Friday, June 30, 2006

Stevens Stammers While the Internet Burns

Stevens and his bill
The good senator from Alaska seems to have lost the memo on Net Neutrality.

His rant on Wednesday from the chairman's seat of the Senate Commerce Committee raises some serious concerns about the telecommunications legislation that bears his signature:

Listen to Steven's June 28 Speech (mp3 file)

Here's one peculiar snippet:
"My biggest fear about this debate is that we don’t know about the consequences to turn the Internet into a two-tiered system, which is exactly what those who are pleading for Net Neutrality would do."
Stevens' aides must have shuffled up his 3x5 cards before passing them to the podium. Now, he's accusing Net Neutrality proponents of wanting a discriminatory, two-tiered Internet -- the very thing that we oppose.

Memo to Stevens: Discrimination is the mantra of your allies at AT&T, Verizon and Comcast -- not our side. If you "don't know about the consequences" of tiering, then why are you fast-tracking a Senate bill that would allow it?

Are we ready to entrust the future of the Internet to a law written by someone who doesn't know what the Internet is?

For more, read John Dvorak's article in PC Mag.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Senator Wyden To Block Bad Telco Bill

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has placed a "hold" on major telecommunications legislation recently approved by the Senate Commerce Committee until clear language is included in the legislation that prevents discrimination in Internet access.

Immediately following the Commerce Committee's vote against a Net Neutrality amendment, Senator Wyden marched onto the floor of the Senate to demand that the legislation include stronger safeguards against phone and cable company discrimination.

"The major telecommunications legislation reported today by the Senate Commerce Committee is badly flawed," Wyden told the Senate, according to the transcript of his speech:

"The bill makes a number of major changes in the country’s telecommunications law but there is one provision that is nothing more than a license to discriminate. Without a clear policy preserving the neutrality of the Internet and without tough sanctions against those who would discriminate, the Internet will be forever changed for the worse."

A hold signals his intent to filibuster until certain issues in the Stevens' bill are cleared up. According to the Senate's official site, a hold is:

"An informal practice by which a Senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The Majority Leader need not follow the Senator's wishes, but is on notice that the opposing Senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure."

Senator Stevens is uncertain that he has the 60 votes to break a filibuster. If at least 41 Senators stand strong behind Net Neutrality filibuster then Wyden's hold could keep the Telecom bill from the floor.

The legislation that passed through committee today has toothless provisions on net neutrality, and instead opens the way for companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to charge consumers and small businesses new and discriminatory fees on top of those they already charge for Internet access.

"The Internet has thrived precisely because it is neutral," Wyden said. "It has thrived because consumers, and not some giant cable or phone company, get to choose what they want to see and how quickly they get to see it. I am not going to allow a bill to go forward that is going to end surfing the web free of discrimination."

Watch the video of Wyden's speech at the Agonist. The full text of Wyden’s statement is available online at

Monday, June 26, 2006

Videos from the People

Don't Let Them Do It
Thanks to all who have created and submitted videos on behalf of Here are two that came over the transom on Friday. The first comes from SpeakEasy Productions via SavetheInternet partners MediaChannel. Check it out:

The second is a product of Amanda Congdon and her crew at RocketBoom. Amanda takes her Volvo for a spin to illustrate the threat posed by big firms that try to squash the little guy to "buy popularity" and monopolize access. Check it out:

The success of these videos (several were in YouTube's "Top Ten" with more than 200,000 downloads) is a testament to the free and open Internet, where the best ideas rise as a result of Net user choice and not by special selection of AT&T, Verizon and Bell South. Our friends at the telco front group "Hands off the Internet" have tried to buy that sort of popularity, with little success.

Watch these and other SavetheInternet videos and send us your own.

Protecting the Web from 'Corporate Welfare Bums'

Cory Doctorow
For AT&T and Verizon to be screaming for the protection of the free market against Net Neutrality is “sheer hypocrisy,” writes Internet guru Cory Doctorow. “They themselves are creatures of government regulation, basing their business on government-granted extraordinary privileges.”

