The Internet is “a critical medium for religious speech” and there should be legislation in place to prevent Internet-access providers from interfering with Web content, said Bishop Gerald Kicanas in a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Unless there are in place protections against Internet-access providers’ control over content, noncommercial religious speech on the Internet is threatened,” said the bishop in his May 23 letter. Bishop Kicanas serves as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Communications Committee.
Bishop Kicanas urged that such protections, termed “net neutrality requirements,” be included in the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act. As approved by the House Subcommittee, the bill lacks net neutrality protections.
“Those protections have particular importance for religious organizations which must rely on the Internet to convey information on matters of faith and on the services they provide to the public,” Bishop Kicanas said.
“The Internet was constructed as a unique medium without the editorial control functions of broadcast television, radio or cable television,” he wrote. “That open environment, however, is threatened by a lack of response by Congress to the recent decision by the FCC to end the decades-old regulatory regime which fostered the unique freedom and openness of the Internet.
“When the FCC classified cable broadband service (and later telephone broadband) as an ‘information’ service, it ended more than 30 years of regulation that prohibited companies, which control the infrastructure connecting people to the Internet, from interfering with the content distributed on the Internet.
“Unless Congress requires telephone and cable companies to act as neutral providers of Internet access … those companies will use their control over Internet access to speed up or slow down connections to websites to benefit themselves financially,” the bishop warned.
At the present time, radio, broadcast television and cable television are largely closed to religious messages, Bishop Kicanas noted.
“Years of deregulation and growing consolidation of the media industry have inevitably led to a hostile environment for noncommercial religious voices in broadcasting,” he observed.
“If the Internet becomes, as it inevitably will without strong protections for net neutrality, a medium where speakers must pay to deliver their messages, religious speech will be effectively barred from the Internet,” he warned.