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Summary:

The Democrats’ efforts to preserve our Internet freedom through net neutrality legislation needs more help, according to U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who held a press conference today in order to recruit more sponsors for his net neutrality bill and petition more citizens to make their views […]

capitolThe Democrats’ efforts to preserve our Internet freedom through net neutrality legislation needs more help, according to U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who held a press conference today in order to recruit more sponsors for his net neutrality bill and petition more citizens to make their views known on the topic. But after listening to Markey and the other folks on the call, I think that now, more than ever, Congress needs to stay out of legislating net neutrality.

The trouble with highly technical issues like network neutrality is that they’re complicated, and Congress isn’t an ideal place to solve complicated — and constantly evolving — issues (unless we let the telco lobbyists write the legislation). Net neutrality isn’t a political issue, it’s an economic one. The key is ensuring that telecommunications firms don’t discriminate against certain kinds of traffic, especially traffic coming over the Internet that might compete with products the ISPs already offer, as well as that folks trying to offer a web-based service don’t have to pay a toll to offer it to consumers. The benefits of such openness accrue to consumers as well as to companies trying to build businesses on the Internet.

Given how complicated it is to manage a network, and to figure out how to deliver all of the packets flowing over the Internet, the Federal Communications Commission is a far better organization to address this issue. Through the notice of proposed rulemaking issued last week, the FCC is putting in place a multimonth process that will seek input from engineers, the aforementioned telco lobbyists, consumers and even the civil rights groups. That conversation will be far more nuanced and subject to less grandstanding than the debate in Congress. For a good example of those nuances, check out our new GigaOM Pro piece (subscription required) on net neutrality, which both acknowledges that traffic discrimination will have to take place, and debates how that should work.

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  1. A lot of what you said could be applied to a lot of issues that congress legislates on.

  2. Unfortunately, it’s just as valid to assert that such things shouldn’t be left to regulatory agencies.

    It was “regulatory capture” — without oversight from Congress — that allowed both the subprime mortgage crisis and the Madoff Ponzi scheme to happen.

    On the other hand, Anna Eshoo, co-sponsor of the Markey bill, is clearly in the thrall of Google and will do whatever this huge monopolist, which is headquartered in her district, tells her to do — no matter how harmful it would be to the rest of the country.

    In short, either the FCC or Congress — or both — could do the wrong thing.

    The proper thing to do in this case is follow the money. All of the supporters of “network neutrality” regulation, from President Barack Obama on down, have monetary ties to Google. Seeing the degree to which Google’s lavish spending has influenced this issue, we should be wary of its paid mouthpieces and “astroturf” lobbying groups and be very skeptical about regulating. (It also helps to fact-check their statements. If one does, its easy to discover that “network neutrality” regulation is an “answer” to a non-existent problem; no ISP has ever censored legal content.)

    1. Brett I am curious to know whose payroll you are on and how Net Neutrality would be “harmful” to the rest of the country. As far as your assertion that no ISP has ever censored legal content, you really and truly have no way of knowing that–I’m curious to know what kind of omniscient telepathic “fact-checking” you did to arrive at that conclusion. I’m no fan of Google, but for all the money that Google is throwing at the issue, you can bet that the telco companies are tossing an equal or greater amount of money in the opposite direction.

      Claiming that “regulatory capture” is to blame for our economic woes is absolutely ridiculous, unless by “capture” you mean to say “corruption” in reference to the countless Bush-era regulators who were literally ordered to treat regulated industries like “customers.” That said, it is of course true that regulations are meaningless without an effective method of enforcement.

      The simple answer to all this is probably the most abhorrent to companies like Comcast or AT&T: Don’t allow content providers and access providers to be owned by the same company. If Comcast can’t buy Yahoo! or CBS, and Google can’t become an ISP, then there’s less chance for the kinds of conflicts of interest that necessitate Net Neutrality. But as it stands today, there is a huge potential for conflicts of interest to arise, and an obvious incentive for publicly traded companies to take non-neutral stances.

