Today’s Internet vs. Tomorrow’s?

-

I’ve been listening for some time to a number of my friends who have been active in the “net neutrality” debate. To some, this is a technical debate that mostly means keeping our current content out on the internet — our current levels of blogging, of video, of emails — flowing relatively freely across different platforms, like phones, laptops, blackberries. . .you name it.
For others, this debate has become a holy crusade that means a lot more — and is fundamentally about a distrust for corporations and an embrace of “the people.” I don’t buy it.
I listened to Larry Page of Google recently, courtesy of my New America Foundation/Wireless Futures Program colleague Michael Calabrese — and basically Page is hoping for a world where tomorrow all information is open access and that it plays across all platforms equally. To me — perhaps at a misinformed level (I’m not sure) — this not sounds like a heavy dose of utopian socialism but it sounds like something that would work at this point for Google’s business plans — but something at odds with many of the other infrastructure parts of the internet and telecommunications worlds.
Page is a great guy — and Google’s transformation of the internet and the portals it has created have been stunningly impressive to watch. I just worry about the too easy embrace of ideologies on the net, particularly the next net — because I want better and more than we have today and sense America falling behind other states on telecom infrastructure, particularly Japan, Singapore and South Korea. Neutrality today to me seems fine — but down the road — I think that information flow is going to run differently — and yes, will create new tensions between haves and have-nots. That has been the part of the growth story in our country and the world.
I have no problem with trying to maintain neutrality with current capacities — but I’m all for new innovation, new investment, new build-outs of the telecommunications infrastructure in the country, and this may mean that business does carve out some privileged space for consumers on certain platforms. Otherwise, why would they invest?
I’m intrigued with this debate. I’m learning more — and am going to a session today to try and better understand various parts of this sometimes ferocious discussion.
I heard Barack Obama recently say that he is “for net neutrality.” I think we all may be — but the problem is that so far I’ve found about four different definiitions for the term, and I don’t think he is necessarily for what the most fervent leaders of net neutrality are for.
More on this later. I just wanted to signal that I am going to be writing and cogitating on this subject more — and I realize that I might be swimming against some currents of friends and associates on here.
More soon.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

24 comments on “Today’s Internet vs. Tomorrow’s?

  1. Bob Dobbs says:

    P.S. – Trust the Telecoms? Has FAUX News managed to black-out that the Telecoms violated the 4th amendment rights of all Americans by illegally allowing the NSC to wiretap all our phones and read all our e-mails? Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but the Telecoms are known criminals, and could this be their reward?
    Lastly, given their willingness to take orders and play fetch for Homeland Security, what you are really doing is setting up the Internet to be controlled by the government – as to content, access, and creating dossiers on users. Welcome to 1984, Mr. Winston. Oh… just as sec… I just got a text message sent to me by the NSC… I’ve got to go to another web site now, I’m scheduled for my Two minute hate against Osama Bin Laden… See you later!

    Reply

  2. Bob Dobbs says:

    This is about selling the commons (that which we all own) to major multinational corporations for peanuts. Then they can put a meter on it, and bill us big bucks for what we already have now, for free. Plus, the news can be funneled from two or three major companies, for the sake of… efficiency. Within 5-6 years, all information on the internet will be sanitized into paletable, easy to digest propaganda, and any of the dissenters and anti-war blogs will be locked away in slow, inaccessible pipes. They will shut down from a lack of traffic and eyeballs.
    It is about eliminating the last avenue of free press. So, go buy a little mimeograph machine while you can, and get ready to hand out handbills if you want to be heard.

