The human face of Net Neutrality

By Martin Bosworth

A friend of a friend recently asked me for help in describing Net Neutrality in order to get a comment published in the New Smyrna Beach Shadow, a local Floridian news site that focuses on unearthing graft, greed, and corruption in city and county politics. There’s a great comment on the front page that I want to quote:

Democracy is a continuing experiment that will fail in the absence of an informed electorate that exercises the right to vote. Election results are seldom to everyone’s liking but since all have agreed to abide by the result even if not the one they advocated, society continues to function in an orderly fashion. Most of the population continues to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. A main ingredient of being well informed is the willingness to accept the right of a full expression of free speech, which in its purest essence is the belief that good speech will prevail over bad speech, and that eventually good speech will drive bad speech away.

Not only is this a beautiful sentiment on its face, but it cuts to the heart of what the Net Neutrality debate is all about. A free and open Internet not only guarantees that commerce and business will grow, but that the exchange of ideas on a global level will continue to increase at astonishing rates every moment of every day. Think about it–how awesome is it that I can write this and you can read it from all corners of the Earth?

While I don’t see an immediate end to free speech if Net Neutrality isn’t preserved, there is a clear reality that telecom companies will not only prioritize services to higher-paying customers (and is willing to write crappy faux research papers to prove its point), but will enforce control of the content they favor as well. As I’ve written before, AT&T is absolutely not to be trusted when it comes to the rights of its customers, and given that it controls the vast breadth of the American telecommunications landscape, who else will you trust? Verizon? Sprint? Qwest?

We don’t have enough choices in the market to simply say “I’ll take my business elsewhere.” This is the fundamental end result of a monopoly–when there’s only a few companies that control many outlets, you have to fight for your access at every step of the path. Open Left’s Matt Stoller posted a great interview with FreePress’ Ben Scott wherein he discusses how the locked iPhone/AT&T contract is emblematic of how AT&T wants to handle the Internet .

The government has been little to no help in this regard, with the Federal Trade Commission issuing a massive and ponderous report that basically boiled down to “We should trust the markets and not interfere.” The FCC, which under current chair Kevin Martin has proven itself an ardent foe of net neutrality and a friend to telecoms everywhere, has been forced to reevaluate its position under grilling from Congress and a massive grassroots public campaign. The FCC is concluding its solicitation of comment for the issue this week, so your best bet is to contact your Congressman and Senator and let them know how important this is to our country’s economic and political future.

The Internet is that rare mix of both government and business that works–it combines public-sector service (and tax dollars) with private innovation to create a platform for virtually anything you can think of. Not only does it empower business to thrive and create in ways we never would have imagined even twenty years ago, but it’s the ultimate tool for sharing ideas, building communities, and shrinking the global divide. Whether you’re Google, Scholars & Rogues, or the New Smyrna Beach Shadow, the Internet enables you to put your name out there for anyone to listen, and your ideas to be defended or defeated by public opinion. Imagine–the marketplace of ideas, where your content is all that matters. What a concept!

And it’s a concept that I simply do not trust AT&T to protect and defend. And that means we need to stand up and fight for it.

10 replies »

  1. I have at least one trusted friend in the telco industry – he works at a company that you mention in this post – who insists that there’s a strong argument against NN. And he’s a guy who is usually on the right side of most telecom arguments.

    But no matter what, you should ALWAYS oppose anything that relies on the good faith of AT&T, huh?

  2. Marcys,

    Glad you liked it! It’s a personal passion issue of mine, and one which I follow fervently.


    I would entertain that argument, but I’ve seen too much bad behavior from the major telcos (particularly AT&T, but from all of them) to trust that they would handle issues like QOS and content prioritization equitably. Like most major businesses, they will not voluntarily reform unless the threat of outside force pushes the issue–and that’s how we’ve ended up where we are.

    I’m not against the idea of building faster pipes for richer clients–far from it. I just staunchly oppose draining the access (and pockets) of the average user to do it.

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  4. The net neutrality debate does have economic implications but we at the Hands Off the Internet Coalition agree with the FTC’s report because mandated government regulations often bring along with them a series of unintended consequences. We are way behind other countries in broadband deployment. Now is not the time to experiment with new regulations.

    Talking choice, I’m still waiting to be able to use FiOS in my neighborhood but net neutrality regulations will slow the deployment even more. I also believe that there would be major uproars if an ISP were to block content as claimed by some. The FTC’s approach is clearly the way to go.

  5. Oh, boy, have I been waiting for HOTI to send people my way. 🙂

    Net Neutrality in no way affects broadband deployment–that’s a function of companies not wanting to incur costs that will displease shareholders through the massive infrastructure investment necessary. FIOS is successful because it’s being built out in well-to-do exurban and open areas with lots of available land to rip up and customers willing to pay high prices for service. It’s not as feasible in downtown urban or even inner-ring suburban areas, and so companies like Verizon just don’t bother—and again, Net Neutrality is not even a factor in that decision.

    Look at the DSL Reports map for Verizon FIOS availability: It’s like a massive black hole for D.C. proper, but the suburbs and exurbs are covered with clusters and users:

    By comparison, AT&T won’t even make that step (for which I commend Verizon)–they’re relying on traditional copper connections for the last-mile connection for U-Verse, and that’s caused no small amount of consternation for users, particularly knowledgeable and tech-savvy customers:

    The reason why both major telcos want to stop NN is because they need more money to pay for these initiatives, and can’t afford to risk raising prices too obviously or incurring more shareholder displeasure. So they’re trying to extort money from content providers to maintain their profits, by threatening to block or reduce traffic to their sites or redirect it to sites they favor. It’s a rigged game, and the people that are paying you to shill here know it.

  6. Hey, HandsOff: Just to make this exchange a little more fun, why don’t you take this opportunity to do a full disclosure on your funding? Your org is what’s commonly called “astroturf” – that it, faux grassroots. You’re a sock puppet for AT&T and some other corps with a clear financial interest, at the least.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with a corp having its say – I’m a corp comm guy who used to work in PR for US West (now Qwest). But you’re not going to have any cred here so long as you pretend to be something that you aren’t.

    Let’s start with this link and go from there, shall we?