Monday, July 24, 2006

Senators Respond to Grassroots Drumbeat

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) spoke before the Senate on Friday to "outline what is at stake" should Congress ignore public opinion and let phone and cable companies gut Net Neutrality.

"If you listen to some of the so-called experts about communications, they would suggest that [Net Neutrality] is so complicated, so arcane, so difficult for anybody to understand, you ought to let the lawyers and the lobbyists sort this out," Wyden told his colleagues.

This is a mistake, Wyden said.

Thus far powerful phone and cable companies have spent more than $100 million on lobbyists, lawyers, "Astroturf" groups and advertising agencies in a drive to dismantle Net Neutrality and mislead Americans.

According to Campaign Media Analysis Group, they have spent nearly $44 million to buy anti-Net Neutrality ads nationwide. A report by Bloomberg News, counts an additional $68 million spent on telco and cable lobbyists in 2006. Add to this tally the millons in campaign contributions made by anti-Neutrality companies like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth, Cisco, Comcast and Time Warner.

On the other hand, the many groups that constitute the SavetheInternet coalition have spent less than $200,000 in our grassroots campaign to support Net Neutrality.

That means that for every $1 spent by the grassroots to defend Net Neutrality, the phone and cable companies have spent more than $500 to drown it. Still, public sentiment is tipping against their scheme to turn the “pipes” into private toll-ways.

No amount of PR gloss will obscure one basic truth, according to Wyden. "The people of this country -- and the hundreds and hundreds of organizations that want to keep the Internet discrimination free -- are no longer going to accept a notion that a handful of insiders in Washington, DC, can have these debates about the future of the communications systems... and that the people of this country will have to take what these so-called experts decide."

People of every political persuasion have joined with the 800 groups that make up the SavetheInternet coalition. More than a million of them have signed petitions and called and sent letters to Congress in support of Net Neutrality.

Thousands of bloggers have taken up the cause — many of them posting free ads to counteract the expensive misinformation campaign launched by phone companies. Others have organized in their communities -- printing out fliers and handing them out at high school soccer matches, in electronics shops, outside college dorms and in front of grocery stores.

Wyden is among a growing group of senators who have heard the grassroots drumbeat. They are now supporting Net Neutrality legislation that would prevent phone and cable companies from discriminating against online choice.

For a sense of the passions that drive this debate, listen to some of their statements before Congress:
Sen. Wyden closed his speech on Friday saying he was dismayed that phone and cable companies wanted to bring discrimination back to the Internet. "I do not want to see the American consumer face the double barrel discrimination on the net of reduced choices in content, diminished services, and the additional prospect of higher prices," Wyden said.

The Oregon Senator is committed to maintain his "hold" against Stevens' telecommunications rewrite "until it ensures true Net neutrality and an Internet free of discrimination," he said.

As more Senators side with Wyden and the public, it's become increasingly likely that no amount of phone and cable company money will force Sen. Stevens' bad bill through Congress without better public protections.

But the fight to preserve Internet freedom from predatory phone and cable giants is far from over. As members of Congress return to their home districts this August, it's up to Americans in every state to let them know that Net Neutrality is an issue that resonates more loudly beyond the beltway.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Daily Show Revisits Net Neutrality

On Wednesday night, the Daily Show revisited Senator Ted Stevens' comments on Net Neutrality to comment on the what the Internet would look like without this guiding principle.

Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman uses several envelopes or "packets" to illustrate to host Jon Stewart and his audience how information travel across a Neutral Internet. He then describes a world without Net Neutrality.

Here's his exchange with Stewart:

John Hodgman: The point is with Net Neutrality all these packets, whether they come from a big company or just a single citizen, are treated in the exact same way.

Jon Stewart: So what's the debate? That actually seems quite fair.

Hodgman: Yes, Almost too fair. It's as though the richer companies get no advantage at all. That's why the big telecom and cable corporations are lobbying to create a special class of Internet service where, for example, this packet from Google and this one from Amazon get through very easily. But this packet from #@%!! somehow gets routed a little differently (Hodgman tears up an envelope representing the last packet and tosses it to the side).

Stewart: So that packet will not get through?

Hodgman: Oh no, it'll get through. It's just that they'll travel on a second tier of the Internet, which, ironically, will be a series of tubes.

