The Future of the Internet Is on the Table

I dedicated all of yesterday’s radioshow (already available for download) to the issue of network neutrality. I’m quite convinced that this is the most important communications issue to watch in 2006, since whatever Congress does will have long-lasting repercussions on the very basis of our telecommunications infrastructure.

Yesterday’s show featured some excerpts of testimony from last Tuesday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on network neutrality. The other half of the show features excerpts from a Free Press sponsored conference call on the issue where Stanford Prof. Larry Lessig, Free Press’ Ben Scott (who was on the Feb. 3 radioshow) and the Center for Digital Democracy’s Jeff Chester provided some broader perspective on the issue.

The purpose of the conference call was to reach out to bloggers and podcasters so that we can better inform our readers and listeners about this debate.

I think the very ability for independent media makers to continue to use the internet to easily and inexpensively distribute their works is in jeopardy. AT&T and Verizon want to charge content providers for the data they send to their customers’ computers, even though content makers, like me, already pay for our own internet access in addition to the fees to host our content on servers.

Verizon accuses us of getting a “free lunch” even though I’m already paying for a bandwidth bill that covers the cost of every single radioshow file that gets downloaded from this website.

They want to double-dip, and they want Congress to enshrine that “right” in law.

What the rest of us want, and need, is for network neutrality to remain the law. Data is data, whether it’s sound, video, pictures or text. If you pay $50 a month for your 2 megabits of DSL, then that’s what you should get, no matter where on the internet that data originated.

Even if you don’t normally listen to the radioshow I encourage you to listen to this one. There’s also a low-bandwidth version for people with slower connections, and an ogg version for folks who like their codecs open source.

Free Press has a network neutrality action site which lets you send an email to teleom CEOs and Congress letting them know that you want your ‘net freedom.

And Om Malik has a guest column posted to his blog that lays out a good argument that “Net Neutrality Not An Optional Feature of Internet.”

As a final note, my pal John pointed out to me that at the Senate hearing nobody actually used the term “network diversity” as I mistakenly implied.

10 Responses to The Future of the Internet Is on the Table

  1. George February 12, 2006 at 9:33 am #

    I think you’re taking this personally. There’s a big difference between a non-commercial user of the internet like you and Google. Verizon didn’t direct its “freeloader” comment at you, but at Google. There are huge companies making lots of money and they’re paying the same rate you are for broadband. As one who hates large corporations, don’t you have a problem with that?

    Lots of companies are trying to profit from the internet. While these hearings were going on, it was announced that ISPs like Yahoo and AOL are considering charging for email services. They say their goal is to cut down on spam, but it’s another way of making money from something that here-to-fore had been free. Why is that not mentioned by bloggers?

  2. phlegm February 13, 2006 at 11:39 pm #

    Because Google and Yahoo also already pay for access to the Internet. They also pay a lot more than you or I do for access (do you really think Google’s server farm runs off DSL or cable modems?)

    Additionally, major ISPs (including telco companies) that run the backbone links of the ‘net pay what are called “peering charges” to exchange data between backbones. Thus everyone already pays to get online (and some already pay twice). The distinction between commercial and noncommercial use of the net that you make has no bearing on this whatsoever.

    It’s not clear whether you actually clicked on the links to more information on this subject that Paul provided, but I strongly suggest checking them out. FP’s “Net Freedom Now” site is pretty skimpy on background, so I’d suggest checking out another page they’ve made on the subject:

  3. George February 18, 2006 at 11:30 am #

    Paul is concerned that AT&T and Verizon are targeting him. I said that’s not true. You have not provided any information to dispute what I say.

    The link you provided is a biased view of the situation, designed to provoke emotional response. The facts are much different than what says.

    Big companies are profiting from the internet. That’s who Verizon is targeting. Not Mediageek.

    If is concerned about the free flow of ideas, it should stick to the facts, and leave the hyperbole for talk radio. If wants an actual discussion on this subject, it should allow comment on its page the way Paul has done on this page.

  4. Paul February 18, 2006 at 1:50 pm #

    George, Why should anyone trust Verizon or AT&T to stick to charging Google and Yahoo? I push a lot of data from mediageek, and so I’m concerned about any restriction on the free flow of data. It’s about principle, not pragmatics. I believe that once you’ve paid for your connection to the internet, either for a server or home computer, then that data pipe is paid for. If Verizon is coming after Google, then what stops them from coming after Dreamhost (my hosting server), which will then pass the cost down to me?

    And your obsession with “facts” and not “hyperbole” leaves me wondering, where will I find these so-called facts?

    As I said before, I think you trust the mainstream media and institution of professionalized journalism more than I do. I see systematic inequities in the American media system that stem from its fundamental structure and political economic system. It permeates every facet, including the so-called “facts.”

  5. George February 18, 2006 at 2:53 pm #

    You’re confusing cost with restriction of speech. Free speech isn’t a function of cost. You have the same freedom if you’re yelling from a soapbox in the town square, or if you’re on the internet. You can still access the internet by other means, and there’s no requirement that it all be done using the best quality service. Just because companies can impose charges doesn’t mean they will. In a free marketplace, companies seek advantage in order to attract business. If Verizon imposes a charge you or others see as unfair, another company will pop up that will not impose that charge, and you will be free to choose who you prefer.

