Justice Department on net neutrality: “Trust us”

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 “any regulation that prohibits this type of pricing may leave broadband providers unable to raise the capital necessary to fund these investments.”

“Consumers and the economy are benefitting from the innovative and dynamic nature of the Internet,”said Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department’s Antitrust Division. “Regulators should be careful not to impose regulations that could limit consumer choice and investment in broadband facilities.”

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.

11 replies »

  1. Martin,

    I always read your pieces on this issue with deep interest. Thanks for explaining what’s going on so well.

    Now I have a question – do you foresee, in 10-15 years, our looking back on this 1st decade-and-a-half of the Internet as the “golden age” of wild and woolly freedom before “order was imposed” – sort of like what happened to early TV and to radio a couple of times (in its first years and again in the early days of FM’s growth)? Where it took corporate forces a while to crush individualism and impose pre-determined form and lack of choice/freedom/creativity?

  2. The thing corporations have since there’s effectively no regulation, is an endless supply of money and an endless supply of people to continue even after they’ve been beaten time and again. Which is why this ever seems to be over. The former CEO of ATT, Ed Whittacre, said that nothing would stand in the way of them controlling the internet the way they wanted it.

    And Martin’s right, this is pretty much why DoJ os weighing in on this, to retroactively cover for the conflict-of-interest Mike McConnell DNI and the laws that were broken. McConnell has ties with the big telcos; opening them up to litigation for spying would bankrupt them.

    It’s too bad we

  3. It was just too good to be true. Internet, we hardly knew ye.

    Guess I’ll have to dust off my old mimeograph machine.

  4. The internet was the only thing left in which Americans had a voice and could spread the truth , and the government , corporations can not allow this to happen…. We need to get together to get ideals & methods to control our own communications and everyday life leaving Corporations out of the picture as much as we can Cut their damn services and boycott them , the only way to stop or punish Corporate’s greed is to cut the money…. Just look at the income of the CEO’s and Corporate businessman , they are making more in one day then Americans make in year and for some it it two or three jobs.
    They travel on their own private jets , while Americans get screwed causing them humility in searches at the airports , cramped seat arrangement on the airplanes and the airplanes are falling apart with lack of service to the airplane. They have taking their jobs overseas with their business then ship their products back through our ports without a damn bit of security checks and the supposely security cortrol is owned by foreign countries that will receive our tax dollars instead of people in our country.
    Private and foreign nations are buy our social programs , roads , resources , manufacturing plants and stealing our jobs on a daily basis. If they did not combine the income of the top 5% of the wealthy into the figures for our economy and salaries averages , we would most likely be the poorest country in the world excluding the nations not receiving our tax dollars and jobs.
    If we do not start taking action today there will be no tomorrow for us , only Global Corporations which will control the safety and working conditions they wish to provide to the slave working force and buyers. They will control what your every move , action and what you are allowed to say. You have to remember Cheney and Bush are just the pawns they are using in establishing their laws and powers over this nation…….
    They control our government , wealth , news media and our military , why are we caving in to this corruption and dictatorship.
    Saudi Arabia , Bush , Cheney , Israel , Oil Corporations and Global Corporations are controlling our everyday life in everything we do or say and our voice is left out of the equation..

  5. Democracy’s last stand is the Internet. When it’s gone, it’s over.
    A real market based solution would open the Net to competitive delivery and make the telco’s compete for my money. But no. They got to limit my freedom.

    28 years ago, Congress allowed bundling of providers by cable TV programmers because it was a new industry and it needed protection before it could compete on the open market. Now we have endless reruns of Lassie and I Dream of Jeannie. Every grade B movie ever made runs 16 times a year. The internet, which was developed with our tax money, built with our tax subsidies, supported with our subscription fees and protected by law is being privatized. It’s time to leave the country. Stick a fork in it, it’s dead.
    …They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings. Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king… Bob Dylan 1983

  6. Speaking of McCullagh’s piece, I think this part is especially telling:

    “8. No smoking gun. The problem with the Net neutrality debate has been two-fold. First, the term is vague and means different things to different people. Does it mean broadband providers shouldn’t block content (a perfectly reasonable principle, that) or does it mean the FCC gets to prevent AT&T from entering into deals to make its partners’ TV shows stream without hiccups? Second, it’s possible to support the goals of Net neutrality while being deeply skeptical of the FCC getting things right when it comes to Internet regulation.”

    Also, I’m with the Hands Off coalition, opposing new NN laws, so you might want to take me with a grain of salt, too.

    But when you look at why this issue caught fire only in activist communities but never rose to the top of legislator’s concerns, I think this is a big reason why. And when you add in the fact that antitrust laws already exist to deal with anti-competitive behavior (which is what outright blocking would be) then there’s clearly no urgency.

    Overall, I think this debate has become really overblown. The Internet isn’t dead, it’s not on the verge of it, and it never was.

  7. Jim,

    Didn’t forget about you! To answer your question, I don’t necessarily see that sort of “corporate apocalypse” happening JUST yet. The Internet is too powerful, too fragmented, and too decentralized for corporate titans to exert the level of control that they do over radio and television. But it COULD happen, and that’s why we need to stamp it out wherever it breeds.

  8. HOTI Dave,

    Believe me, I do. How does it feel to get paid to basically promote getting rid of the same Internet that enables you to post dumb comments on blogs?

  9. Martin:

    I do a lot more than just comment on blogs, and believe me, I don’t mind countering the vast amount of misinformation on this topic.

    Chief among them being that allowing ISPs to do traffic shaping is threatening to anyone. But that goes especially for text-based sites such as this one. It takes a fraction of the time to load this page compared to loading video or audio. The debate over net neutrality really doesn’t really matter when we’re talking about pages made up mostly out of ASCII characters.

    But right now US broadband pipes aren’t efficient enough to deliver high-def video. One solution is QoS, packet prioritization, and it’s one the telcos & cablecos should be able to have. Instead it has become mixed up as an issue of “Internet freedom,” because it’s in the interest of some companies and activists to portray it as a real bogeyman. That’s too bad. I may be paid for my advice, but I wasn’t paid to think this was the correct side to be on.