    Reply

  3. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Steve, this is an extremely critical issue for economic viability,
    as well as public health, education, and a wide range of issues.
    I wrote up a background/overview that’s been several places on
    the Web and received good feedback from technical folks.
    Here’s a link to the historical overview:
    http://www.mydd.com/story/2006/6/16/33935/4141
    Peter Bailey’s comment is invaluable. No need to elaborate on
    any of his points other than to encourage you to read him
    twice.
    Amanda K hits on the fact that if you want innovation, you need
    standards. That’s what Google is talking about — could we just
    have ONE standard, puleeze!! Because it would make the world
    a lot more sane, and we could be more productive.
    Figuring out the specs to develop a project, and then trying to
    write even a small application, is a lot of work. Ideally, that app
    will work on a web page, a Blackberry, and a mobile phone.
    However, in order to enable the to function on those different
    technologies requires you to wade into the whole complicated
    confusion that goes something like this: which mobile units,
    which manufacturers, which models will run the app? Given
    models, X, Y, and Z what tweaks have to be given to model X,
    what other (different) tweaks have to be given to model Y…. it’s
    ridiculously convoluted in many cases because you have
    ‘versions of versions’ of browsers, OSs, and handset models.
    You end up wasting a lot of time adapting X, then adapting Y…
    it’s inefficient.
    The lack of standards results in a lot of wasted, or poorly spent,
    effort — trust me on this one, please!
    An analogy might be useful: suppose that in the old days of
    railroad, Union Pacific ran a 20 ft gauge from NY to Albany, then
    shrunk the gauge to 12 feet through the city, then the gauge
    shifted to 18 feet through the suburbs, then to 9 feet up to
    Buffalo. And then suppose that Union Pacific gets a cut at every
    stage, and each individual rail line section may have as many as
    3 additional ‘taxing districts’ that can each demand a cut of the
    transportation dollars. That makes it more complicated to plan,
    route, and pay for the transit from Point A to Point B over any
    specific stages that data/cargo needs to travel.
    Now add on another layer: suppose Union Pacific had control, so
    they decided that only ‘approved’ boxcars could run through the
    city – pay before entering, and they limited the loads to 2 tons.
    But from Albany through the suburbs, you could put the load on
    a flatbed, provided the max load was one ton… you begin, I
    hope, to see the wasted effort, and the absolutely maddening
    waste of time involved in umpteen little fiefdoms who all get to
    pick your pocket, and for whom you have to repackage your
    load.
    It’s just insanity.
    At the purely technical level of writing code, NN (Net Neutrality)
    is the only sane way to go. From that perspective, Larry Page is
    right on target, and he’s representing people who build the stuff
    that makes the web fun. But having standards also brings down
    costs — for everyone. In that sense, they’re efficient. On that
    argument alone, NN would be more efficient that the chaos of
    having competing ‘market’ interests run the show.
    As for the FCC… what an absolutely hopeless, abysmal arm of
    government they are. I think there is one (1) who has a grasp of
    the technical, code-centric view. The others — and the FCC
    staff — appear to be clueless.
    The next Pres needs to retool the FCC, both commissioners and
    staffers, because it’s sure been a case of the fox running the
    henhouse. And the fox in question is right out of the era of
    Gidget, Dippity Do, and cheap oil. Don’t mean to be snotty, but
    the next Pres would be really smart to ask Larry Page and
    Lawrence Lessig for tips and recommendations about the FCC.
    The telsatco model is outdated; the Internet is fundamentally a
    utility, despite some terrible legal decisions in recent years.
    That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
    The worst scenario is what we have now: a technology that
    lends itself to delivery as a utility, but is carved up and offered
    as a ‘product’ in a ‘competitive market’ because that’s the sexy
    economic delusion that flatters our vanity.
    Some things, like water and telephone, make sense to offer as
    utilities. If I want to buy bubble bath and shampoo, that’s
    where I make choices. Just as I make choices about the kinds of
    software and apps that I want to use.
    But to mistake the backbone and infrastructure of the web for
    the software that makes it sexy is just flawed and error-riddled
    thinking.
    It makes about as much sense as saying that simply because
    there are many kinds of shampoo, water should be sold ‘on the
    competitive, open market’.
    , arms of the WH, and also Congressional committee staffs.

    Reply

  4. ej says:

    To Amanda K,
    There is a third thread, which in my opinion, is the most important.
    Perhaps I’m not seeing this clearly, but many fear the possible, if not probable, result of allowing the corporate wolves into the chicken coop – co-opted or restricted information.
    We’ve already seen the effect the corporate culture has had on radio, television, and print news agencies. Why should we expect anything different with corporate control of the Internet?
    Taking corporate money (thus allowing them the power) with the promise of technological advances is the portal that will facilitate content control through some sort of hierarchical restricted access at first – then who knows what.
    Open (?) market capitalism is blind to almost everything but bottom-line ethics and considerations. This can be good for some but can run roughshod over such “quaint” notions such as constitutional rights, the common good, providing a level playing field, the pursuit of happiness, or participatory democracy.

