Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Opposing Net Neutrality a Political Third Rail, Washington Post

Opposing Net Neutrality has become a political third rail for candidates who seek elected office, according to a story today in the Washington Post.

Post writer Charles Babington praised SavetheInternet.com Coalition efforts to mobilize the netroots and other Internet activists around this issue.

Coombs, Snowe and Blades

The Christian Coalition's Michele Combs delivers one million petitions to Congress -- with MoveOn's Joan Blades and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

Net Neutrality "was hardly a household term" before the spring of 2006, Babington writes. Yet, now, every major Democratic presidential candidate has endorsed it as have much of the new leadership in Congress.

Many on the other side of the aisle are coming around to the issue as well. A veteran political campaign consultant told Babington, "if you're not for net neutrality, then the blogs will kick your [ass]."

That this issue has grown to such prominence is a testament to our efforts, writes Babington:
“Last spring, the debate over net neutrality barely scratched the consciousness of Congress, let alone the general public, after a House subcommittee defeated an effort to add net-neutrality restrictions to a multi-faceted telecommunications bill. The 23 to 8 vote goaded more than 850 interest groups, many, but not all, politically left of center, to form a coalition called SavetheInternet.com.”
Our coalition includes groups from across the political spectrum. Michele Combs of the Christian Coalition of America told the Post that Net Neutrality is a nonpartisan issue and that "the conservative side has not been educated on the issue."

Still, the Christian Coalition along with the Gun Owners of America have successfully rallied support from their membership calling Net Neutrality an issue for conservatives, libertarians, and other champions of free speech and the free market.

"As long as Congress is making the rules for a handful of major companies in providing the infrastructure, it has to make certain those companies give equal access to all comers," wrote Gun Owners Internet director Craig Fields. "That's the way it has been for the very lifetime of the free and open Internet we're all interested in maintaining."

MoveOn.org’s Adam Green added that Net Neutrality should transcend political lines. "An issue like Net Neutrality, which directly taps into Internet issues. . . could have a special energy in the political season," he said. "Every Republican and Democrat who uses the Internet is threatened by corporations that want to control which Web sites people can access."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Forward-Looking Policy Will Remedy Our Broadband Woes

This week's issue of InformationWeek concludes that forward-looking policy and not wholesale deregulation is the way to save America from becoming a broadband backwater.

The report’s author Richard Hoffman writes that nation’s that are able to craft “genuinely forward-looking telecommunications policies that promote universal access as well as enhancing competition, and which can balance short-term market forces against long-term national priorities, will reap the current and future benefits of increased economic productivity.”

The FCC's Rose Tinted Lens


Read InformationWeek's Report

Hoffman takes the FCC to task for rose-tinted reporting on broadband competition. He calls "questionable" figures presented by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin that define a "high-speed" line as one delivering service of at least 200 Kbps in at least one direction, and for defining a ZIP code as "covered" by broadband access when only one broadband line is active in that region.

His critique of FCC data echoes widespread concern (read Isenberg ,Techdirt, Feld, Free Press, CPI, et al) that the FCC's Martin is skewing already discredited data to paint a picture of a flourishing broadband marketplace. The evidence on the ground – in both urban and rural communities across America – suggests a markedly different reality.

Hoffman writes that the U.S. broadband market is hobbled by "surprisingly little competition." Despite the growing number of broadband users here prices are still much higher than in many of the countries that lead the world in broadband use.

He adds:
"Part of the cause for this pricing disparity can be attributed to the fact that competition brings lower prices and greater innovation, and the U.S. broadband market is, in many ways, not highly competitive."
Back of the Pack

As a result, U.S. broadband accessibility, speed and costs have fallen behind other developed country's including Japan, Canada, Iceland, France, Korea and the U.K.

"The U.S. isn't even close to being the leader in widespread broadband availability and usage," Hoffman writes. "In fact, [we] may be dropping further behind the 'first tier' of broadband-rich countries in Northern Europe and Asia."

