Monday, January 08, 2007

Un-Spinning the Net Naysayers

The telecommunications giant AT&T, whose chief Edward Whitacre once called Net Neutrality indefinable and its supporters “nuts,” has now signed off on the principle as a condition of its mega merger with BellSouth.

But that hasn't stemmed the flow of rhetoric from Net Neutrality's naysayers, who are readying their lawyers, think tanks and lobbyists for another assault on our position.

Ed and Kevin

AT&T's Ed Whitacre chats up FCC Chairman Kevin Martin

AT&T’s agreement put aside their executive's own argument that Net Neutrality didn’t really exist.

It also puts to rest his bogus notion that Net Neutrality will cripple the phone company's plans to build out broadband services. AT&T agreed to this condition -- and also to offer cheaper broadband services – and yet they continue to expand their networks and offer services to the tune of $24.5 billion in gross profits in 2006.

Net Neutrality is good for smaller businesses as well. Writes the Bangor Daily News on Monday:
"That temporary concession could set a framework for Internet democracy that would benefit not only such huge users as Google and eBay but also small businesses like Maine wreath makers and crafters, protecting them against future discrimination as they market products and services online. It also would keep open the way for new startups to flourish, as YouTube and MySpace have zoomed out of nowhere."
While we’ve cheered AT&T’s temporary concessions as a step in the right direction, and are now looking to make them permanent, Washington's "Astroturfs" and coin-operated think tanks are mounting a new campaign against a free and open Internet.

The AT&T agreement “was a shakedown, no question,” Patrick Ross of the Progress & Freedom Foundation told the San Francisco Chronicle over the weekend.

What Mr. Ross fails to tell the Chronicle's reporter is that his D.C. think tank has been taking AT&T and Verizon money hand over fist to generate phony studies that trumpet as good for consumers the Internet market grab by these same virtual monopolies.

The supreme irony, of course, is that a paid operative of the phone lobby is now labeling "a shakedown" legitimate efforts to put the public before the interests of his corporate benefactors.

Ross seems to have forgotten whom this government is supposed to work for.

Meanwhile, Wall Street has ignored AT&T’s dim predictions that Net Neutrality would choke off investment in their efforts to speed Internet wires to the home. Since the merger was announced the company's stock value has held steady.

“By and large the market did not view (AT&T's concessions) as particularly onerous or even material,” one financial expert told the Chronicle.

To that end, the Wall Street Journal's editorial board got it only half right when they wrote ("Net Discrimination," Jan. 2) that Beltway lobbyists exerted an unfair influence over the Net Neutrality debate.

But they blamed Net Neutrality supporters for wielding a bigger stick in Washington when by far the largest sum of money being poured into PACs, campaign contributions and high spending D.C. law firms comes from the phone and cable companies themselves.

The political contributions of Net Neutrality supporters pales by comparison to AT&T's. Rather our influence is expressed by the number of real people -- more than 1.4 million by my last count -- who have urged their elected representatives to protect Net Neutrality and put the interest of the public before those of the nation's largest phone and cable companies.

The Journal editors added, "the one thing no one should be deceived about is that this ambush has anything to do with 'consumers,'" mischaracterizing Net Neutrality as a war between corporate titans. That all of the nation's major consumer protection groups support Net Neutrality strongly suggests otherwise.

But you won't be hearing that from the Net naysayers.

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