Tuesday, May 02, 2006

McCurry Sells Out to AT&T

Deceiving the Public Is Business
As Usual for Washington Insider

How can you tell when corporations are running scared? When they wind up their coin-operated front men to unleash a tide of untruths upon the public.

For evidence, go no further than gasbag-in-chief Mike McCurry. The latest blast from this former Clinton press secretary is a frantic bid to re-align public opinion behind his new bosses at AT&T and Verizon.

The issue in question is whether Congress should preserve a concept called "net neutrality." Net neutrality is the Internet's First Amendment; it's a principle that guarantees that all Web sites and online features have unfettered access to the Internet regardless of the size of their bank accounts.

McCurry -- who is now a partner at the influential DC lobbying firm Public Strategies -- is being paid by AT&T and Verizon to spread bad information about net neutrality. In his Huffington Post piece on Monday, he attempted to paint net neutrality supporters – a left-right coalition of consumer groups, public advocates, small businesses, Internet gurus and bloggers -- as ranting lefties seeking to smother the Internet with regulation.

"The Internet has worked absent regulation," McCurry huffs, "and now you want to introduce it for a solution to what?"

This sentiment was eerily echoed in a Washington Post online op-ed by Robert E. Litan of the Brookings Institution: "Let's hope our policy-makers in Washington can resist the siren song of 'net neutrality' and keep government out of Internet regulation so that the future that beckons becomes a reality," Litan writes.

Lies and Extortion

Despite these high profile comments, this really isn't about more regulation of the Internet. That's a convenient lie being spun by McCurry and his bosses. In reality, this debate pits economic innovators, free speech advocates and anyone who enjoys Internet freedom (regardless of party) against AT&T, Verizon and their PR henchmen who are seeking government permission to re-plumb the Internet, control online innovation and stifle diversity.

In their commentary, both McCurry and Litan, have buried the lead. They fail to point out that it's precisely because of net neutrality rules that the Internet has become a revolutionary force for economic innovation, civic participation and free speech.

We've had this fundamental protection in place to guarantee nondiscrimination in the law since the birth of the Internet. At least, we used to have these rules. In the summer of 2005, an industry-friendly FCC pulled a fast one. Without any fanfare or press coverage, the FCC made a new rule that allows companies like AT&T and Verizon to discriminate, to decide what content and applications go fast, slow, or not at all.

Equality and the free market be damned.

Now, McCurry and his cohorts are attempting to paint efforts to maintain net neutrality as new and excessive government interference. In reality, the most radical regulations to have ocurred over the last year were implemented on behalf of -- not in spite of -- AT&T, Verizon and other network giants.

That's right. In the midst of the online revolution, the FCC gutted the Internet's most fundamental operating principle and handing telephone and cable companies the right to discriminate against Web sites depending on who pays them the most money. In the nine months since, the demise of net neutrality, these network owners have declared that they intend to do just that: Implement a business model based on malfeasance, extorting money from online content and applications providers in order to have their sites operate smoothly via the Web.

Given their near monopoly control of broadband access, content companies will have little choice but to pay up. Those of us who can't afford the price will be shunted to the Internet's side roads.

AT&T and Verizon's predatory scheme has little to do with free market dynamics, writes Columbia Professor Timothy Wu. It's more akin to a mafia shake down. "While it's one way to earn cash, it's just too close to the Tony Soprano vision of networking: Use your position to make threats and extract payments" Wu writes.

The Grassroots Fire

This scam is only now coming to the attention of the American public. And they're letting their elected officials know that Internet freedom cannot be sold out.

As part of a vote on new telecommunications legislation last Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee members defeated an amendment by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) that would have protected net neutrality.

What's remarkable about last week's defeat is the shift that occurred on Capitol Hill in the week prior to the vote. An unlikely coalition has banded together at SavetheInternet.com and sent more than 500,000 letters to Congress. This sparked an Internet revolt among thousands of bloggers who heaped scorn upon any member of the House who dared side with companies like AT&T and Verizon.

As the legislation moves to the House floor and Senate in the coming weeks, every member of Congress has been put on alert by an awakened and angry public: Momentum is shifting away from the corporations and toward the public.

Whereas before, the big telephone companies and their McCurry-men were confident that Congress would simply roll over, today, no member of Congress can vote with the telecom cartel without suffering repercussions.

Playing Favorites, Stifling Innovation

Over the last decade, the telephone lobby has stuffed hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of lobbyists (including McCurry's company) and campaign coffers of politicians in an effort to radically rewrite communications legislation.

Now, companies like AT&T are asking Congress to fast-track a bill that grants them a monopoly right to play favorites with the content that flows online – determining what users do, where they go and what they watch online.

If Congress allows this to occur, the only sites that will enjoy "open" access are the large corporations that can afford AT&T's toll. The Internet's true innovators – small guys working out of their basements on the next big Internet idea – will be shoved aside.

The telco cartel, with the help of industry sock puppets like McCurry, would like to write this extortion into law, gutting the "net neutrality" guarantees that gave all comers equal access to the Internet.

That McCurry has emerged from behind smoke-tinted glass to throw rabbit punches at groups representing the public's interest is testament not only of the success of SavetheInternet.com, but also to the utter bankruptcy of his over-funded position.

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