Mike McCurry Responds to Matt Stoller on Net Neutrality

In reading the many posts on net neutrality, I was delighted to see that a man who's work in the Clinton White House I greatly respected, Mike McCurry, took the time to post on MyDD the other day.  He responded to Matt Stoller's Attack with a response outlining why he opposes regulating net neutrality.

I have sat on the sidelines of the net neutrality arguments here on MyDD so far because it is a very confusing issue that I am still trying to fully understand.  However, I enjoyed reading McCurry's response, because it presents a lot of good arguments that many of us here at MyDD may not have been exposed too since the blog has taken a very strong position in favor of net neutrality.

While McCurry's comments are already out there on record, I feel this issue is well worth writing a diary about, in order to provide a forum in which to debate McCurry's arguments, particularly about why we should oppose government involvement in regulating the internet.  The points he raises are, at the very least, worthy of debating on their merits, rather than just selectively quoting McCurry to imply he is only motivated by money.  It's always nice to consider both sides of an argument especially when loyal Democrats like McCurry and Stoller have opposing viewpoints.

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Mike McCurry: Clueless or Just Dishonest?

Josh Marshall made an important point today. The internet didn't have to develop the way it did, as a free and level playing field. Some extremely smart people built and designed the system in the 1960s and 1970s.

As importantly, in the 1990s, the Clinton administration and Newt Gingrich's Republican Congress ensured that the internet would continue its growth by making sure that phone companies could not discriminate against content coming through their phone lines. They had the foresight to realize that the government needed to make sure that telecom monopolies wouldn't choke off the growth of the internet for marginal revenue gains, and the result has been an explosion of innovation on top of a neutral and stable infrastructure. The FCC has been the agency that typically ensured that neutrality.

In 2005, the FCC made a radical reversal, and decided that telecom companies could discriminate against content coming through broadband DSL and cable lines. This radical reversal completely undercut the legacy of the free internet. Congress has a choice right now. Do they ratify this choice and turn the internet into a telco-cartel dominated 'walled garden'? Or do they overturn it and go back to the the effective nondiscriminatory policies that created the internet?

That's the debate, and we should debate it in those terms.

Which is why former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry is doing makes my blood boil. With a nice little Op-Ed in the Washington Times supporting the anti-competitive position of the telco cartel, McCurry shows himself as either willfully dishonest or completely clueless on the debate. Now, to be clear, working as a lobbyist for telecommunications companies is fine.  As he explained in a comment on MyDD, he's just paying his mortgage.  What's NOT fine is that he's misrepresenting the issue. McCurry is pretending that his clients are continuing the successful Clinton legacy of an unregulated internet. Here's what he has to say:

The absence of regulation over the last decade allowed engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators to provide us the amazing tool for communication, learning, entertainment and commerce that the Internet has become. There was bipartisan consensus when a Democratic president agreed with a Republican Congress to resist calls for regulation of the Internet in 1996 when our telecommunications laws were last seriously rewritten.

This "hands off" approach is why we have such consumer benefits as online commerce, distance learning and better access to health-care information. It is why we have speedy data transmissions and inexpensive worldwide communications capabilities.

This is simply untrue. As Ben Scott puts it:

Only in 2005 did the FCC strip out the network neutrality rules that are in the 1996 Act (supported by the Clinton White House). To say that we never had these protections, and that now advocates of Internet freedom are trying to regulate the market is TOTAL NONSENSE. Net neutrality brought us the Internet from its date of birth up until 2005. In August of 2005, the FCC (in a colossally bad decision) cut cable modem and DSL providers loose of these obligations. Since then, they have all announced that they will begin discriminating. The only thing that holds them back is that the Verizon and AT&T are temporarily (for another 18 months) obliged to maintain neutrality as a condition of their recent merger activity. They are all on their best behavior, waiting for Congress to give them the green light to discriminate. If they win, that'll be the end of the Internet as we know it.

The telcos are in the process of destroying the Clinton legacy of nondiscrimination. The FCC reversed decades of internet policy in 2005, and now the telcos are trying to cement this change with Congressional action. So as you can see, McCurry is completely betraying the Clinton legacy of a free internet.

But why take my word for it? Here is an excerpt from the Clinton / Gore "Framework for Global Electronic Commerce."(1 July 1997)

The goal of the United States will be to ensure that online service providers can reach end-users on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions.