In a commentary in InformationWeek today, Doctorow skillfully dismisses the telco argument about getting properly paid for the bandwidth that others use.

“This argument is rubbish,” he writes. “Internet companies already are paying for bandwidth from their providers, often the same companies that want to charge them yet again under their new proposals.”

Companies like AT&T and Verizon claim that this sort of “triple dipping” – charging consumers once and content providers twice is necessary for them to provide the high speed services that Americans demand. In order to do this, they seek to become gatekeepers to content – charging an extra layer of fees for access to the fast lane.

Doctorow’s article strips the Net Neutrality debate down to its core. It’s all about stopping the phone companies “from committing ‘neutricide’destruction of the neutrality of the Internet,” he writes.

“It’s a dumb idea to put the plumbers who laid a pipe in charge of who gets to use it. It’s a way to ensure that incumbents with the deepest pockets will always be able to deliver a better service to the public, simply by degrading the quality of everyone else’s offerings. If you want to ensure that no one ever gets to creatively destroy an industry the way that Amazon, eBay, Google, Yahoo, and others have done, just make paying rent to a phone company a prerequisite for doing business.

“Practically everyone agrees on this. Only the carriers oppose it, and their opposition is so lame it’d be funny if it wasn’t so scary. The core argument from the carriers is that Google and other Internet companies get a ‘free ride’ on their pipes. AT&T and others take the position that if you look up a search result or stream a video from Google using your DSL connection, Google profits, but the carriers don’t get a share of the proceeds.

“That’s wrong.”
Doctorow calls for meaningful regulation that would protect Net Neutrality while stopping the phone companies’ plan for a tiered Internet. But he states that the devil is in the details. Any regulation should protect consumers, foster more competition and ensure that new entrants and ideas aren’t blocked from the Internet’s marketplace of ideas.

Barton’s Senate bill — as it is currently written – won’t get us there. And it’s stunningly disingenuous for Telco executives and their front groups to paint this vehicle as de-regulation that helps the consumer. Doctrow writes:
“There are few industries that owe their existence to regulation as much as the carriers. These companies are gigantic corporate welfare bums, having received the invaluable boon of a set of rights-of-way leading into every basement in America. Phone companies have a legal right to force you to provide access to your home for their pipes. Try calculating what it would cost to get into every U.S. home without a regulator clearing your path, and you quickly realize that the carriers should be the last people complaining about the distorting effect of regulation on their business.

“The Bells and cable companies owe their existence to governmental largesse, and, while they’re profit-making private firms, they are, in effect, quasigovernmental organizations. A Bell that wants to get rid of regulation is about as practical as a cotton-candy cone that wants to get rid of sugar. Bells are nothing but a thin veneer of arrogance wrapped around a regulatory monopoly.”

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Best Regulations Telco Money Can Buy

Sparking the Revolt
Charles Cooper, the executive editor at CNet, wrote an article today about the way telcos spin and deceive lawmakers into voting against the best interests of their constituents.

"Since the completion of last year's telecommunications mega-mergers, small and medium-size businesses have been getting hosed--with Uncle Sam playing the role of complicit bystander," he writes.

Cooper is referring to the SBC-AT&T and Verizon-MCI mergers announced in 2005. Telco lobbyists spun these mergers as pro-consumer and pro-business developments. Prices will plummet they crowed.

But since the late fall, prices for local private lines have done the opposite -- increasing for both consumers and businesses. "Maybe I missed the fine print on the press releases but how do they square price increases with the public interest?” Cooper asks.

Today, these newly re-assembled telco giants are spending tens of millions of dollars to spin lawmakers with the same arguments against Net Neutrality. But decision makers in Washington might want to check voters’ pocketbooks before rubber stamping legislation to gut Net Neutrality.

Cooper cites research by Simon Wilkie, which found that as long as AT&T and MCI remained independent, "competition naturally curbed the Bell companies' ability to ram through price hikes." Once they merged and that competition disappeared, presto-change-o! Higher prices.