      Bottom line: If you are Comcast, and throttling Google traffic increases shareholder value, and it’s legal to do so, you’re going to do it. End of story.

      1. For your information, I’m not on anyone’s payroll. I am an independent ISP; in fact, I was the world’s first WISP. And I don’t draw a salary from my company (though my employees do).

        In any event, it is quite clear that Google and its minions have engaged in “regulatory capture” — using the FCC as a tool to gain a business advantage. Since you apparently are not familiar with the term, I would recommend that you type it into a reputable search engine (i.e. one other than Google) and learn about it.

        Oh, and my ISP is not a content provider. Though we have been asked to be.

    2. “no ISP has ever censored legal content”

      That is a lie.

      Comcast. BitTorrent. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/events/2009/02/riley

      And yes, I most certainly do download legal content over BitTorrent. http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/downloadmirrors#bt

      1. Even if you are one of the very, very rare instance of someone downloading legal content via BitTorrent, that has nothing to do with my statement above. Comcast didn’t censor in any way, because its restraint of bandwidth hogging via BitTorrent was absolutely content-neutral. As a matter of fact, as “network nut-trality” proponents themselves noted, Comcast treated the King James Bible in exactly the same way as it would have treated pirated music or movies. Therefore, it did not engage in censorship.

    3. Following the money flowing to many of those arguing against net neutrality leads back to AT&T and the other large ISPs – AT&T’s history of “lavish spending” and “astroturfing” goes back to the 70’s – long before Google.

      Also, to argue that the sub-prime mortgage crisis was caused by regulation is laughable in the extreme.

      This article here – http://bit.ly/2Vz9QV – has an interesting chart that shows the regulation is far from being a killer of ISPs.

      Personally I wish it were possible to keep the government out of all of this, but I just don’t see how that is possible. Too much bandwidth is controlled by too few companies who have too many potential conflicts of interests with those using their services. About the only alternative I can see is to forbid the major ISPs from offering any value added services on their networks – and even a telco shill such as yourself would have to admit that is not a good option.

      1. Google has spent more on lobbying for “network neutrality” regulations than the Bells spent on all of their lobbying in the previous half a decade. Its expenditures have included massive campaign donations (nearly $1 million to the Obama campaign alone); the outright “purchase” of inside-the-Beltway think tanks and lobbying groups (e.g. the New America Foundation); lavish contributions to groups that style themselves as “public interest” groups, and in-kind donations of free labor and tens of thousands of dollars of free advertising each month. One of these days, I’ll have to draw up a diagram of the Google “net neutering” money trail. It is quite, quite impressive and very scary.

        As for the proposed regulation’s effect on ISPs: you are clearly not an ISP yourself, and therefore do not understand how the business works or what makes an ISP sustainable. The fact is that the regulation sought by Google would make the majority of our country’s approximately 4,000 independent ISPs unsustainable and unable to continue in business. This would destroy competition, limit consumer choice, and reduce broadband deployment. It is not something any citizen would want to see. But Google doesn’t care; it just wants to cement its monopoly.

      2. Brett has a tin foil hat, also provided by Google. Note that all his assertations come with the disclaimer of “maybe someday I will find the proof to back up my claims, which I don’t have in any shape or form yet. But that doesn’t mean they’re not true.”

        Really, Brett — think at this point you need to put some numbers and proof behind your claims, otherwise you are as bad as the telco astroturfers. Or maybe worse, because at least their motive is clear, they’re being paid to spout BS. Those of us who deal in the fact-based world would appreciate any enlightenment you could provide.

        Your claim, for instance, that google has spent more on lobbying than the bells in half a decade would even make Jim Cicconi blush. $1 million to the Obama campaign? When AT&T has 700 lawyers on staff? How far does $1 million go just to pay their salaries, before we even get to campaign contributions? And don’t forget state battles like the one in Texas, where the big telcos had more lobbyists working than there were state legislators.

        In short, please get some numbers, proof, etc., together before making your claims. You will find respect follows such actions.

      3. Paul, I hope you don’t mean to suggest that all 700 of those lawyers (if AT&T really has that many!) are involved in lobbying. Most of them, I’ll bet, are involved in dealing with Federal and state regulations, not lobbying for or against them.

