Barack Obama punts on net neutrality

December 3, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More

In my view, telecoms should be allowed to do only one thing: move data. They shouldn’t be able to decide what kind of data they are willing to move. They shouldn’t be allowed to decide that some sorts of data are more important than other types of data. They shouldn’t be allowed to charge more for some types of data than other data. They shouldn’t be allowed to prioritize some types of data at the expense of other types of data.

By his silence, Barack Obama has once again decided to allow a big well-monied industry to call the shots, at the expense of you and me. To the growing list that includes private health insurers and Wall Street so-called bankers, we need to add telecoms. Thanks to White House complacency (at a minimum, complacency), the telecoms have now been put in great position to argue, in Orwellian fashion, that they are not going to prioritize what we will see and hear on the Internet, and it will be done in the name of “net neutrality.” This is all coming up for a vote before the FCC while President Obama says nothing. As Josh Silver of Free Press indicates to Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now, this is a huge issue that will affect all of us, and this new set of rules will be devastating to progressives:

What most people don’t understand when they hear “net neutrality,” their eyes gloss over, and they say, “How does that affect me?” What’s going on right now is we’re in the middle of a major transition from one media technology to another media technology: the internet, the first two-way experience. And with the internet brings this possibility that any website could act as a television network, a radio network. It is the ultimate game changer in the future of how Americans access information and learn about the world. Now, what we’re seeing is, since the internet started about 40 years ago, there’s this principle called “net neutrality.” And it essentially says that the companies that bring you the internet into your home or business cannot indiscriminately say, “This is going to move fast, this is going to move slow, and that’s our decision,” in order to make more money or for political gain or what have you. So what we’re seeing is, as the internet becomes more ubiquitous, the companies that deliver the internet—Comcast, AT&T, Verizon—they enjoy monopoly or duopoly control of connections, and they want to monetize the internet by getting rid of rules that prevent them from creating fast lanes and slow lanes.

The President, as you may recall, when he was campaigning, said, “I will take a backseat to no one in protecting net neutrality.” It was a huge moment for everybody who cares about this issue. The FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, also a big proponent. But what’s been alarming is what’s happened since President Obama has taken office. Just like in so many other issues, there’s been this big debate amongst the industry players, like Verizon and Google. The public interest community has been left out of the ring, so to speak. The FCC chairman has done nothing major in those two years since Obama took office. And what we’re seeing right now is, finally, after five, six years of debate over this issue at the FCC, the FCC chairman has introduced a set of rules, last Wednesday, that will be voted on December 21st, that are wrought with loopholes, that would essentially be the end of the internet as we know it. It allows these companies to prioritize content at will, essentially because of definitions and legal terms, and it doesn’t apply at all to wireless connections, which is the future of the internet . . . The problem here is, you can’t put this genie back in the bottle. If you fundamentally change how the internet works, the internet will become like cable television, where Comcast and Verizon and AT&T decide what’s on, how fast it goes.


Category: Net neutrality

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Rick Massey says:

    The only reason people are not outraged by this is that most people don't understand how it puts the cherry on top of the relentless coronation of big business. This is an all out assault on the First Amendment. It is the twenty-first century equivalent of saying "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press unless Congress chooses to grant total discretion to selected corporations to control all realistic mediums of speech.

    I voted for Obama and encouraged everyone I knew to do the same precisely because he promised change while his opponent promised to keep everything the same. He won. But nothing has really changed. Now he says his supporters are upset because his efforts are not producing enough fast enough. He just isn’t listening. The real problem is that many of us have lost faith in the “hope we can believe in” slogan. Our democracy has been sold to a handful of wealthy corporations – and we didn't even get the money!

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    In his new book, Master Switch, Tim Wu forecasts the danger to the Internet, based on the consolidation of every mass communications modality that came before:

    Tim Wu's "The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires" has been out for a few weeks now and has already become one of those books that prognosticators and opinionators feel obliged to respond to. It's also a substantial and well-written account of the five major communications industries that have shaped the world as we know it: telephony, radio, movies, television and the Internet. Wu believes that all of these industries have moved through cycles of diversity and consolidation, and that if we think the Internet is immune to a takeover by some massive monopoly promising a more perfect (and more profitable) experience for users (and itself), then we should look to history, and think again.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    With survey questions (and headlines) as deceptive as this, we're better off with no information at all regarding the attitudes of Americans regarding net neutrality.

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