Thursday, August 31, 2006

National Outpouring of Support for Net Neutrality

Supporters of Internet freedom took to the pavement Wednesday and Thursday in 25 cities nationwide, delivering SavetheInternet petitions to their senators and urging them to oppose the phone and cable company attempt to gut Net Neutrality.

From Buffalo to Fayetteville, Orlando to Seattle, the outpouring of public support for Net Neutrality comes as the Senate's August recess comes to a close, and our elected representatives return to Washington and the business of making laws.

Unfortunately, that business has been overrun by the nation's largest phone and cable giants. Companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are pouring more than $100 million into campaign contributions, phony "Astroturf" PR firms, lobbyists and TV and radio advertising in a drive to strong arm Congress into passing Sen. Ted Stevens' bad telecom legislation (HR 5252).

On Wednesday and Thursday, supporters fanned out across the country to speak back to the big phone and cable companies. Their message to Senators: "Don’t sell out the Internet. Serve the public interest. Support real Net Neutrality."

In each location (Pictured: Montpelier - left; New York - above; Minneapolis, Denver, Providence and Seattle - below), citizens are urged their senators to place the needs of the public and our democracy ahead of the interest of phone and cable lobbyists -- and to oppose any legislation that lacks enforceable Net Neutrality protections.

Here are some reports from the cities:

New York Senator Pledges Support

"We are extremely pleased that both of our New York Senators are pro Net Neutrality," Jessica Findley, a freelance graphic designer from Brooklyn, said on Wednesday. "We are proud that they represent the importance of this freedom and hope that other senators will follow their great lead." Findley and others delivered more than 50,000 petitions to the offices of Sen. Charles Schumer, who earlier in the week pledged his support for Net Neutrality.

[Watch the video from New York and read Schumer's statement]

Iowa's Harkin Joins Fight

Two days prior to SavetheInternet's Des Moines rally, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin pledged to "strongly support Net Neutrality legislation." In a statement released to press he wrote: "If Congress does not insist that this openness and neutrality remain a hallmark of the Internet, then we risk transitioning to a system where Internet providers can favor one website over another, based on money or content. This would be an unacceptable result."

WHOTV-13 covered Wednesday's Des Moines event where people gathered to thank Senator Harkin for his decision. At the event, Ben Bellus, a small business owner said that killing Net Neutrality could force small businesses to pay a higher rate for fast Internet service. "It would reduce the efficiency of our services to our clients and that is something we really don't want to do, it isn't fair."

[Watch the video from Des Moines and read Harkin's statement]

Senator Dayton Announces Support at Minneapolis Rally

Sen. Mark Dayton chose the event in Minneapolis to come out in support of Net Neutrality legislation -- and against Stevens' Bill. Dayton told supporters that he would become a co-sponsor the Snowe-Dorgan pro-Net Neutrality bill. "I will work with the two Senate sponsors to enact the Net Neutrality principles of equal access to the Internet into law this year."

[Watch the video from Minneapolis]

Vermont's Jeffords Gets Behind Net Freedom

Days before Thursday's rally in Montpelier, Sen. James Jeffords issued a statement that he would "support the concept of network neutrality, as I believe the Internet works best when users can control their access to content. I recognize the benefits of reasonably priced, high-speed Internet access, especially in rural areas." Jeffords said he was “disappointed the Commerce Committee was not able to agree on a stronger network-neutrality provision."

[Watch the Video from Montpelier]

Skewering Telco Lies in Detroit

In Detroit, outside Sen. Debbie Stabenow's office, David Pettit of the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan said, "Powerful telephone company lobbyists will tell you one of two things -- both of which, of course, are false. First, they will tell you that the Stevens bill already preserves Net Neutrality. This is completely not true. Second, they might say 'don't regulate the Internet. Let the market decide' ... All we want to do is reinstate the Net Neutrality principles that guarantee that the Internet treats everyone fairly."

[Watch the video from Detroit]

Rallies Continue Through Thursday

On Wednesday, other petition delivery events were held at senators' offices in Buffalo, Fayetteville, Denver, Boston, Newark, Providence, Baltimore, Portland (ME), Seattle, Eau Claire and Milwaukee.

Thursday petition events were held in Montpelier, Wilmington, Orlando, Honolulu, Louisville, Columbus, Madison, Spokane and Charleston. Successful events were held earlier this month in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Stay tuned to this blog for more reports from across the country.