He cites Korea as a "best example" of a country's rapid development of superior broadband service. The reason, according to Hoffman, is that Korea "has a tradition of constructive and proactive government policy and involvement in building industry and technological capability to be competitive in the international market."

The Telcos' 'Hand On' Policy Approach

Phone companies only seek to maximize profits and spend millions of dollars on lobbyists to create laws that stifle competition, limit access to rural areas and urban poor with no incentives to increase speed and lower costs. According to Hoffman, "this state of affairs stands in marked contrast to the situation in those nations that are truly broadband leaders."

He concludes:
"[America's] intensely 'hands-off' market-driven system in recent years seems to have resulted in a chaotic and inefficient marketplace, and one that doesn't represent the true state of the United States as a technology leader. Laissez-faire isn't a viable stance if the goal is to compete most effectively against other industrialized nations."
InformationWeek's recommendations fall in line with SavetheInternet.com's agenda for Internet Freedom. They also follow the research and recommendations made by SavetheInternet.com charter members Free Press, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America.

Our goal is to create universal and neutral access to a world-class broadband network at affordable prices. To get there we need a national broadband policy, not a series of laws designed to prop up the business models of incumbent telephone and cable companies. We want to make the information superhighway a public good, to bring the transformative spirit of free speech and free markets to every community.

The "Internet Freedom Declaration" is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, InformationWeek's 440,000 readers will join us in this fight for better broadband.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sock Puppet Redux

panelCleland: For Net Neutrality Until He Was Against It

The SavetheInternet.com Coalition receives no support from Google, Amazon, eBay, Microsoft or other corporations. Paid industry apologists like Scott Cleland, Mike McCurry and others have leveled this accusation in an attempt to discredit the Coalition's genuine grassroots efforts and score points with their bosses. (Recommended reading)

These accusations come from individuals who are on the phone and cable company payroll with the explicit intention to undermine the concept of Net Neutrality and smear its supporters.

It's unfortunate that a payola pundit like Cleland routinely fails to come clean and disclose his considerable conflicts of interest -- or to adequately explain why statements he made while on the telco dole directly contradict statements he made prior to receiving money from AT&T.

>> Here's a prominent example of Cleland's shilling without disclosure.

This comes from a man who repeatedly claims to seek an "open debate" on Net Neutrality while selectively ignoring the mounting evidence in support of an open Internet.

Using a variety of methods, the phone and cable lobby will continue to paint issues like Net Neutrality as “unnecessary government regulations” and anti-consumer (turning a blind eye to the fact that all the major U.S. consumer advocacy groups are a part of this Coalition).

They also dismiss the groundswell of public support for this issue as the handiwork of a few “liberal groups.” (ignoring the many conservative and libertarian groups among our rank).

Now, Cleland, McCurry and crew are citing widely discredited FCC data in a feeble attempt to demonstrate that the broadband marketplace is awash with competitors. This is more industry planted propaganda designed to clear a path for the phone and cable duopoly that accounts for more than 98% of all broadband access in the U.S.

They do this as part of their bid to 1) take further control of the market for high-speed Internet access and 2) increase their multi-billion dollar profit margins by erecting new tollbooths to the content that travels over these pipes.

For a clearer picture of the state of broadband competition in the U.S., I recommend you read Broadband Reality Check, InformationWeek's comprehensive survey or David Isenberg's recent blog post on the matter. You can read some of the industry's sponsored reports on this as well -- but understand that their conclusions were drawn well before they conducted one drop of research.

The public tolerance for this type of "Astroturfing" was tested in 2006. More than 75 percent of respondents to a September CBS/New York Time poll thought that most members of Congress “are more interested in serving special interest groups” than “serving the people they represent.”

The Net Neutrality fight isn’t just between corporate Titans like Google and AT&T. It's a battle that pits the special interests of the few (phone and cable companies) against a vast grassroots effort involving Americans from every corner of society.