Later Hodgman says that if Net Neutrality fails we should all get ready "for the excitement of the information super-tube."

Check out the video at YouTube.

Then watch the Daily Show's earlier send-up of Senator Stevens' speech. To learn where your senator stands on Net Neutrality, visit our Senate Map. And call your senator today.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Comcast: A Problem in Need of a Solution?

When ISPs Attack
Cable giant Comcast reportedly axed a critical segment on ABC's Nightline from its Internet video-on-demand service.

The removal of the segment raises significant doubts about cable company promises that they would never block or degrade users' choice of content on the Internet.

The segment in question features a video clip of a Comcast technician who fell asleep on a customer’s couch during a repair visit. The customer videotaped the sleeping repairman and posted the clip on the popular online video site YouTube, where it went "viral" (more than 700,000 downloads to date).

Last Friday, Nightline picked up the clip as part of a story about angry consumers who “bite back” against abusive corporations.

But the sleeping repairman went mysteriously missing from the version of Nightline that aired on Comcast’s Internet service. See for yourself:
The original Nightline segment
The Comcast Internet video version

That's not all that went AWOL. Cut from the Comcast version is more than four minutes of ABC correspondent Vicki Mabry's report — including the sleeping technician clip, a screenshot of a “Comcast Sucks” Web site, and Mabry’s finding that the cable company quietly employs people to monitor or “ghost” anti-Comcast Web sites.

The Comcast version ends just before this critical content and jumps abruptly to the next “Nightline” segment.

Was this censorship by an ISP? Not according to Comcast, which is now scrambling to defuse the controversy. The Consumerist blog, which helped break this story received a response from a Comcast spokesperson, who claimed that an ABC "encoder" had cut the segment in question -- and not Comcast.

A technical glitch that removed only negative Comcast content?? Go figure.

In recent months, ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have pledged before the media never to block or degrade Internet content, in an effort to quell concerns by consumer advocates and Net Neutrality proponents. And yet here we have a case where the only segment blocked from a Comcast Internet service is the portion critical of Comcast.

Given Comcast’s high-profile stance against Net Neutrality it’s little surprise that they would try to clean up this incident before it spreads beyond the blogosphere.

The Consumerist found it odd "that Comcast would declare the ABC producer affirmatively said it was an ABC encoder problem that cause the cut. Either way you slice it, it’s certainly terribly convenient for Comcast."

Such convenience comes at a time when Comcast is desparate not to be portrayed as an Internet gatekeeper.

Last week, Comcast Vice President David Cohen wrote in a Philly Inquirer Op-Ed that “net-neutrality proponents are marching a new parade of horribles down Hypothetical Boulevard.” Cohen called “phantoms” citizens' concerns that Comcast or other ISPs would play gatekeeper to Web content. He cribbed phone and cable company lobbyist talking points writing that “Net neutrality is a solution in search of a problem.”

But the Nightline incident suggests that this “problem” is more real than Comcast would like to admit.

Representative Calls for Action Before Bells Discriminate

Rep. Capps
Congresswomen Lois Capps of California today called upon Congress to save Net Neutrality before, not after, the phone and cable companies fundamentally change the nature of the Internet.

In an op-ed printed in The Hill, Representative Capps wrote that Congress "shouldn’t just sit by and watch network neutrality and the vibrancy of the Internet slip away." Capps doubts the commitments of companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and BellSouth to protect consumer choice, open competition and innovation on the Internet.

These companies' frequently argue that Net Neutrality rules are a solution in search of a problem. "But the phone companies have made clear their desire to use their critical position in the network to impose new fees and barriers to entry on the Internet," Capps writes. "Do we really want to wait until the vibrancy of the Internet has been muzzled and then hope that future Congresses will muster the courage to restore non-discrimination to the Internet? I, for one, am not willing to take that chance."

Capps adds:

"Network neutrality serves as the Internet’s nondiscrimination policy and is similar to policies that ensure large phone companies like Verizon and BellSouth have to connect calls from Sprint or T-Mobile with the same speed and accuracy that they would for their own calls. Since its inception, this powerful medium has flourished as an engine for economic growth and political activism under the rules of equal access to the Internet."

