Monday, October 29, 2007

Net Neutrality's Second Coming

Don't always believe the purveyors of conventional wisdom in Washington. Some of these DC pundits are so steeped in their own "knowledge" that they get stuck spinning their wheels when faced with evidence to the contrary.

This was the case for a few of Washington's finest who recently hunkered down behind their laptops to convince the world that Net Neutrality was dead and gone.

Mark Twain

Greatly Exaggerated Rumors of a Death

The issue is a "fading memory," one crowed. It "barely raises a yawn" said another.

That Net Neutrality has remained a centerpiece of public activism outside the Beltway was lost on these naysayers.

The Road to Recovery

As any 12-step veteran can tell you, denial can be interpreted as a final cry for help. And more than one Potomac insider could use an intervention.

Fortunately, some of their colleagues have stepped in to report that the fight for Net Neutrality is alive and well. It's leading the news and being vigorously debated on the Hill and along the campaign trail.

Indeed, earlier today support for Net Neutrality emerged as the No. 1 issue that thousands of visitors to TechPresident had selected to be answered by all the presidential candidates. By Monday afternoon's count, more than twice as many people had voted for the Net Neutrality question over any other issue at

Sen. Barack Obama answered their question during a live forum on MTV. "Yes, I am a strong supporter of Net Neutrality," he said, adding that discrimination "destroys one of the best things about the Internet -- which is that there is this incredible equality there."

On the Hill and in the Media

On Capitol Hill, both Republicans and Democrats have joined in a call for urgent congressional action in defense of Net Neutrality. Last Thursday, Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) called for new hearings, citing recent incidents of blocking of cell-phone and Internet traffic.

The senators wrote that recent actions by Comcast and Verizon have raised "serious concern about the phone and cable companies' power to discriminate." They called upon the Senate Commerce Committee "to determine if they were based on legitimate business and network management policies or part of practices that would be deemed unfair and anti-competitive."

In less than two days, 10,000 activists wrote their members of Congress supporting the senators' call for hearings.

Net Neutrality has become the topic du jour among tech-forums and trade press as well, including prominent reports at SlashDot, Ars Technica, Consumerist, Machinist, BetaNews, WebProNews, GigaOm and, yes, even CNet News -- whose own DC navel gazer declared the "death of Net Neutrality" just a few weeks ago.

Gatekeepers in Need of a Solution

In mainstream press, Stephen H. Wildstrom, a senior technology writer and editor at BusinessWeek, wrote that he had shifted his position to support Net Neutrality following recent incidents of network gatekeeping. "The behavior of the top telecommunications companies, especially Verizon Communications and AT&T, has convinced me that more government involvement is needed to keep communications free of corporate interference," he wrote.

In the Washington Post, Rob Pegoraro wrote last week that customers ought to have a simple remedy in cases where the only Internet providers available attempt to block or slow their connections. "The network-neutrality debate will never go away as long as [the lack of choice in the ISP market] remains the case," he writes, "nor should it."

At the San Jose Mercury News, Vindu Goel writes that efforts to restore Net Neutrality protections had been unsuccessful in the absence of evidence that Internet providers were meddling with the free flow of information. He adds that all this has changed since Comcast began blocking peer-to-peer sharing.

"There was no real evidence that Internet providers were discriminating against any content," he concludes. "Now there is."

Life Beyond the Beltway

Net Neutrality has also been debated in recent issues of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal and in hundreds of new blog posts since early October.

So the next time some insider tells you that Net Neutrality is dead I advise you to check his pulse instead. Then point out the more than 1.5 million Americans - from every state and county across the nation -- who are taking action to protect the free and open Internet.

And if you can spare it, give him some change for bus fare and a map of the world beyond the Beltway.

No comments: