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Summary:

Net activists have launched a Save the Internet campaign, hoping to build a grass roots groundswell in order to maintain the status quo over network neutrality. You can read about the reasons in great detail here or simply watch a two minute video here to get […]

Net activists have launched a Save the Internet campaign, hoping to build a grass roots groundswell in order to maintain the status quo over network neutrality.

You can read about the reasons in great detail here or simply watch a two minute video here to get a sense of why network neutrality effects everyone.

I admire the work being done by the activists, but I have some what will be unpopular observations. For instance, the campaign has a very US centric view of the Internet, especially at a time when the global Internet is becoming bigger and bigger. Shouldn’t the campaign be, Save The US Internet – after all most of the problems are very US centric.


While the campaign tries to reach out to Joe & Jane Citizen, the leading web companies are not taking the issue seriously. In reality they should be reaching out to Silicon Valley. Everytime I have a chat with folks in the Valley, there seems to be little awareness of this issue.

Similarly, the start-ups that are most likely to affected seem to be in the dark as well. Niall and I have discussed this time and again in our pod sessions. And its the big web companies who have to step up and state their position on this issue, and not just pay lip service.

Word from sources in Congress say that the major companies arguing for network neutrality have failed so far to demonstrate they are seriously committed to seeing legislation passed. While the CEO’s from the Bell companies, we were told, glad-handed members of Congress, leading online companies have been largely MIA. [ from Jeff Chester's Democratic Media]

These companies are fighting a battle against highly organized phone companies, who use their immense knowledge of legislative procedure as a competitive strategy. The real innovation, for oligopolies is lobbying. The big web companies it seems are busy fighting the petty battles, when they stand to lose the war.

I cannot but agree with Jeff Chester, the author of this essay:

“Yahoo! and Microsoft also have deals with many of the phone and cable companies. They and other online giants will need favorable access to their broadband lines, network neutrality or not. Perhaps it’s concern over their business relationships that have contributed to their political timidity.”

One can argue that they are doing right by their shareholders, just like the phone and cable companies. And they should, after all that is capitalism 101. Given that they have a big cash hoard, maybe vanishing network neutrality would also help get rid of competition.

Any even as your listen to the messages from the net activists, it would also be wise to pay heed to words of former FCC chairman Michael Powell.

It is too facile to say the Internet belongs to the public. People are married to the metaphor of the public space, but they run into trouble when it comes to who should pay for this stuff. They think it should be the government. That’s not going to happen. The government is broke, It’s going to stay broke.

What do you folks think?

  1. According to Light Reading, the national video franchise that the Bells desperately want might come through this year. http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?docid=93017&WT.svl=news13

    Some of the cable-sponsored network neutrality language was also eliminated.

    Some of the US-centric access problems could become worldwide tomorrow. BT or NTT could start enforcing their own ‘tiered’ rules just like the Bells.

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  2. It is indeed true that when it comes to lobbying, the Phone companies are very experienced and well managed as opposed to the content providers.
    However an analogy can be made with electricity. Internet access has substantial public good and it has the benefit of rising all ships the more ubiquitous the access. To allow the utility companies to decide who gets access to the grid and on what terms is unacceptable. The analogy is that your local utility would be allowed to decide who can supply the grid electricity, and even worst by blocking or degrading a service like Skype, they can dictate what appliance you can plug into the power socket. They can decide that you have to use brand X toaster from your local Bell retailer.
    There is no technical reason (all though they will try to make up some) to control what applications consumers use, they can already control bandwidth utilization, some already block bit torrent traffic.

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  3. How will this affect my CPM rate? That’s the most important thing.

    (Yes, tongue-in-cheek, etc.)

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  4. Something’s not right with your server either, Om…

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  5. even though i agree with you that this video is US centric the issue is nevertheless global. we have the same discussions going on in europe and i would believe that at least in europe net neutrality will be enforced legally. i think you should see the issue from the perspective of oligopoly prevention. if one network provider forces its customers to use a specific search engine, this is producing an unlevel market access. right now web development is highly dynamic because the entry costs are extremely low. if this should change, we’d see a completely different and probably very boring market space.

    these kind of issues can not be handled by any small start up alone. some big players have to take the lead and fight for network neutrality (google, amazon, ebay you hear me!). best would be a open and global lobby, which could be joined by small market entrants as well.

    last but not least one has to wonder if network neutrality is not self enforced by the users. often when one network provider offers unstable service of is firewalling certain services, the public opinion believes them to have “just bad service”. we had such a case in switzerland, where a cable provider in the beginning blocked online gaming and IM (for security reasons – yeah bullshit me). even users which never game or chat did chose other providers because the cable provider came to be known as unreliable, and hard to use (of course there is always ways to circumvent firewalls). in the end they gave up and opened their system. it took them years to get rid of their bad image…

    my 2 cents
    moritz

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  6. I think it would be great if europe enforced some kind of draconian ‘net neutrality’- that way, things will stagnate over there and our networks will improve, with the side benefit of making it harder for people to say the us is falling behind.

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  7. Jesse Kopelman Monday, April 24, 2006

    I have a one word answer to the idea that Net Neutrality is a US issue — China. Pretty hard to claim you want open access to that market if you do not have open access to your own. Of course, China is just the big name, there are dozens of smaller countires with restricted markets. This is much like human rights. You can’t go around ousting dictators when you are torturing prisoners and spying on your own citizens and retain any credibility.

    Michael Powell is a Tool. I don’t remember him asking Congress to cut the FCC’s funding as his part to help the “broke” government. I wish people had to disclose who they’ve taken money from before they are allowed speak in public.

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  8. Actually, the ‘net neutrality proponents are not arguing for the status quo, which is an absence of regulation. They are asking for new regulation to lock down the current state of the net.

    It is a classic example of good intentions trumping good ideas. Neutrality legislation would empower the federal government to enforce a certain network architecture. They have no such power right now.

    Please don’t believe the neutrality hype. It is new, punitive regulation wrapped in a vague populism.

    I believe the net is much healthier when it is allowed to grow and adapt and that requires experimentation. Neutrality legislation, no matter how well intended, would make that legally risky and remove incentives for investment.

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  9. We must save it lest all of Al Gore’s work be in vain.

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  10. So what if it IS saving the US internet. After all, who created the blasted thing? Do you think it’s going to stay a US issue forever Om? If you do, I have some realestate in Dehli and Florida. The Dehli land is priced out of this world and the Florida land is on the downslide, but much prettier!

    Geez, so it’s a US problem. When dealing with the net, as you’ll soon learn, a US issue sooner, or later becomes a world issue. Doh.

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