In the Net Neutrality debate, telcos seek to leverage their monopoly control of DSL and FTTH broadband markets to erect new tollbooths on the exits and on-ramps of the information Superhighway.

They say this control will be good for consumers and businesses. But what other options do we have?

Many of the Web innovators and start-ups -- that historically have have been the engines for new ideas and economic growth online -- won't be able to pay the toll for access to AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth's gated lanes. And customers will be subject to limited Web choices and higher prices from monopoly ISPs that pick and choose content.

If a frustrated user decides to take her business to a more open ISP, she will face few to no choices in the market. (Remember, that more than 95% of the broadband market is controlled by major phone and cable providers. And they call this “Net Competition”).

The telcos -- with the aide of their sundry Astroturf front groups -- argue that they need to charge companies an extra level of fees so that consumers don’t have to pay higher prices. They need this extra money to fund the build out of networks to needy Americans.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently called this idea "ridiculous." "They're already making lots of money off consumers connected to the Internet," he said. "They just figure they can make more money charging the big content providers for the best service."

The monopolists at telco headquarters are now declaring poverty. (Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T have a cumulative market cap of more than $250 billion; their gross annual profits exceed $85 billion).

The truth is that they will build out their high-speed networks whether there are Network Neutrality rules or not.

The cable companies have largely built out their networks already. And it’s more cost efficient for telephone companies to upgrade their copper wires to compete with cable.

The only reason that they are claiming a need to get rid of Net Neutrality is because they see an opportunity to extract monopoly rents from new sources. They want to pass a law that awards them with gatekeeper control of Internet content -- locking in a new stream of revenue and wider profit margins at the expense of everyone but themselves.

But they won't tell Washington that.

Back at CNet, Cooper goes one further to illustrate how these powerful corporations operate behind the scenes in Washington to get anything they want. His conclusion: “ …the public's interest would be better served if we all paid greater attention. The problem is that we usually find out something's amiss after it's too late."

It’s not too late to stop the legislative juggernaut against Net Neutrality. Take action to stop the telcos today.

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:

Thursday, June 15, 2006

One Million Americans Urge Senate to Save the Internet

Net Heroes
Our real grassroots Coalition called today on Senators to heed growing public outcry for Net Neutrality as we delivered more than 1 million petitions and letters from average Americans to Capitol Hill. During the event we urged Congress to protect Net Neutrality and stand firm against efforts by phone and cable companies to control the Internet.

Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) joined us to call on their colleagues to support the "Internet Freedom and Preservation Act" (S. 2917), a bipartisan bill that would bar companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from blocking, degrading or interfering with content or services on the Internet. Here are some of the comments from the event:

Senator Olympia Snowe

"The idea that brings us together is a free and unfettered Internet. It’s vital we preserve, not undermine, the extraordinarily democratic technological network - over which content providers from the largest corporations in the biggest cities in the world to single individuals in rural towns have equal opportunity to reach millions of Internet users."

Senator Byron Dorgan

"It’s essential that we preserve Internet freedom. The open architecture which now exists, and which allows everyone fair access to any site on the Internet, without gatekeepers, must be preserved. That is what our bill would do - preserve Internet freedom, which is at the very core of what makes the Internet so important, and something that enriches the lives of millions of Americans."

The million petition signatures and letters were collected via the Coalition Web site and by members of the coalition, including Free Press, Civic Action, Common Cause, Consumers Union, True Majority and Working Assets. Spokes people from MoveOn and the Christian Coalition of America were at the press event. Here are some of their comments:

Joan Blades of Moveon

"Net Neutrality has allowed the Internet to become the new public square, where everyday people can participate in our democracy and have their voices heard. We cannot let the Internet gatekeepers decide who gets into the public square -- everyone from MoveOn to the Christian Coalition should get in, so the best ideas can thrive based on their merit. The Coalition will intensify our grassroots pressure on the Senate to assure that Internet freedom is preserved and Net Neutrality remains the law of the land."