    As for my sources of information, I read it all. I read what you accept as fact, and I read direct transcripts of hearings. Or I attend them in person. I am concerned with the tone of reportage at a lot of these internet sites. You admit you’re not a journalist. But how do you know that the reports you accept are not coming from someone whose biases are simply the same as yours?

  6. phlegm February 19, 2006 at 6:42 pm #

    You “read it all,” make proclamations about what issues are *really* about, with little to no evidentiary citations beside “transcripts of hearings” and whatnot, and then claim that folks that actually cite material harbor “bias?”

    Tell me, what does stand to gain from promoting network neutrality? Because I can guarantee you that they’re not receiving funding from Google et. al. And you obviously didn’t click on the links served up by the page, as you’ll see much of it is a compendium of media coverage on the issue – some favorable, some not.

    If some content is made easier to receive than others’ because the underlying data transport structure of the Internet is modified in such a way as to require pay-for-play, this is a troubling proposition indeed.

    Under your very simplistic interpretation of the issue, those who provide bandwidth should just simply raise the rates paid by those who use the most of it. Then there wouldn’t even be a need to debate this issue. However, the abandonment of network neutrality allows for access to content itself to become a function of cost. That’s why the concept and its preservation is important.

  7. George February 19, 2006 at 10:55 pm #

    Why are you attacking me?

    If my view is simplistic, then that’s because this is simple. High speed broadband isn’t a right. If you want to drive an Escalade, you have to expect it will cost more than a Geo. From my “simplistic” point of view, it’s similar to buying name brand drugs vs. generic. You have to pay the cost of name brand because the drug company invested in the development.

    Now if some guy at the local non-profit media center invents the next big thing for data transport structures, maybe he’ll just give it away instead of expecting to make a profit with it.

    “what does stand to gain…”

    It’s not always about the money. For some, it’s about “the struggle.” Take it from someone who knows.

    My point, though, is that in this issue, Google happens to be on the same side as And I bet there are a lot of multi-billion dollar conglomerates who are on the same side.

  8. George February 20, 2006 at 12:00 am #

    Last week, the Washington Post, part of the mainstream media and an institution of professional journalism, laid out the debate over network neutrality this way. Tell me what they said that is wrong:

    · In telecommunications policy, a regulation preventing Internet service providers from favoring their own content or applications over those of competitors.
    · A rule that would prevent phone and cable companies from charging, or limiting access, to Google, Yahoo, Internet phone companies, or companies offering music and video to customers over their networks.
    · According to phone and cable companies, a framework that will discourage investment in new network capacity and provide content providers with a “free lunch.”
    · According to content providers, a framework that insures the continued openness of the Internet by preventing network providers from deciding which Internet services and content their customers can receive.
    · Currently, the most hotly lobbied telecom issue.
    · An expected source for tens of millions of dollars in industry campaign contributions during this election cycle.

  9. neilistic February 21, 2006 at 4:19 pm #

    George, I think many people would take exception to the equivalence you establish between SUV’s and information. Many people, myself included, do in fact think that there ought to be a right to access the means of communication in a deliberative democratic society. It’s true that practically speaking not everyone can have his or her own television station or newspaper, but the promise of the internet, however utopian it may be, is a level playing field where everyone can be not just a consumer, but also an active participant and producer. Google and Yahoo happen to be large corporations now, but they didn’t start that way, and may never have gotten where they are today without network neutrality. In this epic battle between corporations, the public interest happens to fall closer to the side of content providers. You bring up prescription drugs – a fantastic example of where state regulation is essential to protecting consumers from the bottom-line interests of private firms. Do you think large pharmaceutical companies are in favor of the very existence of generic drugs? If it were up to them, their (state granted) patents would never expire.

  10. George February 22, 2006 at 1:37 pm #

    “there ought to be a right to access the means of communication in a deliberative democratic society.”

    I understand what you’re saying, and if that’s the only way it was being used, you’d have no problem. However, you can’t pick and choose how these things get used. So on the one hand, we have our friend Paul who is running a non-commercial operation. On the other hand, you have Google and Amazon, multi billion dollar conglomerates, who also are making huge profits using the same system. Then you have Verizon and Comcast, who invested their private money (and that of their stockholders) in building the tracks the trains run on. They didn’t spend that money for charity.

    There is no “level playing field” in life. No matter where you are, everyone is always jockeying for position. That includes grass roots public interest groups.

    When you look at third world countries around the world, have you ever wondered why their people don’t solve their own problems and build their own internet or feed themselves? The answer is because those countries have corrupt governments that interfere in their people’s lives and restrict commercial investment in things like the internet or something even as basic as electric and plumbing. As much as it may seem greedy, the private system of commercial enterprise has made it possible for great drugs to be discovered, cities to be electrified, and the internet itself to be built. It would not have happened to the degree that it has had there not been investment of money in return for the potential of profit. That’s what this is all about. And if you investigate any of our public utilities, like gas, electric, and water, you’ll see they all make great returns for their investors. That’s why our system works, and why the folks in Africa and other developing countries need our help.

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