WASHINGTON – For years, top Catholic bishops have argued for stronger federal oversight of the Internet superhighway. The alternative is intolerable, they said; big cable companies will force noncommercial religious speakers to pay more or assign them to slower lanes.
On Thursday, the bishops saw their dream move one step closer to reality after the Federal Communications Commission voted for strict network neutrality or “open Internet” rules.
Bishop John C. Wester, chairman of the communications committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), endorsed the FCC’s approval in a statement. “From the inception of the Internet until the mid-2000s, Internet service providers were not permitted to discriminate or tamper with what was said over those Internet connections. Today, the FCC restores this protection for speakers, protection particularly important to noncommercial religious speakers,” Bishop Wester, the bishop of Salt Lake City, said in a statement.
Top Catholic bishops feared that without strong federal safeguards, religious speakers would lose their voices on the web. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, a formerchairman of the USCCB communications committee, in 2006 warned that speakers would have to pay and as a result “will be effectively barred from the Internet.”
Despite the bishops’ praise, the National Religious Broadcasters Association blasted the FCC’s ruling. Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of the organization, called the decision a “power grab … Bigger government is not fertile ground for the flourishing of free speech and innovation.”
The FCC vote was split along party lines. The three Democrats on the commission voted for the proposal, while the two Republicans opposed it.