    Reply

  5. Amanda K says:

    There are two different threads to net neutrality being discussed here, and I think that it would behoove the discussion to separate them.
    The first aspect would be related to double-charging for speed. The telecom companies charge consumers based on the speed of their internet access, and then they also want to charge websites for the speed at which their content will be delivered. That just doesn’t sit right with me. I’m paying for Fios because I want fast downloads, and I expect to get fast downloads. You can argue about infrastructure improvements all you want, but offering something to the consumer (namely, a given speed) and then telling webmasters that they must pay to get what you’ve already sold to the consumer is unethical. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just selling one product to two people.
    The second aspect of net neutrality being discussed here involves the ability of software to work on different platforms – for example, the ability of a podcast to be played on a Mac, a PC and an iPhone. That issue is a bit trickier, and I don’t have either the knowledge or the passion to take it on properly. To be totally honest, I don’t much care, though that may be because I’m not very informed on the matter.
    Given all of that, I would like to point out a few things. First, these are two very different topics, even if they are both called “net neutrality” issues. Those I know who are most passionate about net neutrality (including myself) are referring mainly to that first aspect, and most of the passion comes from feeling as though we have been ripped off. After all, we paid quite a bit for the access, so why aren’t we getting it?
    Lastly, you mention a distrust of corporations. Corporations are hardly innately evil, but telecom companies have already shown that they are not trustworthy related to this issue, in ways ranging from hiring stand-ins at public hearings to avoid the presence of opposing parties (http://www.boingboing.net/2008/02/27/fcc-may-doover-comca.html) to complicated machinations against companies like Vonage, which I believe someone else has already mentioned, and BitTorrent (http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9802410-7.html). So my question would be, why trust people who have already shown themselves to be untrustworthy on this issue?

    Reply

  6. rich says:

    Major flaw here in Steve’s premise is the high performance of nations like Japan and Finland. Now, either they got there through “levels of self-interested investment” in the private sector, or their government invested in public infrastructure.
    Either way, it precludes the premise that there is a problem that only greater incentives and higher profit structures can resolve. The self-interest is there, and it is sufficient.
    Steve’s concern about ideology is belied by the ideological presumption that “self-interested” investment must be contrived by government to resolve what is clearly in the domain of public infrastructure.
    Steve wrote:
    ” . . but think that I’m not comfortable as
    of yet with the notion that a net neutrality regime as I’ve come to understand it generates the levels of self-interested investment that help grow out the scale and capacity of the internet.”
    Re-examine the premise. The problem you identify is intrinsic to all public infrastructure. I don’t see any corporations shelling out $100 billion to build traditional ‘grey’ infrastructure—new roads, etc., for the same reasons. It is expensive to build and profits are low.
    It is also inconsistent with free market principles to contrive excessive profits from a what is a public good or a public commons. Granting a monopoly or a monopolistic pricing structure for something not built or not invented by corporations is also out of keeping with sound public policy and the public interest.
    What corporations and their legions of lawyers want is, something for nothing.
    But if cable companies can rise by stringing TV cable across the Great Plains and Appalachia, and turn a massive profit in the process, it’s time to stop pretending AT&T is the poor put-upon stepchild who just can’t seem to make in a harsh and unforgiving world.
    So there’s plenty of incentive, it’s just that telecoms want to rig the free market, using government authority (i.e., they depend on welfare) to lock in high profit rates AT&T haven’t earned in the marketplace.
    Now, some firms (Macquarie Group) have used private capital at vastly lower levels to lease public highways for 99 years. That, however, establishes a monopoly on a public good that citizens are forced to use, and is a form of double taxation.
    So when we hear corporations advocate double taxation, we need to take a close look at the structured agreements.
    Whether such arrangements can work for both parties remains to be seen. It’s possible, but much care must be taken—and there is no obligation on the part of government to guarantee profits for Macquarie or for AT&T.
    “Martin, who for a few seconds appeared befuddled, started talking about penetration rates, then blamed the older infrastructure in the United States “that people like Verizon are trying to upgrade,” while Lowell McAdam, the president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, sat to his right, the Journal reported.”
    Here’s the method: de-fund Poindexter’s TIA and subsequent versions, and invest all those monies in high-capacity broadband, etc., & related public infrastructure. Set prices at a reasonable profit and let AT&T compete in that free market. Being too snooty to accept the lower profits the market will bear is not an argument for having Big Government contrive high profit levels.
    The degree to which ‘disTRUST of corporations’ exists is the degree to which trust-busting is the first public obligation of elected officials, and it is the only way forward.
    The alternative is no free markets and an American economy that continually falls behind global competitors—largely because corporations fighting net neutrality put exorbitant profits above the national interest.
    I realize there are factors I’m not taking into account. However, that’s clearly the case with many other points of view.
    FDR didn’t right the ship of state by waiting for Halliburton to build the Hoover Dam.

