Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Washington Post Needs to Come Clean on Net Neutrality

A Washington Post blog post published Monday hits on one central reason for making Net Neutrality the law.

In "Protecting Free Speech in the Digital Age, " guest blogger Dawn Nunziato says that free expression on the Internet is too important to be subject to the whims of powerful phone and cable companies -- companies that have already demonstrated their willingness to block new ideas and innovations via the Web.

Nunziato is spot on. But a blog post doesn't go nearly far enough to right the wrong the Post's editors committed the Monday before. On Sept. 28, the paper printed a full-fledged editorial against Net Neutrality without revealing to readers that the Washington Post Co. has an economic incentive to block online speech.

The Post editorial, "The FCC's Heavy Hand," was gift wrapped for the narrow special interests of the influential phone and cable lobby. And it's been cited ad nauseum by phone and cable company shills intent on removing the last protection of an open Internet.

The Post's editors state that Net Neutrality would hurt investment in a "vibrant and well-functioning marketplace" when, in fact, the opposite is true: Carriers working under neutrality conditions have invested tens of billions of dollars in network buildout and improvements.

(For more on this and other industry falsehoods read our recent brief: Digital Déjà Vu: Old Myths about Net Neutrality.)

The Post editorial suffers not only from inaccuracy, but also from lack of disclosure. One of the companies that stands to gain from a world without Net Neutrality is Cable One, an Internet service provider active in 19 states that hopes to pad its already considerable profits by stifling the free flow of online communications. One of the principal owners of Cable One is - you guessed it -- the Washington Post Co.

Cable One Chief Executive Tom Might has been an outspoken opponent of Net Neutrality, calling it "a very, very clever D.C. campaign" designed to intimidate politicians "because it sounds so wonderful, like Mom and apple pie."

Given the Post's recent controversy over paid editorial salons, the paper would do well to better mind the firewall that allegedly separates news and editorial operations from business back offices.

Readers should demand that the Post's ombudsman and editorial page editor clarify this obvious oversight. You can prompt them to respond by sending an e-mail to: ombudsman@washpost.com. Fred Hiatt, the editor of the Post's editorial page, can be reached at hiattf@washpost.com .

The Post needs to come clean whenever it presents as honest opinion a view that also protects its commercial interests.

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