Politics More on Net Neutrality
Even though The New Republic evidently “stands with the National Review and wingnutoshpere in their opposition to grassroots Democrats,” they did publish a damn good editorial this week trashing the GOP’s attempt to kill net neutrality.
Here’s a snippet:
Under the original rules put in place in 1934, telecommunications companies can’t give preferential treatment to one set of outgoing calls over another by, say, offering static-free calling to one company’s telemarketers but not another’s. The same rules initially applied to the Internet. Telecom companies couldn’t charge website proprietors to have their content sent to consumers more expeditiously. But, last August, George W. Bush’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) exempted telecoms that provide Internet connections from these restrictions, dealing a blow to both entrepreneurship and political discourse.
(If the link to the article doesn’t work, I’ve pasted the whole thing in below.)
The editorial misses one issue, though. There’s a sneaky argument that Hands off the Internet, the astroturf, anti-net neutrality lobbying group, makes…that needs to be debunked. They say big companies like Google should have to pay more for faster Internet service. This is a clever attempt to re-frame their cause as as a populist fight to make the fat cats pay, when really their attack on net neutrality is an effort to create express lanes for privileged companies, while redirecting the little guys (bloggers, start-ups) to dusty back roads.
Hands off the Internet spokeswoman Janet Northon played this card in the story I wrote on net neutrality in last week’s paper. She said: “As with anything else, you pay what the market demands you pay. If you want a Lexus, you’re not going to pay Ford prices.”
However, Rep. Jay Inslee, one of four co-sponsors of a House net neutrality amendment, unplugged Northon’s argument. Here’s what he said in my article:
Inslee explains that content providers already pay more for using more bits. However, he insists that once those bits are on the pipeline—a public utility—they shouldn’t be stamped priority. Inslee’s right. Think about your water bill. If you use more water, you pay a higher utility bill, but your water shouldn’t rush out of the spigot any faster while your neighbor’s water trickles out.
by the Editors
Post date 06.19.06 | Issue date 06.26.06
Imagine you were choosing whether to buy a book from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble's website, and you knew that Amazon's site would load much faster, allowing you to scan books and sample their content much more easily. Or imagine that Fox.com's streaming video came up instantly and CNN.com's balked. Or that whitehouse.gov loaded quickly while the site of a contentious political magazine was plagued by delays. That is what your Internet experience could be like if Congress doesn't require the big cable and telephone companies that control access to the Web to observe what is called "net neutrality."
Under the original rules put in place in 1934, telecommunications companies can't give preferential treatment to one set of outgoing calls over another by, say, offering static-free calling to one company's telemarketers but not another's. The same rules initially applied to the Internet. Telecom companies couldn't charge website proprietors to have their content sent to consumers more expeditiously. But, last August, George W. Bush's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) exempted telecoms that provide Internet connections from these restrictions, dealing a blow to both entrepreneurship and political discourse.
Content providers from Google and Amazon to Daily Kos and TNR Online currently pay Web-hosting companies to put their content on the Internet. Consumers then access that content via Internet service providers, such as Comcast and Verizon. Under the new FCC guidelines, those companies will be able to charge content providers a fee to deliver their content to consumers and, in particular, an additional surcharge to deliver their content to consumers more quickly--that is, they will be able to create a faster toll lane on the information superhighway. If they want, the telecoms can favor their own services and penalize competitors--for instance, voice over Internet protocol companies like Vonage--by denying them faster service. They can even charge lucrative fees to companies for exclusive access to the fast lane at the expense of their competitors, giving, for example, L.L. Bean an advantage over Lands' End. And, by making the fast lane prohibitively expensive, they can force start-up ventures and noncommercial providers (like blogs) onto the bumpy dirt roads of the Internet.
Net neutrality would prohibit all of this. Telecoms could make money the way they always have--by charging homes and businesses for an Internet connection--but they couldn't make money from the content providers themselves. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition, and it has won support from Amazon and eBay, as well as the Christian Coalition and MoveOn.org. But the big cable and phone companies, backed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, and a host of well-heeled lobbyists--including former Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry--have adamantly resisted net neutrality. Last week, they defeated a House measure, sponsored by Representative Ed Markey, to bar discrimination on the Internet. The battle now moves to the Senate, where Olympia Snowe and Byron Dorgan are putting forward a similar proposal.
Opponents of net neutrality claim that telecoms need the extra money from surcharges and exclusive deals to fund new investments in cable and DSL. But the companies can still make money by charging homes and businesses higher fees for faster or more dependable services. Opponents also claim that, if consumers don't like what they are getting from one Internet service provider, they can simply switch. "If one broadband provider slowed access to fringe bloggers," The Washington Post opined, "the provider would lose customers." But, with the industry dominated by a handful of companies, the typical American has a choice of only two providers. And changing services often means losing an e-mail address and facing new connection charges.
Most important, as Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has argued, the Internet is not only a tool for economic growth, it is also a public commons for the exchange of ideas. It is where Americans can not only search for the best deal on a new digital camera, but also debate the country's future. Unlike the telephone, it is a medium in which thousands, even millions, of people can participate in the same discussion at the same time. Unlike television, it is interactive. But it can't function optimally if content is prioritized or filtered by telecom companies. Allowing companies to levy a toll on information providers is not just a blow to consumer choice--it's a blow to democracy.