Monday, June 26, 2006

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.”

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