Please don't ignore the word-of-mouth campaign that has lifted the crucial issue of Net Neutrality from obscurity and thrown a wrench in the phone and cable giants’ plan to overhaul our telecommunications laws behind closed doors.

The debate over Net Neutrality should be a broad, public conversation about what the future of the Internet will look like. Portraying this issue as corporate infighting, overly partisan or heavy handed regulation appeases the phone companies. But this debate is about so much more.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Showing Some Love to the FCC's Top Man

Valentine's Day is Wednesday, but FCC Chairman Kevin has already received his gift from the public.



Watch the Video

In a sugar-coated bid to woo Martin away from corporate media lobbyists, tens of thousands of people have signed and sent an electronic love letter to the man in charge of regulating the Internet.

>> Click here to watch the video

The Valentine's day video asks the chairman to get out of bed with Big Media and "send some love to the people you're really supposed to be serving."

Last year, Martin was caught in bed with corporate lobbyists (literally, see the photo to the right).

At the end of the year -- as the AT&T buyout of Bell South was being approved, the chairman stated his intention not to enforce the Net Neutrality rules that were a condition of the company's massive merger.

2007 is a pivotal year for the chairman. He will be making several decisions that will have a direct impact on Internet freedoms.

The public Valentine urges the chairman to spurn corporate advances and help prevent big phone companies from destroying Net Neutrality. Help foster "more diverse voices and points of view and a free and open Internet" the video asks. "Get out of bed with them and into bed with us."

>> Click here to sign the card

Read more about the courtship of Kevin in today's Wall Street Journal "Washington Wire."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Bush Calls for Propaganda Surge, Slashes PBS

The latest twist of Bush's budgetary knife lays bare the White House's information priority: Fake news trumps real reporting.

Out of his depth
George W. Bush is trying—yet again—to smother NPR, PBS and other public broadcasting while forcing an escalation (sorry, "surge") in funding for propaganda.

The president's proposed fiscal year 2008 budget for "U.S. international broadcasting" calls for an overall increase of 3.8% from the last year's recommendation.

All told the budget calls for $668.2 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency that supervises all US government non-military propaganda.

Journalism Slash and Burn

At the same time, Bush's budget proposes steep cuts to federal funds for public broadcasting -- by nearly 25%. According to the Association of Public Television Stations, the Bush budget would slash up to $145 million from the $460 million proposed FY 2008 budget for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.

The amount allocated to the BBG is a 3.8 percent increase from the agency's 2007 budget, with monies specifically "targeted to the war on terror." These tax dollars would flow to government mouthpieces including the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Alhurra, Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

According to a BBG release: "The budget also fully funds initiatives … to critical Muslim audiences. These include the expansion of VOA television to Iran to a 12 hour stream, VOA Pashto radio programming to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region, television programs to Afghanistan and Pakistan and Alhurra Europe, the 24/7 service to Arabic speakers in Europe."

Taxpayer money well spent?

Measure the overwhelming public support for funding of public broadcasting against their growing dissatisfaction with the war effort. According to a 2005 Roper poll, 82% of Americans believe that taxpayer funding given to PBS is "money well spent." A recent AP-Ipsos poll counts 62% of Americans who now think that going to war in Iraq was a mistake.

Bush's proposed cuts to public broadcasting will put "Sesame Street" and other ad-free kids' shows under the knife. So too will be the watchdog journalism, critical voices and diverse fare that PBS, NPR and other public media offer. The cuts continue the partisan war on journalism once led by the ex-chair of public broadcasting, Ken Tomlinson. (Remember him?)

It's now up to Congress to set the budget right and restore funding to media that more accurately represents the public's priorities. You can help.

Bundle o' Joy

There's a reason for my absence over the last several weeks. Her name is Eleanor and she weighs in at 8 lbs., 7 oz. .... and, yes, she's already a member o f the YouTube Nation (click on the image at left to see what I mean).

Some specs:
8 lbs., 7 oz
Born January 26,2007
New York City