Michele Combs of the Christian Coalition of America

"We’re committed to working on behalf of our supporters to ensure that the Internet remains the free marketplace of ideas, products, and services that it is today. We urge the Senate to move aggressively to save the Internet and allow ideas to thrive on the World Wide Web, and we will do our part to make certain our supporters get that message."

More than 1 million Americans are speaking out on behalf of Internet freedom. Yet Congress still could cave to corporate pressure by rewriting laws and handing over control of the Internet to corporations like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. The Senate must step in to defend the Internet from gatekeepers who plan to tax innovation and throttle the free market.

Let's keep the heat on. The Senate can not simply sell out the public and let AT&T, Verizon and Comcast turn our Internet into their private domain.

Watch this space for videos of the event.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Net Discrimination in Disguise

There's a pervasive myth that there has been no Internet content discrimination by the large phone and cable companies. "That is simply untrue, " writes Matt Stoller of BlogPAC.

Stoller points to Cox Cable, which for three months has blocked their customers from accessing the online classifieds super-site, Craigslist. (Disclosure: Craig Newmark the company’s founder is a charter member of the coalition)

The cable giant has thus far dodged the discrimination bullet, claiming security software malfunctions, according to a report by Tom Foremski in the Silicon Valley Watcher:

. . . the problem of access had been going on since late February. It had something to do with the security software that Cox isusing from a company called Authentium. Cox has been collaborating with Authentium since April 2005 to develop the security software suite.

Back on February 23rd Authentium acknowledged that their software is blocking Craigslist but it still hasn't fixed the problem, more than three months later. That's a heck of long time to delete some text from their blacklist. And this company also supplies security software to other large ISPs.

Craigslist has approached Authentium several times to get it to stop blocking access by Cox internet users but it has been unresponsive. Jim [Buckmaster, the CEO of Craigslist] wasn't aware that Cox had its own classified ads service. "That changes things, " he said.

A similar occurrence flared up just two weeks ago when MySpace users across Florida and Tennessee claimed that BellSouth was blocking access to the community Web portal.

These are exactly the kinds of scenarios that many people engaged in the Net Neutrality debate are concerned about, Foremski writes. " [T]hat the cable companies and the telcos will make it difficult for their internet users to access competing services. "

According to Craigslist program reports, customers have been experiencing suspicious ISP blockages for some time.

But a report in today’s Wall Street Journal downplays these concerns, quoting Cox spokesman David Grabert: "We don't block or otherwise impede access to any legal Web site," Grabert told the Journal. "Unfortunately, a few customers who experienced this difficulty drew the wrong conclusions about what was happening."

If that’s the case, then, why has it taken Cox three months to fix a known problem involving a competitive business?

Without net neutrality protections, the cable and telecom duopoly will have no incentive to give customers the choices they expect online, Stoller writes. "Already, it's quite difficult to even know that this is happening because they are quite easy to disguise."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

House Ignores Public, Sells Out the Internet

Last night's House vote against an amendment that would make Net Neutrality enforceable is the result of swarming lobbyists and a multi-million-dollar media campaign by telephone companies that want Congress to hand them control of the Internet.

The fight now moves to the Senate, where there is stronger bi-partisan support for a bill -- put forth by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) -- that would protect our Internet freedom from AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.

Here are some comments from Coalition members.

Jeannine Kenney, senior policy analyst of the Consumers Union:

Special interest advocates from telephone and cable companies have flooded the Congress with misinformation delivered by an army of lobbyists to undermine decades-long federal practice of prohibiting network owners from discriminating against competitors to shut out competition. Unless the Senate steps in, today's vote marks the beginning of the end of the Internet as an engine of new competition, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Ben Scott, policty director of Free Press:

The American public favors an open and neutral Internet and does not want gatekeepers taxing innovation and throttling the free market. The House has seriously undermined access to information and democratic communication. Despite the revisionist history propagated by the telcos and their lobbyists, until last year, the Internet had always been a neutral network. It is the central reason for its overwhelming success. This issue is not about whether or not the government will regulate the Internet. It's about whether consumers or cable and phone companies will decide what services and content are available on the Net.

