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TakingITGlobal

2007 Webby Awards

MediaCitizen by Timothy Karr
Un-Spinning the Net Naysayers

The telecommunications giant AT&T, whose chief Edward Whitacre once called Net Neutrality indefinable and its supporters “nuts,” has now signed off on the principle as a condition of its mega merger with BellSouth.

But that hasn’t stemmed the flow of rhetoric from Net Neutrality’s naysayers, who are readying their lawyers, think tanks and lobbyists for another assault on our position.

AT&T’s agreement put aside their executive’s own argument that Net Neutrality didn’t really exist.

It also puts to rest his bogus notion that Net Neutrality will cripple the phone company’s plans to build out broadband services. AT&T agreed to this condition — and also to offer cheaper broadband services – and yet they continue to expand their networks and offer services to the tune of $24.5 billion in gross profits in 2006.

Net Neutrality is good for smaller businesses as well. Writes the Bangor Daily News on Monday:

“That temporary concession could set a framework for Internet democracy that would benefit not only such huge users as Google and eBay but also small businesses like Maine wreath makers and crafters, protecting them against future discrimination as they market products and services online. It also would keep open the way for new startups to flourish, as YouTube and MySpace have zoomed out of nowhere.”

While we’ve cheered AT&T’s temporary concessions as a step in the right direction, and are now looking to make them permanent, Washington’s “Astroturfs” and coin-operated think tanks are mounting a new campaign against a free and open Internet.

The AT&T agreement “was a shakedown, no question,” Patrick Ross of the Progress & Freedom Foundation told the San Francisco Chronicle over the weekend.

What Mr. Ross fails to tell the Chronicle’s reporter is that his D.C. think tank has been taking AT&T and Verizon money hand over fist to generate phony studies that trumpet as good for competition the Internet market grab by these same virtual monopolies.

The supreme irony, of course, is that a paid operative of the phone lobby is now labeling “a shakedown” legitimate efforts to put real competition and the public before the interests of his corporate benefactors.

Ross seems to have forgotten whom this government is supposed to work for.

Meanwhile, Wall Street has ignored AT&T’s dim predictions that Net Neutrality would choke off investment in their efforts to speed Internet wires to the home. Since the merger was announced the company’s stock value has held steady.

“By and large the market did not view (AT&T’s concessions) as particularly onerous or even material,” one financial expert told the Chronicle.

To that end, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board got it only half right when they wrote (”Net Discrimination,” Jan. 2) that Beltway lobbyists exerted an unfair influence over the Net Neutrality debate.

But they blamed Net Neutrality supporters for wielding a bigger stick in Washington when by far the largest sum of money being poured into PACs, campaign contributions and high spending D.C. law firms comes from the phone and cable companies themselves.

The political contributions of Net Neutrality supporters pales by comparison to AT&T’s. Rather our influence is expressed by the number of real people — more than 1.4 million by my last count — who have urged their elected representatives to protect Net Neutrality and put the interest of the public before those of the nation’s largest phone and cable companies.

The Journal editors added, “the one thing no one should be deceived about is that this ambush has anything to do with ‘consumers,’” mischaracterizing Net Neutrality as a war between corporate titans. That all of the nation’s major consumer protection groups support Net Neutrality strongly suggests otherwise.

But you won’t be hearing that from the Net naysayers.
 
January 8th, 2007 @ 5:11PM | 0 Comments | Post a Comment


NY Times Op-Ed: Stranger than Fiction
Kennard
Former FCC Chairman William Kennard threw a rabbit punch at Net Neutrality in a strange and questionable op-ed in the New York Times Saturday.

What makes this writing so strange is Kennard's notion that we can best help underserved communities by giving aid and comfort to the "merely rich" companies that routinely overlook them.

What makes the op-ed so questionable is that Kennard supports anti-Net Neutrality legislation without fully disclosing his own financial interests in its passage.

Let's start from the top.

Ignoring the 'Merely Poor'

Somehow Kennard treats the fight over Net Neutrality as a distraction to improved access for all:
"Unfortunately, the current debate in Washington is over “net neutrality” — that is, should network providers be able to charge some companies special fees for faster bandwidth ... Policymakers should rise above the net neutrality debate and focus on what America truly requires from the Internet: getting affordable broadband access to those who need it."

His solution, the nation's largest phone companies – whom he calls the "merely rich" -- should be unfettered by regulation so that they can bring better broadband to previously under-served communities.