    Reply

  7. Peter Bailey says:

    I work for a major PC mfg, and based on the conversations I’ve had with those working the issue with the telcos/cable companies, the key factor driving infra. investment (or not) is the long term cost of capital, i.e. the time to reach positive ROI on the huge investment necessary to roll out very expensive high speed infrastructure is on the order of 5-10 years, but long term financing for riskier projects is quite expensive.
    The telcos efforts to undermine net neutrality are really about increasing the rate of return of new investment, thereby reducing the ROI period while also reducing the cost of capital. The problem with just letting them have their way is that investment problem is temporary, but the damage is permanent, ie. it will quickly have long-lived, highly destructive effects by stifling new technology investment and innovation, and would be very hard to undo at some future point in time.
    Three quick examples:
    1) Microsoft’s repeated abuse of their Windows monopoly has dramatically stifled innovation on the Windows platform. Compare the massive, expoentially growing innovation and revenue on free/open internet and open source platforms vs. relatively modest incremental improvements in Windows OS and applications. Despite repeated lawsuits both in the EU/US, MS simply cannot financially take the short/medium term revenue damage (i.e. they’re addicted to monopoly enabled high margins) that re-opening their platform to allow fair competition would entail.
    2) Successful efforts by US mobile phone vendors to control 3rd party applications and devices are allowed on their networks have resulted in the US dramatically lagging behind EU and Asian networks in phone innovation, applications and services. In Finland you can buy a soda from a vending machine with your cell phone. In the United States basic call quality and coverage is still an issue. Apple’s control of iTunes and a highly compelling iPhone was only thing that enabled them to get AT&T to enable even partial open internet access over mobile networks. Also Apple cleverly sold the AT&T on the idea that the device would be locked down, but the security was deliberately weak, enabling Apple to turn a blind eye to various interesting apps/services now emerging for the platform. Despite AT&T’s success in increasing network revenues, other mobile providers have still not opened their networks to unaffiliated app/service providers and third party phones.
    3) Highly innovative and much less expensive voice services like Vonage are being systematically strangled by cable/telco efforts to preferentially allocate bandwidth to their own phone services and actively discriminate against Vonage traffic. Various cable and telco entities have been caught red-handed deliberately trying to throttle Vonage latency/throughput, and were only forced to back down by threats of FCC intervention. They would be put out of business overnight if net neutrality was abolished.
    So what can we do to break the log jam?
    1) Allow customer/provider neutral variable pricing for different levels of throughput/latency/download caps a la FedEx, charged to the customer, not the provider.
    2) Use the current economic downturn as an opportunity to upgrade net infra. by subsidizing and accelerating high speed internet rollout in return for maintaining net neutrality. This is a classic case of an economic force multiplier, ie. relatively modest investment (in normal gov’t amounts, let alone by Iraq war/Medicare Plan D standards) would produce large direct stimulus of domestic industries/services that would be doubled/tripled by software/content investment to take advantage of the new capability.
    3) Enable wireless spectrum auction based on net neutrality principles, to create a demonstration competitive market for wireless apps/services. Google was attempting to get the FCC to do exactly this, partially succeeded with the recent auction, only to have Verizon essentially renege on open access req’t via narrow interpretation of the rules.