Before senators return to the Beltway next week, their constituents have put the issue sharply into focus.

NOTE: If you participated in an event, please tell us about it in the comment thread below.

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DENVER, COLORADO CBS Petition Delivery to Sen. Salazar, 8/30/06

Petition Delivery to Sen. Harken, 8/30/06

Petition Delivery to Sen. Collins, 8/30/06

Petition Delivery to Sen. Jeffords, 8/31/06

Petition Delivery to Sen. Lincoln, 8/31/06

Petition Delivery to Sen. Kohl, 8/31/06

Petition Delivery to Sen. Kohl, 8/31/06

Petition Delivery to Sen. Carper, 8/31/06

Petition Delivery to Sen. Bingaman

Thursday, August 03, 2006

AT&T's Whitacre Sticks to the Script

Big Ed
AT&T chief Ed Whitacre regurgitated now familiar talking points on Tuesday when he claimed -- once again -- that others can no longer eat AT&T's broadband lunch for free.

"Some companies want us to be a big dumb pipe that gets bigger and bigger. No one gets a free ride," Whitacre said, in a statement reminiscent of his now infamous interview last October with BusinessWeek.

Ummm… Aren't we already paying for the ride, Ed?

Last I checked AT&T and the other large ISPs made $20 billion from our broadband access fees alone. It's a piece of the $170 billion in annual revenues recorded by the four Bells -- AT&T, Verizon, Qwest and BellSouth -- for telecommunications services.

This lucrative business model -- returning nearly $95 billion in annual gross profits to the Bells -- has worked so well for AT&T that they recorded an 81% increase in profits over the second quarter of 2006

But what's good news for Ed is often bad for the rest of us. Not only does he want us to pay more to ride AT&T's gravy train, we now have to endure Whitacre's B.S. along the way.

The AT&T CEO -- with his army of PR flacks and lobbyists – will say whatever it takes to get Washington to award phone companies with control of the Web. Net Neutrality -- the principle that guarantees that they treat all Internet information equally -- now stands in their way.

In this game, winning over Congress isn't about telling the truth. It's about spending money, buying up lobbyists, filling campaign coffers and spinning politicians.

The telcos are good at this. Since 2003, telephone and cable companies have spent more on Washington lobbying than the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. On the issue of Net Neutrality alone, they ran up more than $100 million in expenses to grease lobbyists and politicians, buy TV, radio and print ads and fund phony grassroots groups like "Hands off the Internet" and "NetCompetition."

Despite the telco shopping spree, Whitacre's talking points remain flimsy.

This is not about AT&T fostering new innovation.

Compared with the computing industry, telecoms invest little money in actual research and development. According to Paul Starr, a Princeton professor and author of the 2005 book, The Creation of the Media, the incumbents in the telecommunications business "invest more in politics than in technology -- indeed, they are downright frightened by innovation, whose ultimate effects they can't control."

This is not about AT&T providing better choice and cheaper broadband to more people.

The phone companies want to force content providers to pay protection money to get faster services. And it's consumers who will pay. If Net Neutrality is so bad for consumers, why do ALL the major consumer groups support it and ALL the major phone companies oppose it?

As for choice, the GAO found that the median number of providers available to a given household is just two. That’s all. Cable and DSL systems dominate, holding more than 98 percent of the broadband market. This is hardly a competitive market. In fact, the share of the market held by all the other broadband technologies combined — satellite, fixed wireless, mobile wireless, and broadband over power lines — actually decreased over the past few years, according the FCC.

And the last thing an old-school monopolist like Whitacre wants is to offer choice of non-AT&T services – unless, of course, they're offered by companies that have paid AT&T's new access tolls.

This is not about content providers paying for their fair share of the "pipes."

They do that already. According to "It's Our Net" – a coalition representing eBay, Google, Yahoo!, Amazon and other Internet companies – Web businesses already collectively pay billions of dollars per year to network operators for Internet connectivity and transport. That money fully compensates the network operators for their network investment. "Overall, the four Bell companies alone make some $14 billion annually in revenues from selling special access services to Internet content and applications companies, Internet service providers, and other corporate and institutional users of the local network." FCC figures show that this business returns over 50 percent to the phone companies.

For Ed, this is not about creating a faster, smarter, cheaper and more accessible Internet for Americans. It's simply about increasing returns for AT&T shareholders.

That's often expected of a CEO. But let's call it what it is, Ed, and stop pretending that you have the best interests of the Internet at heart.