Kennard's argument conveniently ignores the past eight years -- under a regulatory regime created in part by Kennard's decisions -- during which access to the Internet for most online Americans has become controlled by a handful of companies. During the same time, the increase in cost per bandwidth has priced many communities out of the market.

In the years since Kennard helped established the regulatory framework, the United States has fallen from first to 16th in the world in broadband penetration, according to the International Telecommunications Union. It's gotten so bad that The U.S. has gone from 1st in the world to rivaling, as he puts it, Slovenia.

A Problem of His Making

That's bad enough. But then Kennard's piece gets stranger than fiction.

He was the Chairman of the FCC at the time that DSL and cable modems began to roll out. Had he explicitly defined broadband as a common carrier (and hence formally subject to nondiscrimination requirements) and had the FCC produce an iron clad record to support that position, it is quite probable that we would never have opened the opportunity for the network operators use Kennard's loopholes, as AT&T Chairman Ed Whitacre explained, to craft plans for a discriminatory tax on Web sites.

Kennard could have made Net Neutrality more enforceable and capital would have adapted itself to that framework. Instead, he put his fingers in his ears and refused to deal with the problem. This permitted the network operators to organize their legislators, lobbyists and shills to eventually lead us to the path we have taken now.

It could be Kennard’s fault that we’re in this Net Neutrality battle at all. To come out now in the pages of the New York Times describing Net Neutrality as a distraction is supreme irony, since he's partially the reason that we’re even debating the issue today.

Getting 'Merely Richer'

It gets weirder still. Kennard (and by extension the Times) attempt to cover his post-FCC tracks by disclosing only that "some companies" in which he invests at The Carlyle Group could benefit from passing legislation without Net Neutrality.

For their part, the Times states simply that Kennard sits on the newspaper's board.

But shouldn't they have mentioned that he also sits on the boards of directors of Sprint Nextel Corporation, Hawaiian Telcom and Insight Communications (a cable provider) -- companies that have lobbied to kill Net Neutrality?

It seems, as Larry Lessig puts it, "unseemly" when a FCC Chairman "moves to the boards of the companies he used to regulate, and then uses the op-ed page of a paper on whose board he now sits, to argue for the poor by pushing the agenda of the 'merely rich.'"

Ignoring the Grassroots

Kennard wrongly paints this crucial policy debate as a clash of corporate titans. He writes:
"This is essentially a battle between the extremely wealthy (Google, Amazon and other high-tech giants, which oppose such a move) and the merely rich (the telephone and cable industries). In the past year, collectively they have spent $50 million on lobbying and advertising, effectively preventing Congress and the public from dealing with more pressing issues."

It's true that the phone and cable industry opposes Net Neutrality It's also true that big Internet companies like Google and eBay support protections for Net Neutrality under the law. But the story doesn't end there.

Our unprecedented alliance represents more than 800 pro-Net Neutrality groups from across the political spectrum – including the ACLU, the Christian Coalition, the American Library Association and every major consumer group in the country.

SavetheInternet.com hasn't taken a penny of corporate money from the big Internet companies or anybody else. More than a million real people have signed a petition supporting Net Neutrality at SavetheInternet.com or on the Web sites of coalition members, generating hundreds of thousands of calls and letters to Congress.

Thousands of bloggers have linked to this site -- many of them posting free ads to counteract the expensive misinformation campaign launched by Astroturf (fake grassroots) groups like Hands Off the Internet and TV4Us.

The debate over Net Neutrality isn't being fought between corporate Titans alone. It pits the special interests of the few (phone and cable companies) against a vast grassroots effort involving Americans from every corner of society.

Kennard conveniently ignores the word-of-mouth campaign that has lifted the crucial issue of Net Neutrality from obscurity and thrown a wrench in the phone and cable giants' plan to overhaul our telecommunications laws behind closed doors.

The debate over Net Neutrality should be a broad, public conversation about what the future of the Internet will look like. By portraying this issue as corporate infighting, Kennard appeases his colleagues among the "merely rich," but he fails the rest of us.
 
October 23rd, 2006 @ 12:44PM | 1 Comments | Post a Comment


Should AT&T Decide the Future of the Internet?
Lessig
YouTube's video site beat out Google's because the Internet provided a "level playing field" upon which a video-sharing startup could compete with a major player based on its merits alone.

Stanford Law professor Larry Lessig wrote in yesterday's Financial Times that "the owners of pipes delivering video content to users on the internet did not prefer one service over the other. The owners of pipes simply passed the packets of data to users as the users chose."