In 2005 the FCC relaxed protections that ensured nondiscrimination in Web access. Shortly after the FCC ruling, the nation's largest phone companies announced their intentions to impose a tiered program, charging a new level of fees to put high-speed content on the Internet.

"That means the phone and cable companies will decide the speed at which different bits of data can move across the network, in essence creating 'fast lanes' and 'slow lanes' for the Internet," Capps writes. "That would segregate Internet traffic based on who can pay by forcing companies and individuals to pay a premium for their websites to be in the fast lane while relegating those without deep pockets to the slow lanes."

Companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have publicly committed to Net Neutrality principles stating that it "makes no sense" to degrade or block Internet services. The free market would not allow it; we would lose customers, they claim, conveniently ignoring the fact that most U.S. broadband customers have nowhere else to go.

Meanwhile, they spend millions lobbying Congress against any meaningful legislation to protect Net Neutrality. AT&T and BellSouth, have even expressed their intent to discriminate against content by erecting new tolls on the exits and onramps to the Internet.

This is typical telco doublespeak. They extend promises to not block or degrade customer access to sites while also talking about charging content providers in a way that would allow them to do exactly that.

This discrimination defies the Internet’s stunning evolution toward an end-to-end system, where control resides not with middlemen but with those of us who go online. Under this revolutionary system, rewards go to the businesses that enhance our choices — not those that restrict them. The telcos want to change all that by profiting from controlling our access to content.

Representative Capps joins a growing number of elected officials in Washington that are seeing through the telco spin to take a stand against bad telco-sponsored legislation. To see where your Senator stands, visit's Senate Map and call Congress today.

Friday, July 14, 2006

MySpace Mysteriously Kills Then Resurrects Tube Song

Series of Tubes
Inspired by Sen. Ted Stevens' now infamous account of the Internet as a "series of tubes," Andrew Raff picked up his guitar and composed a song using the Senators' words. He posted the resulting tune on MySpace, at the "TedStevensFanClub," where thousands came to listen.

But no sooner had Raff's tune gone viral did MySpace swoop in and cancel his account. Their explanation: They had received a "credible complaint of your violation of the MySpace Terms of Services," according to a story in Wired.

The site went dark for several days until the publication of the Wired story. Soon after Wired published, MySpace reinstated Raff’s page claiming it was "deleted in error." You can now listen to the disputed song here:

In their original cancellation e-mail to Raff, MySpace referenced a number of prohibited activities, including trademark and copyright violations. But Raff's singing of the Alaskan senator’s words didn’t violate any copyright laws, and he wrote the music to the song himself.

Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge questioned MySpace's timing, "noting that News Corp. [which owns MySpace] has interests in the telecommunications bill put forth by the Senate Commerce Committee that Stevens heads."

Further complicating things is an issue of money. Since 2004, News Corp – headed by media mogul Rupert Murdoch – has been Senator Stevens' top corporate contributor.

About the incident, Raff wrote on his blog that "in the brave new world of a discriminatory Internet, it could be possible for internet providers to make it difficult or expensive for individuals to publish media." For Raff the real question is "whether the Internet will continue to be a medium fostering speech and creativity by individuals or will Congress allow large corporations to turn it into a one-way distribution network for the benefit of those few companies?"

Stevens’ bewildering June 28 explanation of why he opposed Net Neutrality became an instant Web sensation, spawning a frenzy of blog posts, T-shirts, and other songs remixing the Senator’s tubular comparison.

But the craze didn't really hit the media mainline until Wednesday night, when comedian Jon Stewart aired a Daily Show segment on Stevens. The electronic firestorm over Stevens was subsequently reported on by the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times and other mainstream newspapers.

It's debatable whether MySpace had malicious intent as gatekeeper to Raff's site. Either way, this odd disappearing act adds another chapter to Senator Stevens' strange trip down the "tubes."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Stewart on Stevens

More Hot Air
During last night's "Daily Show," Jon Stewart questioned Senator Ted Stevens' grasp of the Internet, calling into doubt the telecommunications legislation that bears the Senator's signature.

To clarify Net Neutrality, Stewart goes to Stevens' "dump truck-tubes symposium," a 10-minute monologue in support of the Senator's own anti-Net Neutrality bill. Check out the show:
Stewart on Stevens
"Why didn't Senator Stevens get it?" asks Stewart. Well... you'll have to watch the clip for the "Daily Show" host's interpretation.

