Net neutrality upside down

April 8, 2011 | By | Reply More

Today the Republican-dominated House voted to keep the government’s hands off of the Internet or, at least, that is the story that is being widely promulgated. For example see here:

House Republicans adamant that the government keep its hands off the Internet passed a bill Friday to repeal federal rules barring Internet service providers from blocking or interfering with traffic on their networks.  Republicans, in voting to repeal rules on “network neutrality” set down by the Federal Communications Commission, said the FCC lacked the authority to promulgate the rules. They disputed the need to intervene in an already open Internet and warned that the rules would stifle investment in broadband systems.

“The FCC power grab would allow it to regulate any interstate communication service on barely more than a whim and without any additional input from Congress,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., sponsor of the legislation. The Internet, he added, “is open and innovative thanks to the government’s hands-off approach.”

This is really how the conservatives are spinning this issue.  Things get even more confusing when you recall that President Obama has largely bailed on preserving net neutrality, despite the fact that candidate Obama repeatedly promised to make the preservation of net neutrality one of his highest priorities.  At a presentation given tonight at the 2011 National Conference for Media Reform), Lawrence Lessig expressed intense disappointment in Obama’s flip.  So much so that he used this example of Obama going soft against net neutrality as a prime example of a widespread occurrence of politicians going against solid public opinion.  The bottom line, according to Lessig:  We cannot expect to get anything done in Congress unless we first clear out the rot of money: “There’s no progress so long as private funds drive public elections.”  The following video summarizes the issue and proposes an tool for attacking this problem:

But back to today’s development.   What’s going on?  How can it be that the Republicans are trying to preserve “net neutrality” while the Democrats are trying to dictate how we use the Internet?   Don’t be fooled.  The Republicans seek to hand over significant amount of control over the Internet to a handful of huge telecommunications companies who have been making obscenely large financial contributions to members of Congress and to President Obama.   According to the Republican members of the House, then, this handful of telecommunications companies purportedly comprises “the free market.”   Today’s effort was to block the FCC (supported by six Democrats) from regulating the telecoms to make sure that the telecoms don’t violate net neutrality.

This is the way the political winds are blowing, despite the fact that the telecoms have shown that they can’t be trusted. And why should any corporations be trusted to limit consumer choices regarding the Internet?  They shouldn’t be trusted.

Image by Lichtmeister at Dreamstime (with permission)

Don’t be fooled by the Republican rhetoric.  They are not looking out for consumers, but only for their corporate contributors.  Which brings us back to Lawrence Lessig’s point tonight (see above).   Which is also Annie Leonard’s point, my point and the point of all thinking citizens of the United States.

What is net neutrality? At yet another session tonight at the NCMR tonight (a screening of a net neutrality documentary titled, “Barbershop Punk“), former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein proposed this as a highly useful formulation:

[The] four principles to encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of public Internet: (1) consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice; (2) consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement; (3) consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and (4) consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers. Although the Commission did not adopt rules in this regard, it will incorporate these principles into its ongoing policymaking activities. All of these principles are subject to reasonable network management.

Therefore, the above principles are what is at stake.  Do you want to have full choice, or do you consent to turning the Internet into an elaborate version of Cable TV?  This issue is a perfect example of the need for carefully-crafted regulations in order to maintain freedom of choice.  Giving large corporations freedom of choice, especially where there is limited competition and an incestuous relationship with Congress, often restricts freedom of choice of American citizens.  Carefully-crafted government regulations, such as those attempted to truly preserve net neutrality, enhance freedom of choice.  Lack of needed regulations distort and limit the market.

The telecoms want to do far more than move data; they want control your access to content, which would mean that they could reap far higher profits.  They want to tell you how you can use the Internet, including the types of applications you can use on the Internet.  And today, the House of Representatives indicated that it is willing to designate the telecoms to be your gatekeeper.

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Category: Communication, Community, Internet, Networking

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.

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