Monday, June 19, 2006

Telco Argument Implodes Under Pressure

Sellout's Paul Misener handily defeated Mike McCurry -- co-Chair of the telecom front group "Hands off the Internet" -- in a debate over Net Neutrality at George Washington University on Friday.

Watch the segment in question, posted at PoliticsTV. The video shows a slow-motion implosion of the telco argument against Net Neutrality. In the "Question and Answer" section, Misener points out that large bandwidth users such as Amazon already pay for their use of bandwidth.But it is not content companies' use of the pipes, but user choice that's really at stake.

"It's not true that Internet content companies don't pay for access to the Internet." Misener says. "We pay handsomely for access to the Internet Amazon pays millions of dollars a year to connect to the internet... There are a lot of ways that companies at the edge providing content are already paying the network operators.”

McCurry asks: "Paul, isn't that exactly the kind of tiered pricing that everyone who proposes net neutrality rails against?"

"No" replies Misener:

"Tiered pricing for access is something we support. Amazon pays a lot more than 'Joe'' simply because we use more capacity... That makes perfect sense to us. You pay for that capacity. But the important component here is that once the consumer has paid for his or her capacity at their home they ought to be able to use that capacity however they want. There's a fundamental misconception here that somehow delivery of video over the Internet is just like it is over cable TV, over satellite, over broadcast or, frankly, like delivery of content through newspapers or magazines. Those models have always been about 'push.' Somebody decides -- who either owns the pipe or owns the newspaper -- what content goes in their and pushes it out to consumers and they can choose to read it or not."

Leaving Internet choice in the hands of users – and not handing it over to the middlemen at AT&T, Verizon and Comcast -- is precisely what we’re fighting for at


"That's not the way the Internet works. The Internet does not have all this content in there unless the user asks for it. When you hit return on your browzer it actually sends out a 'get command' to the server; it's a very illustrative name for a command in computer code. It actually says 'get'-- that means now send me the file. That file never gets into the pipes owned by the network operators that Mike represents unless their customer who's paid for that access asks for it. So we're not clogging their pipes at all. We're only providing the content that we hope our joint customers want to see."

This important point gets to the core of what McCurry's bosses at AT&T and BellSouth want to do. They want to fundamentally reverse the Internet's user-powered "pull" model -- that is, the model where all choice and intelligence resides with the end-users -- and turn it into a "push," where these same network companies make decisions about what content users get to see based on which companies pay the corporate gatekeepers.

Misener continues:

"When we get to the point of discrimination, there's also this misnomer when we talk about things like wanting to prioritize videos so things don't get clogged... We don't want that either. We don't think that that's wrong for the network operators to be able to prioritize certain types of content. So if they want to prioritize telemedicine over data files that makes perfect sense. Let them do it. We're not opposed to that. The [Net Neutrality] rules that we propose would not do that. Our concern is discriminating among the source or ownership of that content. So if the network operators are put in a position of favoring the Mayo Clinic over Johns Hopkins, that's a problem. That's the discrimination. That's when the network operators become the HMO."

This is the sort of discrimination that the phone companies want to put in place. For proof of that go no further than a Washington Post story from last December when William L. Smith, chief technology officer for BellSouth Corp., "told reporters and analysts that an Internet service provider such as his firm should be able, for example, to charge Yahoo Inc. for the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc."

This discrimination would turn the Internet on it's head, ceding control to large corporations that seek to impose an old media model (top down) in place of the bottom-up Internet that has become a force for innovation, economic growth and democratic participation today.

In response to Misener, McCurry could do little better than sputter that Net Neutrality would allow sexual deviants to prey on teenagers at MySpace. Witness this age-old debating tactic. It's become common to political discourse of late: when backed into a corner, sow fear and obfuscate. (Listen to McCurry's reply at 5:35 of the "Question and Answer" segment and judge for yourself).

Here's McCurry again:

"On our side of the debate we often say that you cannot point to an instance of true discrimination or a real problem that exists -- this solution in search of a problem argument. You are kind of hypothetically raising what you think the structure of the problem might look like down the road. Because we certainly are not there yet. I think there is one instance, in which I think the Commission then did get in and address it and it was resolved. But beyond that, can you think of any other instance where anticipating a problem like this you then went in to try to develop and define a regulatory structure that might prevent the problem. Is that a good way to approach policy making?"


"I would share a lot of that concern. My free-market Republican predilections would be to be concerned if this were new, and if rules didn't already apply... These are temporary conditions applied to AT&T and Verison."

These temporary merger conditions expire soon Misener adds:

"So the fact that they haven't done it yet is because it has been illegal. So they keep saying, 'can you see a problem. There’s not a problem.'

It's been illegal. It's been illegal and it still is illegal for AT&T and Verizon... Monopolists will always seek the profit maximizing point. So if they're looking for that profit maximizing point they will do what they can to get to that point. What we're suggesting that they have fully announced their intentions to do this. These are not some rogues. These are the CEOs of companies saying that they plan to engage in this sort of discrimination. I'm not saying that it's the best business plan but they have announced that they want to do it."

To which McCurry replies:

"Well, this is a question of definition: One person's tiered pricing, building a faster lane is another person's definition of discrimination. [The ISPs] have said and pledged that they can't degrade services that they provide currently... That is stipulated to by everybody and agreed, if you don't trust the phone companies for whatever reason keep the Commission there wary and watchful to make sure that they do that. But again you're not giving me a good sense that there's a definition of the problem that you can use."

Misener breaks through this static:

"Sure there is. Discrimination based on the source or ownership of the content. That's real easy. If you want to discriminate and favor telemedicine offer data files, that's fine. But don't pick the Mayo Clinic over Johns Hopkins. That's pretty easy. And a complaint system where Johns Hopkins can go to the Commission and say Mayo Clinic was given a better deal than we. That makes perfect sense."

Indeed. Again, watch it and judge for yourself:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, the telco's have certainly done a good job of muddying the waters. I kept having to go back and reread your article to understand what was going on. Interesting post. Thanks! - Dan