Mark Cooper, director of research at Consumers Federation of America:

This is not Google vs. AT&T. CFA has been battling to keep the phone companies from putting tollbooths on the Internet since the early 1980's, but now every business and every consumer that uses the Internet has a dog in the fight for Internet Freedom. This coalition will continue to grow, millions of Americans will add their voices, and Congress will not escape the roar of public opinion until Congress passes enforceable net neutrality.

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge:

The House has rushed to pass HR 5252 at the urging of the telephone and cable companies, who feared the growing public support for an enforceable net neutrality law.... Today’s Internet, which gives consumers control over what applications, services and content they want to access, will be replaced by an Internet that looks like a cable system -- where network providers determine who gets on and at what price.

Our grass-roots coalition includes more than 720 groups, 5,000 bloggers and 800,000 individuals who have rallied in support of net neutrality at The coalition is left and right, public and private, commercial and noncommercial.

Supporters of net neutrality include the Christian Coalition of America,, National Religious Broadcasters, the Service Employees International Union, the American Library Association, AARP, ACLU, and every major consumer group in the nation. It includes the founders of the Internet and hundreds of companies that do business online.

The battle for Net Neutrality - or Internet freedom - has significantly stronger bipartisan support in the Senate. Senators Snowe (R-Maine) and Dorgan (D-N.D.) have introduced the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006" that enjoys the strong support from the SaveTheInternet coalition.

Bi-partisanship will carry the day. A bi-partisan Net Neutrality bill in the House Judiciary won handily only two weeks ago. As we look to the Senate, our prospects are strong.

Senators can expect to hear from their constituents on their responsibility to protect Net Neutrality and we will be watching closely to make sure they listen.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

SavetheInternet in the Washington Post

Just in time for the upcoming House vote on Net Neutrality, the Washington Post has printed a no-nonsense op-ed by charter members Lawrence Lessig of Stanford Law School, and Robert McChesney of Free Press.

The message of "No Tolls on the Internet" is loud and clear: Congress can not ignore the public outcry and vote to hand control of the Internet to the of cable and telephone cartel.

Here's what Lessig and McChesney had to say:

The protections that guaranteed network neutrality have been law since the birth of the Internet -- right up until last year, when the Federal Communications Commission eliminated the rules that kept cable and phone companies from discriminating against content providers. This triggered a wave of announcements from phone company chief executives that they plan to do exactly that.

Now Congress faces a legislative decision. Will we reinstate net neutrality and keep the Internet free? Or will we let it die at the hands of network owners itching to become content gatekeepers? The implications of permanently losing network neutrality could not be more serious. The current legislation, backed by companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, would allow the firms to create different tiers of online service. They would be able to sell access to the express lane to deep-pocketed corporations and relegate everyone else to the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road. Worse still, these gatekeepers would determine who gets premium treatment and who doesn't.

Their idea is to stand between the content provider and the consumer, demanding a toll to guarantee quality delivery. It's what Timothy Wu, an Internet policy expert at Columbia University, calls "the Tony Soprano business model": By extorting protection money from every Web site -- from the smallest blogger to Google -- network owners would earn huge profits. Meanwhile, they could slow or even block the Web sites and services of their competitors or those who refuse to pay up. They'd like Congress to "trust them" to behave.

Evidence that telephone companies are trustworthy is in extremely short supply, as members Free Press, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America noted in our "Facts vs. Fictions" report to Congress two weeks ago.

Lessig and McChesney compare AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth's plans to the cable-ization of the Web:

Without net neutrality, the Internet would start to look like cable TV. A handful of massive companies would control access and distribution of content, deciding what you get to see and how much it costs. Major industries such as health care, finance, retailing and gambling would face huge tariffs for fast, secure Internet use -- all subject to discriminatory and exclusive dealmaking with telephone and cable giants.

