Net Neutrality Trends
by Matt Stoller, Thu Feb 15, 2007 at 05:57:31 PM EST
As video moves to the internet, having strong protections for the architecture of the network is going to become increasingly critical for our ability to organize and act as citizens in an internet-enabled democracy. There's a bunch of news on the net neutrality front. Coverage of the issue continues to be rather pathetic, as Celia Wexler from Common Cause notes.
Indeed, when I asked a question about net neutrality -- the right of individuals to access any information and use any lawful application on the Internet without the interference of an Internet Service Provider -- the panelists were almost totally unresponsive. Dana Priest, a very big-time Washington Post reporter, asked: "What's net neutrality?" The fact that she asked the question truly is an indictment of her own newspaper, which continues to cover media issues as business stories, and buries them in the business section of their paper.
But far more disappointing was the response of Scott Moore, vice president for Yahoo! News, who explained net neutrality to his colleagues on the panel, but then claimed it was "a tempest in a teapot," offering the bogus argument that in a competitive media marketplace, any company that withheld content that people wanted would find those individuals choosing another cable or broadband provider. Of course, that argument is so fraught with inaccuracies, it is pathetic. First of all, everyone knows that when a consumer contracts with a cable or telephone company for a bundle of services, it is extremely difficult to switch services. Secondly, companies are not going to cut off access to information, they are just going to make some information way more difficult to get to. You won't be able to find www.commoncause.org on a search engine, or when you try to access us, it will take far longer to reach us.
It is no secret that cable and phone companies want to make the Internet a vehicle for selling things and entertainment, a replica of cable with all its lack of choice and big profits.
The business coalition pushing net neutrality has always been weak, and it's getting weaker as companies like Yahoo jump ship. Yahoo is cutting deals with AT&T to deliver IPTV, which could explain the lack of enthusiasm for net neutrality. With the exception of Google and eBay, this coalition has been largely irrelevant, content to free ride off of our work. Fine. They didn't matter that much last cycle anyway.
Meanwhile, Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu, who came out with a superb paper a few weeks ago on the mobile industry and mobile net neutrality, is being slimed by telco troll Scott Cleland. Wu is something of a legend in copyright and telecom law, and he's making some very important points about how our mobile infrastructure restricts innovation. Of course such honest discourse can't happen without a whole bunch of smearing going on, and Cleland steps up to the plate as he often does.
In Congress, Federal protections on net neutrality are stalled, which means that the fight is at the state level. In Maine as in Maryland, a state-level net neutrality bill is being introduced. That's two states, and I imagine that number is going to increase. It's interesting, this really is people-powered, and it's going to be fascinating to see how the debates over architecture play out over the next five years. The trends are looking good for us.
I'm a consultant for Free Press, which works on free media issues like net neutrality.