Hey, why should the good Senator have to understand "an Internet" when there's an army of telco lobbyists on hand to define it for him?

To find out where your senator stands on Net Neutrality, visit our Senate Map.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hot Air about 'Net Competition' a Cover for Control

More Hot Air
Art Brodsky of partner organization Public Knowledge deflates industry hot air about choice in America's broadband marketplace, citing a recent report by Kagan Research that reveals little real price or choice competition between cable and telephone ISPs. Brodsky writes:
"We've argued that broadband is a duopoly, with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) statistics showing that just about everyone who has broadband gets it from either the telephone company or the cable company. The FCC has affirmatively pursued the policy of creating this situation, and it’s one of the main reasons we need a Net Neutrality policy. There is no real choice."
Brodsky writes that the new Kagan study, "Cable Modem Vs. DSL: Rivals Side-Step Big Price Wars So Far," shows not only a lack of competition in choice of broadband provider, a lack of real competition in broadband prices:
"Kagan puts it fairly simply: 'Though the battle for broadband access subscribers is intense, there’s no screaming price war between cable TV and telcos, and Kagan Research doesn’t expect one in the foreseeable future.'"
Kagan surveyed five top cable operators and four telephone companies in the first quarter this year. The average price for cable modem and DSL services were essentially the same across the country.

"These figures are national in scope, encompassing all sorts of markets – some with competition between the two and some without," Brodsky writes.

Broadband costs in the United States remain very high by global standards, according to "Broadband Reality Check," a 2005 report by Free Press, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America.

The cost of broadband in other countries has dropped dramatically while speeds have increased.

Not true for the United States. According to the Free Press report, on a per megabit basis, U.S. consumers pay 10 to 25 times more than broadband users in Japan, for example, while residential broadband speeds in countries like France, and South Korea are 10 to 25 times faster than the U.S. average. (For more, read Thomas Bleha's insightful report in Foreign Affairs,"Down to the Wire").

Don't believe the telco hype. 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.

Moreover, the Free Press report shows how such market control and lack of real competition combine to result in higher broadband costs to consumer (by comparison to other developed countries) and bigger profit margins for the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.

For these corporations, killing Net Neutrality is just icing on the cake of a U.S broadband market that's already in their grip. Clearly they don't want more competition, but more control of a broadband marketplace that's already lagging behind the rest of the world.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Senator Stevens' Bill to Nowhere

Calling all Net Heroes
Stevens' bill is the Senator's wink to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. For the rest of us, it's his bill to nowhere. It needs to be overhauled, or stopped dead in its tracks. today launched our Senate Map, which tracks where all 100 senators stand on Internet freedom.

The Map is a useful guide to the growing opposition to Senator Ted Stevens' telecommunications bill (S. 2686) -- a sprawling mess of legislation that fails to protect Net Neutrality while handing over control of the Internet to the Senator's allies at AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.

You can learn where your senator stands by checking the map and clicking on your state. From there, we encourage you to call your senator and urge him or her to take a public stand for Net Neutrality.

The telcos are continuing to spend like compulsive shoppers -- to buy up airtime for ads, flood Capitol Hill with lobbyists and shills, and plant Op-Eds in local papers across the country.

As the clock ticks down on the 109th Congress they'll be spending millions more to muscle Senator Stevens' 135-page train wreck through the full Senate. But their desperation is beginning to show.

July is a pivotal month. The Senate leadership won’t schedule a vote on Stevens' bad bill unless 60 senators say they will vote for it. Now it's time to call senators and tell them to support Net Neutrality instead -- and to oppose last-ditch industry efforts to push through a bill that Americans are turning against.

The Senate Map makes it ridiculously simple to find out where your senator stands, and to call Congress. As the list of senators who support real Net Neutrality grows, we will record their public commitments via the map.

Stay tuned. With your help, we can match the millions of dollars spent by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth with a million more citizens speaking out on behalf of non-discrimination, interconnection, and the right to innovate online without having to obtain permission from a network operator.

Stevens' bill is the Senator's wink to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. For the rest of us, it's his bill to nowhere. It needs to be overhauled, or stopped dead in its tracks.

