Want To Know What the Telcos Are Really Up To? Ask the Guys on the Line.

Craig Newmark, of Craigslist fame, was in on today’s SaveTheInternet conference call, too, though he kept his few comments pretty short. But he brought one very interesting insight to the table, addressing one of the telco lobby’s loudest arguments against network neutrality: the likes of AT&T and Verizon haven’t discriminated against any internet content yet, so what makes you think they will?

That’s what you hear when you ask the telcos’ execs and PR people. But Newmark says, talk to the telcos’ own customer service reps and the guys working the lines and you get a different story. As Craiglist’s chief “customer service rep,” Newmark talks to telephone company workers all the time. These folks, the ones actually doing the work implementing and enforcing the telcos’ policies, tell Craig that if their companies get the opportunity they’ll “use their power to hurt the little guys.”

Of course, that’s not the kind of quote you can attribute in a straight new story, since the guy working the line knows that he’d be reprimanded if he were quoted telling the truth like that in Broadcasting and Cable.

I’ve had similar experiences with our local cable company years ago. The system used to be owned by Cablevision, then Time-Warner, then AT&T through a series of mergers and mandatory sell-offs in the 1990s. At work we ran a cable channel that went only to university dorms and buildings, and the quality was typically bad, and sometimes horrible. But during the Time-Warner and AT&T years it was nearly impossible to get a hold of anyone in customer service who had a clue what I was talking about or could help fix things in any way.

That was until I finally got a hold of an engineer who had been there for a few years, who not only knew what I was talking about, but also could fill me in on what was really happening. He told me such great dirt like the fact there was no actual management on site, and that everyone was reporting to overworked management in New York City that made site visits every month or two. You’re never going to hear that from a customer service rep or PR person.

There’s the official line, and then there’s what’s really happening. When it comes to the internet, the telcos may be saying “trust us, we won’t block or discriminate internet content.” But they leave out the last part of that sentence, that everyone in the industry knows is true: “until you turn your backs and we ensure the law let’s us do whatever we damn well please.”

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