch-brothers-time-inc-investment/index.html.


We're Not in Kansas Anymore.

August 9th, 2017


I write about the attacks on civil rights.


The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice was created 60 years ago.  Since 1957, it has been the tip of the spear in taking action against discriminatory practices, from schools to hate crimes, from housing to lending, from employment to elections.  It has attacked human trafficking and ensured access to clinics and voting booths.  It has stood up for people with disabilities.


In short, its mission has been to give equal protection under the law and be a shield against exploitation, discrimination, and violence.  While the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sets civil rights policy, it is the U.S. Department of Justice that is the watchdog on patrol.


We are now in the midst of an unprecedented culture war, where different groups of Americans are singled out for attack.  Over the past six months, we have seen Muslims singled out for a travel ban, millions of voters accused of fraud, transgender soldiers told they are not worthy of service, roll backs in policies to stop campus sexual assaults, and police encouraged to mistreat suspects.  The list goes on and on.


Last week it was announced that the U.S. Department of Justice will focus its energy on attacking college affirmative action policies as being discriminatory against white people[1].  This policy turns the DOJ’s mission upside down.


The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office does not have jurisdiction to prosecute civil rights litigation.  This jurisdiction is delegated to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which does a fine job of mediating complaints and setting policy on civil rights matters.  But changes at the federal level demand that the states take more initiative. 


Even though my office does not have jurisdiction to initiate civil rights litigation, we have tried to exert our influence where consistent with state policy; for example, some of our actions include:

  • Filed a friend-of-the-court brief with U.S. Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriagerights.[2](The court singled out language in our brief about the need to overturn Baker v. Nelson.)
  • Filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of setting legislative districts based on “one person-one vote” (as opposed to just counting “eligible voters.”)[3]
  • Filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of disabled childrenbeing able to bring service dogs to school.[4]
  • Filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to oppose corporate contributionsdrowning out the voices of regular people in political campaigns.[5]
  • Filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that contraceptionby included in health policies.[6]
  • Filed an amicus brief with the federal Court of Appeals to prohibit inmates from being charged up to $14 per minute for prison phone calls.[7]

I have also joined several other attorneys general in letters and briefs that:

  • Ask Congress not to slash funding for legal aid.
  • Ask the President not to rescind protections to DACA children(including over 800,000 people who were brought to the United States as children and have no connection to their home country.)
  • Ask U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos not to roll back policies to curb campus sexual assaults.
  • Ask Congress to block the President’s banishment of transgender soldiers

There was one case where I did have jurisdiction to file a lawsuit involving individual rights, and that was the travel ban.  I was one of only two attorneys general to file the initial successful lawsuit.  I had jurisdiction on the basis that the state government owned universities that had students with visas and employed people who held visas.[8] 


I believe that the state legislature should establish and fund a state Office of Civil Rights.  This authority may have been redundant over the 70 years of US DOJ involvement in this arena.  Given the recent attacks on groups of people based on who they are, and given the apparent changes in the mission of the US DOJ, I would like to see such an office created and funded. 


If you think this idea has merit, please bring the issue up with your legislators.  No matter what office I hold, I will support the establishment of this office.


[1]https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/us/politics/trump-affirmative-action-universities.html

[2]https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/BriefsV5/14-556_amicus_pet_Minnesota.authcheckdam.pdf

[3]https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/briefs_2015_2016/14-940_amicus_appellees_States.authcheckdam.pdf

[4]http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/15-497-amicus-petitioner-illinois-minnesota.pdf

[5]https://transition.fec.gov/law/litigation/citizens_united_sc_08_tsac_facmontana.pdf

[6]https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/briefs_2015_2016/14-1418_amicus_resp_California.authcheckdam.pdf

[7]https://www.prisonphonejustice.org/media/briefbank/GTL v. FCC%2C DC%2C Amicus Brief Support of State Respondents%2C telephone rates%2C 2016.pdf

[8]http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-suing-trump-administration-over-refugee-order/412498373/