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.