My first post about net neutrality was greeted with much skepticism by some of my conservative friends. In particular, Matt, who claims to be The Only Republican” in San Francisco , has an answer for those who say that the construction of a two-tiered internet by giant Telecos where big companies will pay a fee so that their sites and search engines receive favored treatment on the “information highway” is a trojan horse of sorts; that in fact, the concept of net neutrality is a way for government to control the net at the “router” level:
You should not be surprised that the loudest advocates of â€˜net neutrality are those on the far left, including MyDD, and MoveOn. Their arguments are very much in line with things like McCain-Feingold and the old Fairness Doctrine.
It is also being sold as â€œfear the big bad corporationsâ€. I donâ€™t have any particular affection for any of the companies involved here, but I do know that customers know best. Some customers might indeed say, I will pay more for better video. Alternatively, the market may say â€œwe like it the way it isâ€, which is neutrality de facto. In either case, we donâ€™t need Congress or the FCC to make the call.
The history of the Internet has told us we should imagine the unimagined. Letâ€™s preserve the absence of inhibition that has gotten us this far. Keep it libertarian. No new laws.
Read Matt’s entire piece which he calls a “Primer” for Conservatives on the issue.
This is all well and good. And there may be a way to address some of Matt’s concerns in the current Telecommunications Reform bill that just passed the Energy and Commerce Committee and where a net neutrality amendment went down to defeat. But is there a real threat?
Congress is pushing a law that would abandon the Internet’s First Amendment—a principle called Network Neutrality that prevents companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites work best for you—based on what site pays them the most. Your local library shouldnâ€™t have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to have its Web site open quickly on your computer.
Net Neutrality allows everyone to compete on a level playing field and is the reason that the Internet is a force for economic innovation, civic participation and free speech. If the public doesn’t speak up now, Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where you go, and what you watch online.
This isnâ€™t just speculation—we’ve already seen what happens elsewhere when the Internet’s gatekeepers get too much control. Last year, Telus—Canada’s version of AT&T—blocked their Internet customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to workers with whom the company was having a labor dispute. And Madison River, a North Carolina ISP, blocked its customers from using any competing Internet phone service.
To my mind, the potential is certainly there for mischief by both government and large corporations. The difference is that we can keep on eye on government and influence potential troublemaking a lot easier than we can at Comcast.
The New York Times has come out four square for net neutrality:
One of the Internet’s great strengths is that a single blogger or a small political group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just as accessible to the world as Microsoft’s home page. But this democratic Internet would be in danger if the companies that deliver Internet service changed the rules so that Web sites that pay them money would be easily accessible, while little-guy sites would be harder to access, and slower to navigate. Providers could also block access to sites they do not like.
In another comment on my post, Matt has a pretty good response:
You donâ€™t need to trust the telcos. Your supermarket can offer any product it wants, ditto the PC companies, ad infinitum, and these industries are serving consumers extremely well. The only place where customers are not served well are regulated utilities. That is exactly the model that the neutrality proponents are advocating.
Commenter “AM” says it’s all much ado about nothing:
There are some applications for which success falls from 100% to 0% at a particular latency and packet-loss threshold. The only way the service provider can assure that these applications will work when the net is under load is to provide differentiated services.
This is a technical issue, not a political one. Dont be conned â€“ get informed.
Before your eyes glaze over, here’s “Cosmoreaxer” who agrees with him:
This has been covered for weeks on Digg, and itâ€™s pretty clear if you take a moment to read more: This is the cable and telcos vs. the online content providers like Amazon and Yahoo. Itâ€™s not about the corporations trying to keep the little guy down, itâ€™s about the corporations fighting with other corporations about whether to move certain packets (basically, video and VoIP) over the net faster than other packets (less intense, non-streaming info, i.e. e-mail and the web).
Thatâ€™s it. This is what youâ€™re shrieking like an anti-capitalist street protester about?
In fact, I’ve read that same complaint about net neutrality on several sites; that if you don’t stream a lot of video and VoIP, you’re basically paying for those who do. That’s an issue I would like someone to explain to me (just like you would explain it to your 5 year old child). Is it fair to ask people to pay for internet services they don’t use? And if that kind of service can be differentiated, isn’t it a matter of fairness that sites that use the tremendous bandwidth it takes to stream video pay more than those who don’t?
These are tough questions because they are 1) so highly technical that people like me feel totally inadequate in addressing; and 2) the answer appears to depend on what side of the liberal/conservative divide you come down on.
But is this really a “political” issue in the sense that it is right vs. left? I would love to be able to find a consensus as we did on the FEC regs that came down last winter. However, that seemed to be pretty straightforward as an issue of free speech. This net neutrality business makes me feel like I’m walking through cotton candy.
What we need is a good old fashioned debate with point/counterpoint responses and done in as non-technical a manner as possible. For all you geeks out there (and I use that term affectionately because I have tremendous admiration for your skills and knowledge) bless your hearts but when you start talking about “packets” and “load” I want to place my hands around your necks and squeeze. Please remember that many if not most us are computer klutzes and need a “Special Ed” approach to any technical issues.
One thing is for sure: There will be times over the next few years when we will be defending internet freedoms from both government and gigantic corporations. When you look at the growth of commerce on the net over just the last 5 years, you realize that big government and big corporations are like blood hounds who have picked up the scent.
And what they’re smelling is money – lots of it. It looks to me we may need that “Army of Davids” if we’re going to protect the net from the kind of intrusions that would alter our enjoyment and our quest for knowledge.
Tell us again, Mike you lying sellout, how we online activists are just a bunch of clueless, uncouth whiney kids. . . with whom the New York Times apparently agrees. Chris Bowers exposes the lying bulls**t about netroots activists you, Joe Klein and your other pecksniff power pimp sellouts keep hawking at the corner of 17th and L.
Letâ€™s have a look at the names in your lobbying firm, shall we? Oooh, Randy Tate, one of the founders of the Christian Coalition. Tell me again, Mike, about your Democratic bona fides, how we should all be civil and moderate in tone? Letâ€™s check out your clients. Oooooh. . . the Republican National Committee! Well, how-dee-doo! And the Lincoln Chaffee endorsing Sierra Club makes an appearance here, as do both the ACLU and the Department of Homeland Security. Interesting! Would any financial supporters of the ostensibly progressive groups on this list like to send a little note to them about Mikeâ€™s firmâ€™s conflicts of interest?
Ed Cone is also disgusted by McCurry’s shilling for the telecos.
I’m guessing former Clinton mouthpiece Mike McCurry meant to sound tough and bloggy with this post about net neutrality.
It really didn’t work. He sounds like an angry insider who can’t believe a bunch of nobodies dared to challenge him.
Yeah, it’s rough out there in the comments, but you have to stay cool and on point.
It helps to mix a little Google into your act, too: McCurry sounds ignorant when he calls Vint Cerf “Vince.”
That’s one thing I would like to see addressed in ethics legislation; the “revolving door” in Washington. People should not be able to move from either Executive or Congressional branches of government into private lobbying gigs for at least 10 years. That sounds draconian but it’s just getting ridiculous.
UPDATE II: ASK AND YE SHALL RECEIVE
In the post above, I asked for a simple explanation of some of the issues. Not only have some excellent comments been left below (See Andy and Cosmoreax especially) but Dale Franks at Q & O has a great post on the issue as well.
Ain’t the internets somethin’?