    Reply

  8. FaceOnMars says:

    Steve,
    This may be one of the first biggies we’ve parted ways. Fair enough about strong ideologies; I’d certainly go along with the notion of Net Neutrality needing to be evaluated on a number of fronts as applied to various core definitions; however, I believe there’s one crucial aspect which may trump all others. In particular, how net nuetrality opens up the political process to play “outside the sandbox” of traditional media broadcast and interaction with information. To a certain extent, this thread and comment posting is a living breathing example.
    While the free market operating inside a “non-nuetrual environment” could still theoretically provide a competitive landscape for independent, alternate, and “non-mainstream views”, I believe we’d almost certainly witness a homogenization of disemination of information as witnessed currently in other traditional media outlets (including via the big players on web).
    Those avenues which aren’t economically viable under the new set of rules will be squashed eventually … less there’s a cooperative endeavor which rivals the top dogs in the free market. An uphill battle.
    So, a non-neutral internet could ultimately resemble the same tightly controlled pathways which steer and influence the perceptions of voters.
    On the other hand, adherence to net neutrality may ultimately allow qualified “unknowns” — without huge backing of special interests — to have shot at being elected on their own merits and very limited budgets.
    A non neutral net is essentially “setting up the pins” for special interests to knock down in the same game they’ve been playing.
    FOM

    Reply

  9. Steve Clemons says:

    I think that the balance Mr. M is between consumer/user protections and the need for a vast investment in infrastructure. But it’s an interesting debate…one I think is important.
    best, steve clemons

    Reply

  10. Mr.Murder says:

    Free Speech, First Amendment, at what price to telcos?

    Reply

  11. Steve Clemons says:

    Matt and others, thanks for the post. This question of what
    drives innovation and infrastructure development is important.
    Thanks for sharing your views. To Matt — I don’t believe for a
    second that passion doesn’t ride next to considered judgment. I
    do think that there must be a pragmatic solutions oriented
    balance between the public need/expectation of consumer
    protections and openness across platforms and other
    innovations and clustering of information that firms can use to
    justify further investment at much higher levels than is occurring
    today. I do respect those who are working on the public good
    side of this — but I am interested in the incentive structure for
    firms and government. Anyway, I’m in learning mode and plan
    to absorb more on this — but think that I’m not comfortable as
    of yet with the notion that a net neutrality regime as I’ve come to
    understand it generates the levels of self-interested investment
    that help grow out the scale and capacity of the internet. I think
    that pubic and private needs can/should be balanced, and I
    hope folks can share templates for how this might work —
    particularly from those more knowledgeable than I.
    best, Steve Clemons

    Reply

  12. Matt Stoller says:

    I have no problem with trying to maintain neutrality with current capacities — but I’m all for new innovation, new investment, new build-outs of the telecommunications infrastructure in the country, and this may mean that business does carve out some privileged space for consumers on certain platforms. Otherwise, why would they invest?
    Why did they invest when there were common carriage regulations on telephone and broadband networks in the late 1990s? Why did the US drop from number one to number eighteen in the world after net neutrality (and more importantly, open access) protections were removed from broadband services?
    There are a lot of good examples of functional broadband policy all over the world. Net neutrality is just not tied to broadband investment in any meaningful way, except in the press releases of telecom interests in America, and apparently this blog post.
    I would also encourage you to be more specific in your arguments about fervent net neutrality supporter as being tied to some unreasonable ideology. I am a fervent net neutrality supporter, but I basically agree with Obama’s and Google’s position on the matter. Passion does not equal a lack of considered judgment.

    Reply

  13. Bartolo says:

    Net neutrality is fine, but more important here in west central Virginia would be net equality. We have medium speed service from a tower on the Blue Ridge, but there is little sign of DSL or cable out here. Money has been granted for rural broadband via the USDA but there is little profit for the industry. We read of new wireless technologies for ever greater distances, but nothing comes of it.

    Reply

  14. Peter Bailey says:

    Steve,
    Re: your comments on Net Neutrality, I think there are some nuances to the Net Neutrality issue that need to be clarified when discussing why the principle is important.
    The telcos consistently try to conflate the idea of charging for provider and customer neutral variable pricing for different guaranteed levels of service a la FedEx, which is not objectionable, with the idea that they can arbitrarily sell preferential access (incl. discriminatory throttling of competitors) to favored companies.
    This latter aspect extends to a second related objectionable “right” they are claiming, i.e. they have the right to charge a cloud provider for access to customers. I’m paying them for access to the internet, and I’m happy to pay more if I use more (either for latency or throughput) to enable them to improve their infra. to meet my req’ts. Google is *not* their customer, since they’re paying for internet access at their end. Telcos are now asserting that they get to double charge *on an arbitrary, discriminatory* basis.
    Cable network access control is the primary reason why cable/satellite TV is such a high-priced wasteland (arguably including corporate self-censorship of pre-war and postware Iraq coverage), due to the numerous conflicts of interest created by large conglomerates owning cable service providers, content providers and channels.
    It’s a simple fact that providing next gen last-mile >10Mbit high-speed infrastructure in most urban areas (as is the case today) will be a natural mono/duo-poly, which is why this a particular problem. The telcos are trying their very best to enable locked down (not a content neutral tollbooth, but an arbitrary corporate passport) network access to maximize revenue. While this is understandable self-interest, one only need look back to the history of railroad robber barons to understand the problems inherent in a laissez faire approach to network regulation (http://lsb.scu.edu/~dklein/papers/privateTollRds.html). Back then to escape extortionate discriminatory gold transport charges gold miners used to mint coins with silver/copper outside with gold hidden inside. The latter-day internet implications re:free speech/communication are very disturbing.

    Reply

  15. Spunkmeyer says:

    If you ever used a closed online service like Prodigy, Compuserve
    or America Online prior to public access of the Internet, you have
    an idea of what a non-net neutrality future could look like.
    Compuserve et al. were cool in 1990 when there was no
    alternative. Now, it would really suck to go back to that sort of
    experience.

    Reply

  16. jpmist says:

    “I have no problem with trying to maintain neutrality with current capacities — but I’m all for new innovation, new investment, new build-outs of the telecommunications infrastructure in the country, and this may mean that business does carve out some privileged space for consumers on certain platforms. Otherwise, why would they invest?”
    I think that most innovation that has sprung from the Internet has come from small players that are driven to do “cool” things and worry about where the money comes later. All AT&T and Verison can manage to innovate is how to bill 25 cents for a text message.
    From what I understand, data can’t be transmitted any faster than by leaving it alone, so in other words, if you want “priviledged space” to be marketed at top dollar you have to slow the rest of the data down. Is that really what you want?
    The internet really is a dumb pipe, once you let the corporate greedheads control it, you’ll stifle innovation and increase costs. The Internet shouldn’t belong to the bandwidth providers, it should be a public resource belonging to all of us.

    Reply

  17. Mr.Murder says:

    He’s for whatever it is the man thinks you want to heard said at the time, Steve.
    A blank slate….

    Reply

  18. erichwwk says:

    Two other views on net neutrality:
    Randy Bush; http://tinyurl.com/462gmz
    Vint Cerf and Dave Farber debate Net Neutrality:
    http://tinyurl.com/4f2pxm

    Reply

  19. ej says:

    Right now, the Internet is the only venue where a widespread population can find the unfiltered news (all perspectives) in order to determine for themselves what is really going on. There isn’t one news source where the consumer doesn’t have to be aware of money/business interests that may determine, to various degrees, the content or the nature of what they are hearing/reading/watching – not one, except the Internet.
    If we allow the FCC to cave to big money interests and become another shill (like so much of our government already is), it won’t take long before unforeseen restrictions are imposed on the access to the information now available on the Internet (of course for the sake of profits on the surface with some ancillary (?) benefits for the powers that be to maintain that power).
    We have enough anecdotal evidence to be able to predict this outcome. There’s no reason to believe that this latest version of a “land grab” should be any different. How many times can we fall for this before we wake up?