Lessig, who is a charter member of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, describes this as a perfect example of the ways the free market is nurtured by Net Neutrality. Net users are free to pick the product of their choice based on the quality of the service and NOT on the discrimination of their network provider.

YouTube beat out Google Video because of its superior video technology and social networking tools, NOT because its executives had struck a special deal with AT&T to favor its Web site over others.

It's simple. Provide a better product and let the customers decide.

Isn't that one of the most basic tenets of a free and competitive marketplace? Not according to AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and their well-heeled army of legislators, lobbyists and shills.

Network owners want to tip the Internet balance towards themselves and their corporate allies. They want to charge select companies a “premium” rate to have their sites flow more efficiently to customers. Those who can't pay the proposed telco tax would be shut out. Their Web gatekeeper scheme allows companies like AT&T – and not the consumer -- to pick which sites and ideas succeed in the online marketplace.

Do you want AT&T to decide the future of the Internet?

Writes Lessig:
"[I] f network owners are permitted to set up internet toll booths, imposing a special tax on providers of content and applications, then it will be the new innovators who bear the burden of these taxes most heavily. The point is obvious when you think about the history of YouTube. Had network owners been charging an access premium, investors in an upstart like YouTube would have had good reason to think twice. All taxes are a barrier, but this tax would be a particularly high barrier to innovation."
If we had real competition among broadband providers, the free market would sort these sorts of things out. Providers that discriminate would lose customers to those that protect Net Neutrality. But in the US broadband landscape competition is dying.

Lessig cites figures from Free Press' recent report "Broadband Reality Check II," which shows that there are fewer competitors offering broadband connectivity today than there were just six years ago. According to the report, four companies account for a majority of all consumer broadband; 10 account for 83 per cent of the market.

Another study by the Government Accountability Office found that the median number of providers available to a given household is just two. That's right. Most Americans have access to two or less broadband providers. That's all. Cable and DSL systems dominate, holding more than 98 percent of the broadband market.

There simply is not enough competition between different technologies to produce any kind of deterrent to discrimination. Without Net Neutrality, the telephone and cable duopoly will leverage its market power over the network to gain control over the content and application markets, establishing a handful of giant companies as the gatekeepers of the Internet.

Net Neutrality legislation "will make sure that the one bright spot in the internet economy – the one place where vigorous competition continues – will be protected," Lessig concludes. "Congress needs to remove the incentive to keep broadband in its currently hobbled state. A thin rule of network neutrality could help do just that."
 
October 21st, 2006 @ 8:03AM | 0 Comments | Post a Comment


Should AT&T Decide the Future of the Internet?
Lessig
YouTube's video site beat out Google's because the Internet provided a "level playing field" upon which a video-sharing startup could compete with a major player based on its merits alone.

Stanford Law professor Larry Lessig wrote in yesterday's Financial Times that "the owners of pipes delivering video content to users on the internet did not prefer one service over the other. The owners of pipes simply passed the packets of data to users as the users chose."

Lessig, who is a charter member of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, describes this as a perfect example of the ways the free market is nurtured by Net Neutrality. Net users are free to pick the product of their choice based on the quality of the service and NOT on the discrimination of their network provider.

YouTube beat out Google Video because of its superior video technology and social networking tools, NOT because its executives had struck a special deal with AT&T to offer a discriminatory service that favored its site over others.

It's simple. Provide a better product and let the customers decide.

Isn't that one of the most basic tenets of a free and competitive marketplace? Not according to AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and their well-heeled army of legislators, lobbyists and shills.

Network owners want to tip the Internet balance towards themselves and their corporate allies. They want to charge select companies a “premium” rate to have their sites flow efficiently to customers. Those who can't pay the proposed telco tax would be shut out of the fast lane. This system allows companies like AT&T – and not the consumer -- to pick which sites and ideas succeed in the online marketplace.

Do you want AT&T to decide the future of the Internet?

Writes Lessig:
"[I]f network owners are permitted to set up internet toll booths, imposing a special tax on providers of content and applications, then it will be the new innovators who bear the burden of these taxes most heavily. The point is obvious when you think about the history of YouTube. Had network owners been charging an access premium, investors in an upstart like YouTube would have had good reason to think twice. All taxes are a barrier, but this tax would be a particularly high barrier to innovation."
If we had real competition among broadband providers, the free market would sort these sorts of things out. Providers that discriminate would lose customers to those that protect Net Neutrality. But in the US broadband landscape competition is dying.

