By Martin Bosworth
Yesterday the Justice Department filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission opposing the principle of “net neutrality” and urging the FCC not to sanction regulations to protect it. In a report and press statement that sound like they were written by executives from AT&T and Verizon, the DOJ regurgitates telecom talking points that falsely claim net neutrality will hamper innovation and that the market is somehow working awesomely:
The Department said in its filing that it may make economic sense for content providers who want a higher quality of service to pay for the Internet upgrades necessary to provide such service, arguing that â€œany regulation that prohibits this type of pricing may leave broadband providers unable to raise the capital necessary to fund these investments.â€
â€œConsumers and the economy are benefitting from the innovative and dynamic nature of the Internet,â€said Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Departmentâ€™s Antitrust Division. â€œRegulators should be careful not to impose regulations that could limit consumer choice and investment in broadband facilities.â€
This would make a slight bit of sense if it wasn’t for the reality that consumer choice in broadband is already extremely limited. When you have one cable provider and one telecom provider, that’s not competition. In the interest of space, my earlier post about better broadband for America is what I’ll use to refute the DOJ’s other arguments.
And the idea that you could expect the current Justice Department–that is, the same DOJ that brought us Abu Gonzo, the apparatchik from hell that was Monica Goodling, false cases of voter fraud, illegal wiretapping, and attorney purges–to legitimately pursue antitrust cases would be amusing if it wasn’t so ludicrous.
Declan McCullagh is proclaiming loudly that net neutrality is dead. Now, Declan is an avowed libertarian who’s always been skeptical on this issue, so I take anything he says about it with a shaker of salt. But he is right on one point–the lack of action by the Democratic Congress on this issue has been shocking. Matt Stoller agrees. We need more from influential Democrats like Ed Markey than finger-wagging press releases. But then again, given how the current Congress has rolled over for Bush on everything from the Iraq supplemental to the FISA bill, I doubt they’ll have the balls to stand up to him on an “insider” issue like this.
Another point to make here–why is the DOJ stepping up now, of all times, to proclaim its opposition to the issue? It’s because of Director of National Intelligence Mitch McConnell. McConnell admitted in a now-infamous interview that the major telecom companies were willing partners in the Bush regime’s illegal surveillance program. Although Verizon had strenuously denied the issue, and the Bush administration sought to dismiss lawsuits against the program, now it’s out in the open. Why?
It’s a back-scratch, essentially. One of the few things that McConnell didn’t get in the Dems’ FISA capitulation was retroactive immunity for the telecom companies from all lawsuits against them for participating in the program. McConnell was out to reassure AT&T and Verizon that they would be protected, and this loud proclamation by the DOJ against net neutrality is just another way of ensuring that corporate cronies get rewarded. As Harold Feld notes in his response to the DOJ’s statement, the Bush administration never met a business ally they didn’t like, and they’re more than willing to sacrifice a free Internet–and our economic prosperity–to make sure they’re protected.