    Reply

  20. rich says:

    (Steve: in mid-reply, I noted some ambiguity in your wording—“this NOT sounds like a heavy dose of utopian socialism”—didn’t catch the “not” in there, so if what follows is off-base, pls ignore)
    Thing is, tax dollars paid to invent and establish the internet. It is public infrastructure, full stop. Not analogous to; capacity determines competitiveness.
    If self-appointed gatekeepers are able to exact a toll from public infrastructure that prices out precisely those people (young, skilled, with time on their hands; or bootstrappers /w initiative) that our economy needs to tap the most, it’ll impair both national and individual productivity and economic competitiveness.
    So I disagree the net neutrality camp can accurately be characterized as advocating ‘utopian socialism’ or as operating with the ferver of a ‘holy crusade.’ Quite the opposite: Free market competition and equal access to public resources, in this case the information superhighway, is the epitome of pragmatic individualism and as far from ‘utopian socialism’ as one can get.
    I realize that actual governance is so unfamiliar at this point as to be unrecognizable, but real-life, democracy-based regulatory mechanism that ensure a free market (& access to public resources) cannot be equated to ‘utopian socialism.’
    Further, take a good hard look at the harm foot-dragging, corporate-aligned ideologues at the F.C.C. have inflicted on American competitiveness:
    http://blogs.marketwatch.com/techtales/2008/05/29/fcc-chair-lambasted-over-broadband-in-the-us/
    http://www.madison.com/tct/business/289061
    >>>
    Tech Columnist Lambasts FCC Chair over Lagging U.S. Broadband
    “Famed technology columnist Walt Mossberg aggressively confronted the head of the Federal Communications Commission over the state of U.S. broadband during Thursday’s closing session of the All Things Digital Conference, reported The Wall Street Journal, which is Mossberg’s employer.
    “Mossberg lambasted Kevin Martin, the chairman of the FCC, about sluggish U.S. broadband rates, as well as the higher cost here compared to the rest of the world, the paper said.
    “We are behind 10 or 12 countries,” Mossberg said, as a chart was put up showing that Japan leads the world with the fastest broadband Internet speed, approaching nearly 100 megabits per second, compared to about nine megabits per second on average in the U.S.
    “You are the head of the FCC,” Mossberg asked. “How have you allowed this to happen?”
    “Martin, who for a few seconds appeared befuddled, started talking about penetration rates, then blamed the older infrastructure in the United States “that people like Verizon are trying to upgrade,” while Lowell McAdam, the president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, sat to his right, the Journal reported.”
    <<<
    America is in 12th place (or so). From leading edge to fallen behind; overtaken by those adopting our own technology. There is no hint of a ‘holy crusade’ nor any dogma in uttering aloud the fact that Kevin Martin’s FCC and in-name-only ‘conservative’ policy-makers have inflicted harm on the American economy.
    These recitations of free market ideology are but excuses to channel profits and access to some, but not others. Hey, profits are good. But let’s not pretend there’s not a direct link between that access & profits and “the haves and have-nots” cited in your post.
    Dismissing net neutrality advocates as reflexively defaulting to a position “fundamentally about a distrust for corporations” omits to mention recent policy decisions that shed a much different light on the matter, & demonstrates a lack of acuity to the political dynamics.
    Absolutely critical to understanding the concerns, is well, the historical record. Leaving aside the recent telecom bill—which notoriously delivered massive profits to connected media giants—let’s note that by law, the airwaves are publicly owned, and ABC, NBC, etc., only hold a charter to broadcast over them.
    Most but skimpily fulfill their public interest obligations—but worse, charging political candidates market-rates for campaign advertisements has put a systemic throttle-hold on our political process.
    That behavior is the antithesis of the contractual basis upon which these broadcasters’ charters were granted. Providing political advertising free of charge or at very reasonable costs should be a non-negotiable no-brainer. Enforcing and revoking these charters should be job one.
    I’m not particularly deep in the weeds on net neutrality, relative to some, anyway. But the context of recent history matters, as does the purpose and performance of the policy record.
    What proponents of net neutrality ask is eminently reasonable:
    a) Will there be equal access to public infrastructure & resources?
    b) Will we be sheared like sheep?
    c) Will the political process retain what integrity it has; or continue to serve as a vehicle for profiteering?
    d) Will we have a voice, or be returned to a condition in which The Internets devolve into segregated sectors of exclusivity & passivity that allow a voice to some but not others, and access to some but not others? Will we be HEARD?
    e) Will cost be a gatekeeper to participation in the national debate? In the media? In the political process?
    The record clearly shows that both government and corporate decisions have broken any trust explicit in the arrangements that established broadcasters’ use of publicly owned airwaves.
    Frankly, it is incorrect to say net neutrality is “fundamentally about a distrust for corporations”—at what point was ‘trust’ ever an obligation? or metric? Worse, though, is offering up that contention in the face of the open breach of trust committed by ABC, NBC, the FCC, etc. with a) the public, and b) through rupture of not adhering to the legal foundations of current arrangements. That’s allowed high campaign advertising costs to generate a pernicious throttlehold on our public process, both in entry to & participation in elections, as well as the ability to equitable access to having a reasonable and proportional say in the matters up for debate.
    In short, it’s about the public record, not about some endemic ‘distrust.’ Reference to the public record shows there is every reason not to trust corporate players—whose actions have generated serious fact-based opposition.
    Distrust just does not enter into weighing the merits of net neutrality or the usurpation of public resources for private gain. Policy has to be designed for the public gain and national interest.
    With INFRASTRUCTURE reinvestment a high priority come February 2009, upgrading access to and capacity of The Internets had better be high on the list.
    This goes straight to the American lifeblood as well as its musculature: Will Americans have a functional free market? A functional public forum, within which free expression and free speech thrives? Not, I guess, if Cokie Roberts wins the day.
    Relegating some Americans to second-class citizenship & choking off their ability to compete in the global economy may be the point—but even the impulse to privilege those with greater influence has to cede the obligation to the country & to the American national interest that even corporations owe their countrymen.
    These points are amply supported by breaking news. As MSM figureheads like Charlie Gibson scramble to pooh-pooh Scott McLellan’s unveiling of an Emperor w/o New Clothes & the media courtiers who maintained the fiction that Bush’s nakedness was high fashion—as they squawk and take umbrage—it’s worth taking a close look at the explicit and implicit betrayals, laid out in the record, these same media figures committed.
    ‘Distrust’ is the least of it. McLellan did his job, but the story was written across his face. When the corporate media cleans house and repairs that breach, and establishes a new order, we can talk about trust. Until then, it’s Net Neutrality—or Bust.