Lessig cites figures from Free Press' recent report "Broadband Reality Check II," which shows that there are fewer competitors offering broadband connectivity today than there were just six years ago. According to the report, four companies account for a majority of all consumer broadband; 10 account for 83 per cent of the market.

Another study by the Government Accountability Office found that the median number of providers available to a given household is just two. That's right. Most Americans have access to two or less broadband providers. That's all. Cable and DSL systems dominate, holding more than 98 percent of the broadband market.

There simply is not enough competition between different technologies to produce any kind of deterrent to discrimination. Without Net Neutrality, the telephone and cable duopoly will leverage its market power over the network to gain control over the content and application markets, establishing a handful of giant companies as the gatekeepers of the Internet.

Net Neutrality legislation "will make sure that the one bright spot in the internet economy – the one place where vigorous competition continues – will be protected," Lessig concludes. "Congress needs to remove the incentive to keep broadband in its currently hobbled state. A thin rule of network neutrality could help do just that."
 
October 20th, 2006 @ 3:41PM | 0 Comments | Post a Comment


The Telco Lobby Abhors an Organized Public
Montpelier
In the six months since the SavetheInternet.com Coalition was launched, millions of Americans have joined the campaign, spoken out for Internet freedom and put Congress and the phone companies on notice.

This grassroots movement barely existed at the beginning of 2006. Now we're on the verge of toppling one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.

The reason for our success? Organized and overwhelming public support for a free and open Internet.

Staying Organized and Energized

Phone and cable companies have spent more than $100 million on lobbyists, Astroturf groups, political campaigns and PR firms. But they are finding that money can't overcome organized public opposition.

Internet users have mounted a defense of Net Neutrality using blogs, YouTube videos, MySpace sites and emails to send Congress an overwhelming message of public support for a free and open Internet — and opposition to any legislation that cedes control of the Internet to the phone and cable companies.

SavetheInternet.com's grassroots success has been covered in the pages of nearly every major U.S. newspaper and on innumerable blogs. According to a recent article at Salon.com, our "ragtag army" has put Congress and phone lobbyists on the run.

Tonight, Oct 18, PBS stations will air "The Net at Risk," a 90-minute documentary produced by Bill Moyers, which hails our grassroots efforts to support Net Neutrality (check local listings). After the show, participate in a live Web debate featuring Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott and phone company flack Mike McCurry of the Astroturf organization Hands off the Internet. This discussion will no doubt show -- once again -- that the arguments of phone company lobbyists and shills crumble in the face of a vocal and well-organized public.

But the debate shouldn't end there.

Stopping the Lame Duck Congress

While we have stymied the Internet gatekeepers' efforts thus far, we're not out of the woods yet.

The Senate version of the telecommunications bill -- sponsored by Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska -- will not come to the floor for a vote before the Nov. 7 midterm election. But we must guard against any attempt by Congress to sneak through this legislation during the post-election "lame-duck" session.

SavetheInternet.com Coalition members need to keep the heat on elected officials in November and December -- before the 209th Congress gavels to a close. We need to pay particular attention to any senator who might side with the phone companies and attempt to pass Stevens' bill under the dark of night.

Keeping the Public Engaged

If Congress can't pass a communications bill in 2006, it will have to start over in January. It's possible that we will have a House and Senate that are more sympathetic to Net Neutrality. But don't expect the phone companies to simply roll over in 2007.

If we hold out against the phone companies until 2007, we'll have scored a victory "of historic proportions," according to Geov Parrish of WorkingforChange.com.

"Name the last time a lobby with that much power and money was stymied in its top legislative priority by a citizen movement," Parrish wrote "Offhand, I can't think of any examples at all. And this during the most corrupt, lobbyist-pliant Congress in recent American history."

Our success thus far reflects the Internet's new power to mobilize millions of people as a democratizing force. We've sent a potent message to Washington and need to go on the offensive in 2007 to ensure that Net Neutrality becomes law.

That's why the public's active involvement is so important. The more an organized public is engaged in the policy-making process, the more likely the Internet that Congress shapes will serve the people, not just powerful corporations.

If we keep up this fight, the era of corrupt media policy will soon come to an end.

-- Timothy Karr is the campaign director of FreePress.net and the SavetheInternet.com Coalition
 
October 18th, 2006 @ 3:47PM | 3 Comments | Post a Comment


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