In other words, the Clinton/Gore White House explicitly took an enforceable and nondiscrimatory approach towards content delivery, and THAT is what allowed the internet to flourish the way it did. It is currently on a path away from what has made it successful for 30 years because of the radical regulatory changes the FCC made and Mike McCurry's clients are seeking to enshrine into law.

Either McCurry knows this, or he is too ignorant to really care. Either way, Mike McCurry is depriving the public of a real debate on an issue that involves massive segments of our economy, culture, and politics. There are reasonable differences on this issue; McCurry could make the argument that the internet isn't a commons, that the public has no right of way, and that the internet should be controlled by private interests who can charge what they want and censor what they choose. But McCurry is not making this argument. He's not trying to describe why the radical changes he wants in internet policy would be good. McCurry is simply asserting that the government never had a nondiscriminatory policy in place and using scare tactics about 'government regulating the internet' as a smokescreen for a give-away.

Once again, McCurry might be lying, or he might be just too clueless and well-paid to care. It doesn't really matter, he shouldn't be involved in public policy in this area. And he shouldn't be pretending that what is a massive public giveaway to anti-competitive private interests is in the public's interest. That's deeply dishonest and dishonorable behavior, and I hope he rediscovers his moral center

As an aside I find it ironic that the telco cartel, which has hired a former Clinton spokesperson, is calling a coalition that includes the gun rights community and the foremost libertarian blogger a bunch of lefties. I'm with the gun owners on this one.  Mike McCurry's actions here are simply unAmerican.

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Save the Internet! (LAST-DITCH ACTION )

The big telecom companies have lobbied hard for a bill in the House that's designed to destroy the internet as we know it -- and your reps will be voting on it in two days.

From Common Cause:

Telecommunications companies like AT&T and Verizon have lobbied Congress for the right to control where you go on the Internet, how fast you get there, and how much you pay for the service. On Wednesday, the House Commerce Committee will be voting on the absurdly-named  COPE bill  (Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act).

But the only "promoting" and "enhancing" this bill does is for the cable, phone and media interests that have poured nearly  half a billion dollars into lobbying Congress over the past eight years to get the perks they so desire.

Please call your House member today. Ask your Representative to vote NO on the COPE bill: www.house.gov 

The vote is happening on Wednesday, April 26 so your calls are needed today.

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Libertarians versus Lobbyists

There's a weird phenomenon right now where the gun rights groups are starting to circle around and find common cause with privacy advocates and media reform groups on the left.  Gun rights groups were part of the DearAOL coalition, for instance, and now they are part of the coalition to protect freedom on the internet.  For instance, Craig Fields of Gun Owners of America, said today:

"Whenever you see people on the far left and the far right getting together [to oppose the same bill]," said Craig Fields, director of InterNet operations for conservative gun advocacy group Gun Owners of America, it's a good indication that, "what Congress is getting ready to do is un-American."

Contrast this with Mike McCurry, lobbyist and co-Chair of astroturf group Hands off the Internet, on why he's involved in the HOTI coalition:

Look, I have to make a buck sure.

Perhaps there is principle behind McCurry's involvement in this fight, but I doubt it.  Let's just say he really believes in his arguments.  Fine.  It doesn't really matter though.  The only reason McCurry is in this fight is because he's being paid by an industry cartel.  Gunowners, bloggers, librarians, internet users - we all have a compelling interest in the outcome of this fight.  For someone like McCurry, the telecom industry is just another client.  He's not an expert.  He has nothing at stake.  He's not principled.  He has no history in internet communications.  There is no reason his name should matter here.  There's no reason to take him seriously.

He is just a paid shill in this fight.  Treat him as such.

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The Internet Freedom Fight: A Round-Up

Background on the Issue:  The internet is open because private companies haven't been allowed to block content they don't like.  Now the telcos want to make it so they can block what you see.

The Threat to You is real: Telcos have already blocked competing services, censored emails, and prevented customers from reading political web sites.  Why do you assume they care about your rights?

Come On, This Isn't Really Happening: Fine, don't believe me. Ignore the fact that the CEO of AT&T is on record that this is going to happen. You can pretend that this won't affect you, if you want.

'Net Neutrality': A Simple Explanation: Annoying tech issue, maybe, but you can watch this this simple video explanation.

Explaining the Players in the Fight:  It's a corporate cartel with bought and paid lobbyists versus a free market and citizens groups.

Can we win this fight? Yes, we can.  Congress isn't that set on giving away the internet.  They just don't understand the issues involved and don't think anyone's paying attention.  

What You Should Link to:
Moveon Petition
Save the Internet on MySpace

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