    Reply

  21. JohnH says:

    The BIG issue is censorship. When a handful of corporations control the most accessed media, permissible messages, and align themselives with a rogue administration, you’ve got trouble, big trouble. We’ve already seen the disastrous consequences of that in the control of television “news,” which became a propaganda arm of the DOD.
    And we’ve already seen radio censorship by Clear Channel:
    http://www.counterpunch.org/daveyd07192005.html
    And we’ve seen Congress refuse to act on community based, low power FM, which is what allowed Venezuelan communities to communicate amongst themselves to roll back the 2002 coup organized by the local Chamber of Commerce.
    We’ve already seen censorship on the internet: http://directmag.com/disciplines/email/truthout_blocked_censorship/
    Allowing big corporations to control the message is nothing more than a huge invitation to future rogue administrations to manipulate people to accept their perverse world view. We’ve had enough of that already!

    Reply

  22. questions says:

    I was under the impression that the biggest issue with net neutrality is that without this presumption, service providers could decide which web sites make it to your computer and in which order they appear. Should we lose neutrality then Comcast could decide the The Washington Note should not be available because it is too radical, but The Comcast Daily Bulletin would show up every time. Admittedly there’s a lot of crap out there, a lot of propaganda and a lot of conspiracy theory, but better that than losing access to the diversity of voices that have some chance of challenging the corporate order.

    Reply

  23. james says:

    a technical debate that mostly means keeping our current content out on the internet — our current levels of blogging, of video, of emails — flowing relatively freely across different platforms, like phones, laptops, blackberries. . .you name it.
    net neutrality is a business issue
    who will own the rights to meter information
    think of it as like the old bell pricing system of “time and distance” charges
    verizon, comcast, at&t et al can make a great deal more money if they can charge for metering internet information flow

    Reply

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *