Comcast can't seem to get it straight.
On the one hand they're snubbing a debate over openness and the Internet -- refusing to take part in yesterday's FCC public hearing. On the other, they've announced plans to open an industry-wide conversation to craft a "bill of rights" for ISPs, Internet companies and users.
The latter, a Comcast collaboration with Internet traffic managing company Pando Networks, received mixed reviews earlier this week when the cable company rolled it before the media.
I trashed it. And now my initial concerns seem justified.
The Right to Special Treatment
For just as the public hearings were getting underway in Stanford, Robert Levitan, Pando chief executive, told the New York Times that "he hoped Comcast might program its network to give preference to applications like the one his company makes."
Levitan's admission exposes the true motives behind industry efforts to craft a "bill of rights:" to lay the ground for an Internet rife with discriminatory deals and preferential treatment.
"The company appears to want to use the network management issues raised by Comcast to seek a deal that provides them preferential distribution over the Internet," Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, said in a statement.
"It is exactly why technology companies, innovators, and millions of consumers have argued that the marketplace is not working properly and have asked the FCC provide basic rules of the road to protect against such behavior."
The Right to Ignore the Rules
The industry's carefully orchestrated announcements of initiatives to self-regulate are not the magic of the free market at work, Free Press policy director Ben Scott testified yesterday. "It is the threat of regulatory intervention."
Without that threat -- and an agency willing to act on behalf of the public interest -- we'd have already sacrificed several basic Internet freedoms to the whims of Pando and Comcast.
"Comcast actions to date have shown that they can't be trusted to 'self regulate,'" L. Peter Deutsch, a pioneering Xerox Palo Alto Research Center computer scientist, told the FCC. "Allowing the big carriers rather than consumers and public interest advocates, to take the lead in codifying a 'bill of rights' for Internet users would be like letting King George's cabinet take the lead in writing the U.S. Constitution."
Comcast had hoped that we would all interpret the "bill of rights" as a genuine -- to conclude that public hearings and FCC oversight were not needed to keep the Internet open for everyone.
The Right to Undermine the Internet
The Comcast message, in case you've missed it, sounds like this: "The free market can solve its own problems and deliver to end users the Internet experience that they desire. Trust us."
"A tiger has a nature, and that nature is not one you trust with your child," Professor Larry Lessig said during yesterday's Stanford hearing. "A company has a nature. It's nature is to produce economic values and wealth for its share holders."
According to Lessig, that one essential truth is about as much trust that the public needs to extend to public corporations. It's understood that they will behave in this way, and nothing is wrong with that.
Public policy, on the other hand, is designed to make it profitable for corporations to behave in ways that serve the public interest.
According to Lessig: "We set public policy to create the incentives for them to pick the right business models."
In a perfect scenario we also set public policy to foster more a productive and economically beneficial marketplace for all involved. Net Neutrality is such a policy.