And they also offset the faux-organizing of the deceptive industry front groups against the genuine grassroots efforts of our coalition:

The smell of windfall profits is in the air in Washington. The phone companies are pulling out all the stops to legislate themselves monopoly power. They're spending tens of millions of dollars on inside-the-Beltway print, radio and TV ads; high-priced lobbyists; coin-operated think tanks; and sham "Astroturf" groups -- fake grass-roots operations with such Orwellian names as Hands Off the Internet and

They're opposed by a real grass-roots coalition of more than 700 groups, 5,000 bloggers and 750,000 individual Americans who have rallied in support of net neutrality at . The coalition is left and right, commercial and noncommercial, public and private. Supporters include the Christian Coalition of America,, National Religious Broadcasters, the Service Employees International Union, the American Library Association, AARP and nearly every consumer group. It includes the founders of the Internet, the brand names of Silicon Valley, and a bloc of retailers, innovators and entrepreneurs. Coalitions of such breadth, depth and purpose are rare in contemporary politics.

It's a clarion call for our elected representatives to wake up to the public outcry and make the right decision for the future of the Internet. Read Lessig and McChesney's full piece.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Telco Lobby Slow Cooks Congress

The telephone and cable companies have been going all out in Washington to smooth their way for control of the Internet by proposing what appears at first to be a reasonable policy, which, on further review, doesn't hold up.

In a commentary at TPM Cafe, Art Brodsky -- the communications director for Public Knowledge -- compares the phone and cable lobbying on Net Neutrality to a metaphor called "boiling the frog." According to Brodsky, it goes something like this:

If you throw a frog into boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put a frog in warm water, and gradually raise the temperature, it will become acclimated, until it becomes cooked. Gross, but accurate. This is what the telephone companies and their allies who sell them equipment are doing.

The legislation on next week's menu is the COPE Act -- a House bill that has been gift wrapped for AT&T and Verizon.

With this bill, Brodsky writes, the telco cartel is trying to woo Congress into believing that its intentions are good -- when in reality it seeks to gain complete Internet control through a discriminatory "access tiering" scheme that returns massive profits at the expense of Internet freedom:

When the telephone or cable company picks what goes onto a network, the telephone or cable company, not the customer, and not the company the customer might want to reach, is in charge. The telephone and cable company will do what they can to improve their new toll road. And today’s Internet? Wouldn’t be as attractive in the future, would it, if companies feel they have to pay extra for “special arrangements” or be left behind.

What the telephone and cable companies are saying, is “trust us” not to disrupt the Internet. They, after all, are in the transmission business. But “trust us” only goes so far, particularly when we look at other parts of the world and see how far behind our telephone and cable companies have left us.

Compared with other developed nations the U.S. has fallen from 3rd to 16th in broadband penetration per capita, far behind countries like Canada, South Korea and Japan. The United States also numbers 16th in terms of broadband growth rates, suggesting our world ranking won’t improve any time soon.

But that's only the half of it. Recent Free Press analysis of the “low-priced” introductory broadband offers by companies like AT&T and Verizon reveal them to be little more than bait-and-switch gimmicks. On a per megabit basis, U.S. consumers pay 10 to 25 times more than broadband users in Japan.

The reason for the Broadband price gouging? According to Free Press' Derek Turner, it's due to an industry-friendly regulatory regime that gave the cable/telco duopoly control of the broadband marketplace:

The “fierce competition” among broadband platforms is seriously overstated. The FCC’s own report shows that satellite and wireless broadband continue to lose market share. Today, cable and DSL providers control almost 98 percent of the residential and small-business broadband market.

No competition means no fair pricing. As Brodsky also points out, this could become worse by regulations that allow telephone companies not to have to share their broadband networks with competitors on the theory that they will invest in the network.

But, so far, their alleged investment in broadband infrastructure has left us far behind the most developed nations. And now they're urging Congress to extend more favors by killing Net Neutrality -- the only safeguard that stands in the way of total Internet dominance by the telephone and cable companies.

The cartel has turned the heat up another notch in Washington. Unless Congress takes action on behalf of those who elected them, we'll all get cooked.