Slowpoke Draws on McCurry for Inspiration

Stevens and his bill
Here's another Pro-Net Neutrality creation by Slowpoke (aka Jen Sorenson) - sent to by Jonathan Rintels, the founder of partner organization Center for Creative Voices in Media, and a friend of the artist.

Slowpoke joins cartoonist Scott Kurtz of among many artists who have used Net Neutrality as muse. (If her cartoon is too small to read above, click here or on the image for a larger version.)

Musicians have joined in as well. Read today's Boston Herald article on efforts by singers Jill Sobule, Kay Hanley and Michelle Lewis to spread the word about Net Neutrality in song. Here's a take on that by former Dead Kennedys front man and Alternative Tentacles artist Jello Biafra.

And then check out how others are taking creative license with Senator Ted Stevens' June 28 Commerce Committee speech. Here are two samples:

  1. Bold Headed Broadcast's Stevens Techno Remix
  2. Aprigliano's Ask-a-Ninja/Stevens Mash-up

Visit Bold Headed Broadcast and Aprigliano for more information. Keep those hits coming . . .

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Net Neutrality Mash-up

Stevens and his bill
Aprigliano combines Senator Stevens' now infamous rant before Congress with the black-belt humor of Ask a Ninja. Kind of funny:
Give the mash-up a listen
Now the crew at Bold Headed Broadcast have pumped up the volume wth a Stevens rant you can dance to:
DJ Ted Stevens Techno Remix
And here's something a little more emo from the Ted Stevens Fan Club:
The Internet is a Series of Tubes
Here's a selection of others sent me by Scott Goodstein:
Loony Tunes Ted

Friday, July 07, 2006

Stevens' Telco Bill Teeters Under Public Scrutiny

Stevens and his bill
The Seattle Times, again, joined numerous U.S. dailies to call upon Congress to prevent companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from restricting content, erecting new online toll booths and charging more money for access to the Internet's fast lane.

"The U.S. Senate still has a chance to ensure that the Internet remains universally accessible and a powerful tool for consumers and businesses," the Times editorial board wrote. "This will only happen if lawmakers ensure computer network neutrality."

The Internet will become an “anti-democratic device” if the Senate acts this summer to pass a telecom bill without enforceable Net Neutrality language.

Senators were split on a Net Neutrality amendment offered in committee last week. That tie vote has sown considerable doubt that Senator Ted Stevens' industry friendly telecommunications bill will make it to the floor -- with more people inside and out of Washington calling for an overhaul of the contentious legislation to better reflect the public interest.

More than a million Americans have urged their representatives to "keep tollbooths, gatekeepers, and discrimination off the Internet." Thousands more are calling their Senators to urge better protection for Internet Freedom. The leading minds of the Internet -- a list that includes founding fathers Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf and legal expert Larry Lessig -- are urging Congress to reconsider this bill.

In the meantime, bloggers have been widely critical of Senator Stevens' legislation following his dubious definition of the "internets" last week.

Senators are now gathering behind Oregon Senator Ron Wyden's "hold" on Stevens' legislation. Others are calling for new and stronger Net Neutrality language before the bill can proceed to a full vote.

But these democratic roadblocks may not stop determined telcos, which are spending millions of dollars each week (including funding dishonest ads and a "robocall" campaign) to rush Stevens' juggernaut into law.Here's the Seattle Times' today:
Lobbyists from big telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T are spending like compulsive shoppers on eBay to get their message out. The campaign has painted neutrality as a government restriction that would stifle competition.

That's hardly the case.
The Internet has fostered numerous innovations because everything from a family's Web page to Verizon's site are treated the same through the broadband that feeds computers. What happens to services such as iTunes if the telecoms provide a rival music site? Potentially, iTunes could be slowed down while a home-grown proprietary rival gets preferential treatment.

How does that serve the consumer? Lawmakers need to insert language that perpetuates the Internet as a breeding ground for divergent voices and services, even if that means taking a whack at a new telecom bill next session.

This is the second time the Times has come out in favor of Net Neutrality. In May, the paper's editors wrote that for Congress to allow a few companies to toll Web traffic "would be chilling, and primed for abuse."

Other major national dailies — including the New York Times (twice), San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and Houston Chronicle — have supported enforceable Net Neutrality legislation.

The Senate would do us all a disservice by rushing through Stevens' legislation before there's a full public debate on better protections for Internet freedom.