        But Google has bought itself a few hundred full time lawyer-lobbyists who really are lobbying for it. Look, for example, at the inside-the-Beltway lobbying groups — all chock full of lawyers — that Google has, essentially, “purchased:” the New America Foundation, Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, Free Press. Not to mention the groups that it has actually created out of whole cloth: Open Internet Coalition, Future of Music Coalition, etc. Google is spending not tens of millions but HUNDREDS of millions of dollars on this. Why? To cement its monopoly. And this isn’t “tin foil hat” stuff; it’s not hard at all to follow the money. Start with the money that has gone to direct lobbying activities that require registration and reporting; you can find it on OpenSecrets.org. (Google has hired, among other firms, the DCI group — the same dirty tricksters who were responsible for “Harry and Louise” during the Clinton administration.) Then look at who is lobbying for Google but doesn’t report it as paid lobbying. (Start with the New America Foundation, whose chairmanship was bought by Google Chairman/CEO Eric Schmidt with millions of Googlebucks. It now pushes Google’s corporate agenda while claiming to be an independent “think tank.”) Move on to the other astroturf groups, noting that Google gives them not only money (usually claimed to be a “personal” contribution from a Google employee or laundered through a foundation) and in-kind donations of labor and advertising (the latter up to $10K per month per group, though this limit could well be waived when it serves Google’s political interests).

        And look at Google’s own staff in DC: you can bet that lobbyists like Rick Whitt have salaries in the high six (if not seven) digits. Google even had, until recently, a lobbyist who had “infiltrated” the Congressional office of Senator Byron Dorgan, and was lobbying within that office to create the most onerous possible “network neutrality” legislation. (She had previously worked for Free Press, one of Google’s astroturf lobbying groups, as did Sascha Meinrath, a Google lobbyist who is now at New America.) When it recently became known what she was up to, she took advantage of the old fashioned Washington, DC “revolving door” and announced that she was leaving the Senator’s office — for a new position at Google that was created just for her. (see http://www.kxnet.com/getArticle.asp?setCity=bis&ArticleId=449867). A reward, no doubt, for already having worked for Google for many years in those other positions — and a way for Google to exploit the contacts she made among Congressional staffers.

        Google has also purchased influence in the press. Washington Post reporter Cecilia Kang, for example, is a loyal supporter of Google, producing highly biased news reporting and an equally biased blog on the Post’s Web site. And when you visit the pages where her articles are located, you’ll note that Google’s logo appears at least twice on every page — along with ads placed by Google/Doubleclick (which means that income from Google is funding the blog — a blatant conflict of interest which Cecilia is not reporting, despite the new FTC rules). Very often, the ads will be “donated” ads for Google’s “Open Internet Coalition” lobbying group, and will point to misleading material touting Network Neutrality regulation.

        Outside the Beltway, Google is funding academics who produce papers and give speeches promoting Google’s agenda. Barbara Van Shewick, Larry Lessig, and other high profile academics who have touted “network neutrality” have received paychecks which — as they know well — contained money directly traceable back to Google.

        All of these purchases of influence and of people’s time and effort cost money. A conservative, back-of-the-envelope estimate yields a cost of more than $100M per year, but you are welcome to do your own arithmetic.

        And I am connecting only a few of the dots here. A complete picture of Google’s sphere of influence would easily fill a book; these are just the liner notes.

      4. Sorry Brett, you still seem confused by the concept of appearance vs. reality. Forget your back-of-the-envelope claims: Do some work and do real math, and present your “facts” of hundreds of millions. My guess is that you can’t and will not because your assertations are so far from the truth they are laughable.

        It’s great to have opinions, and your constant accusations of “biased” reporting whenever something is written not to your liking might qualify you as a guest on cable TV shows, but in the realm of rational discussion it’s just plain ignorant and insulting to the rest of us. Where’s the proof that Google “purchased” the Washington Post? Or the proof of how much Google contributed to Free Press? Many of the people you slur have been involved in these matters long before Google decided to participate; but then history or facts never seem to trouble your foaming-at-the mouth on these comment boards as well as others.

        (Like the comment you left on my blog, accusing me of biased reporting; I invited you to detail any and all such claims, but apparently you were once again, too busy to share the basis for your accusations)

        I guess we can’t expect you to stop, or to try to prove your skewed beliefs. But what I can do is note to all the others who read here that essentially your opinions are worthless, since they can’t be backed up by anything other than the own strange permutations of your own mind.

      5. Sorry, Paul, but the comment section of a blog is not the place for a detailed research report with footnotes and cross-references… nor can I be responsible if you lack the numeracy to do some basic calculations. Nor do I have any reason, given your own bias, to believe that it would do any good. (I will note, however, that when I visited your site today it tried to serve me a Google spyware tracking cookie as well as DoubleClick ads. Hmmm…. What percentage of YOUR site’s revenue comes from Google?)

      6. Brett, the only bias I have is against ignorant tools who accuse people of things with no proof to back it up. I see you foiled my site’s attempts to launch the Google spyware! Curses! Foiled again by Brett the brave, defender of all against Google!

        Go get ‘em tiger! May the force be with you.

  3. All I know is that the mere threat of Net Neutrality regulation caused AT&T to allow Skype app on the iPhone after all this time. If the mere threat of net neutrality regulation can produce SOME result, imagine how much more good things might happen if neutrality rules were actually on the books & there was real competition!

    1. Temporal proximity does not prove causality.

      AT&T had already allowed VoIP on other platforms, so it is not as if support of VoIP on the iPhone was a sudden breakthrough.

      What is far more likely is that AT&T planned its announcement of Skype support for the annual CTIA trade show — and did so months in advance, long before FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski even wrote his speech touting “network neutrality.”

    2. I’d actually be less worried about net neutrality violations if we did have real competition rather than one or two providers in many places. Because then the ISPs would be right when they defended the lack of regulation by saying that people who don’t like the prioritization schemes from their ISP can always switch. Sadly the market for broadband isn’t competitive given the high barriers to entry, nor do customers have access to the information on what bits are throttled, prioritized or otherwise affected.

      1. Stacey, if the barriers to entry were that high there would not be more than 4,000 independent ISPs in this country, all competing gamely with the big guys. As I mentioned earlier in this thread, my own very small town of 28,000 people has 10 — count them! — facilities-based broadband providers and dozens more who ride on the others’ infrastructure. Why do you continue to propagate the myth of no competition — the primary excuse that Google lobbyists make for unnecessary regulation?

  4. The government’s track record in designing the telecommunications industry over the past several decades should hopefully be enough to scare everyone concerned about any new regulations on a thriving industry.

    That aside, the FCC can only enforce regulations if Congress confers power upon it to do so. (see La. PSC v. FCC, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=476&invol=355)

    If the desire for NN regulations are sourced from the concern that carriers will engage in anti-competitive behavior, what is it about the existing anti-trust laws in place today that make them inadequate to address Internet services?

  5. Comcast Censoring Conservative Voices?

    The American Public and the FCC need to keep an eye on ISPs. Comcast has been censoring conservative message board posters in my opinion. Because dominant ISP Comcast is a gateway to the internet, they control many eyeballs. Comcast’s systematic censoring of conservative opinions on their News & Current Events message boards needs to cease and desist. If Comcast gets tax breaks from local government, then they have a civic, ethical, moral and perhaps legal obligation to provide fair and balanced moderation of their message boards. This type of social engineering is an outrage. Please get involved. Silence is consent. Post a conservative response to a News or Current Events thread here and see for yourself.

    http://community.comcast.net/comcastportal/board?board.id=news

    This is America…Not CHINA

    I suggest others see for themselves and take this issue seriously.

  6. Federal Court Questions FCC’s Ability to Regulate Broadband Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    [...] haunt the agency and may haunt all those companies in favor of net neutrality. After all, there are plenty of members in Congress who aren’t too excited about net neutrality. Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub [...]

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