Ignorance is Strength

by on April 25, 2006 · 10 comments

Apropos Adam’s post about network neutrality and the first amendment, one of the cleverest things about the pro-network-neutrality campaign is the way they’ve been able to subtly portray themselves as defending the status quo against greedy telecom companies. We’re told that network neutrality is “the First Amendment of the Internet,” but “Internet provides like AT&T and Verizon are spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to gut net neutrality.”

The fundamental problem that net neutrality advocates have is that theirs is a solution in search of a problem. Check out their list of “numerous examples” of net neutrality abuse:

  • In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.

  • In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.
  • Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers who want to use a competing Internet telephone service.
  • In April, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned www.dearaol.com–an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.
  • For those keeping score at home, that’s two incidents in Canada (which, last I checked, is not within Congress’s jurisdiction) and a third that was most likely an honest mistake. So their “numerous examples” of net neutrality abuse in the US amount to one alleged incident by an ISP in North Carolina that no one has ever heard of. That hardly sounds like a looming crisis.

    Which creates a problem, because they know that without a sense of urgency, Congress will (justifiably) take a wait-and-see attitude. So to generate that sense of urgency, they’ve taken a page out of Mr. Orwell’s book: those of us who think Congress should leave well enough alone are trying to “get rid of net neutrality.” Telecom companies who don’t want the FCC telling them how to run their networks are trying to get “special rules written in their favor.” On the other hand, those who advocate intrusive new govenment regulations are just trying to “preserve the freedoms we currently enjoy on the Internet.”

    But war is not peace and freedom is not slavery. It’s the “save the Internet” coalition, not its opponents, who are seeking to fundamentally change the Internet by giving new powers to government regulators. The looming threat here isn’t from corporate control (which Congress can step in at any time to curtail) but from government control (which, once established, is unlikely to ever be repealed). Maybe it’s a good idea to expand governmental regulation of the Internet, but if so, the supporters of doing so should call a spade a spade.

    • eric

      I think the examples given so far of “neutrality violations” are like the first symptoms of a disease. Like the abnormal cells that sometimes presage a full-blown malignancy. Everybody says early treatment is best. “Nip it in the bud.”

      Tim’s point is that the treatment might be worse than the disease, which is reasonable. (As in slow-growing prostate cancer, people who are treated agressively — with the accompanying side effects — tend not to live significantly longer than those who are left alone and watched carefully.)

      We really have a dilemma. I believe the government does not need to regulate at this time, but needs to somehow communicate clearly to ISPs that if they start censoring or inconveniencing certain websites or certain applications, regulation will come down so hard and fast it will make their heads spin. At this point, to walk softly with the ISPs, but carry a big regulation stick and swagger like you aren’t afraid to use it, is the way to go. How best to communicate this intention, I don’t know, but I think gov’t should act with these goals in mind.

    • http://www.mydd.com Matt Stoller

      So their “numerous examples” of net neutrality abuse in the US amount to one alleged incident by an ISP in North Carolina that no one has ever heard of. That hardly sounds like a looming crisis.

      Maybe that’s because it’s not legal yet to discrimninate against legal web content. In three months it will be, and the phone companies have announced plans to set up disciminatory offerings.

    • eric

      I think the examples given so far of “neutrality violations” are like the first symptoms of a disease. Like the abnormal cells that sometimes presage a full-blown malignancy. Everybody says early treatment is best. “Nip it in the bud.”

      Tim’s point is that the treatment might be worse than the disease, which is reasonable. (As in slow-growing prostate cancer, people who are treated agressively — with the accompanying side effects — tend not to live significantly longer than those who are left alone and watched carefully.)

      We really have a dilemma. I believe the government does not need to regulate at this time, but needs to somehow communicate clearly to ISPs that if they start censoring or inconveniencing certain websites or certain applications, regulation will come down so hard and fast it will make their heads spin. At this point, to walk softly with the ISPs, but carry a big regulation stick and swagger like you aren’t afraid to use it, is the way to go. How best to communicate this intention, I don’t know, but I think gov’t should act with these goals in mind.

    • http://www.mydd.com Matt Stoller

      So their “numerous examples” of net neutrality abuse in the US amount to one alleged incident by an ISP in North Carolina that no one has ever heard of. That hardly sounds like a looming crisis.

      Maybe that’s because it’s not legal yet to discrimninate against legal web content. In three months it will be, and the phone companies have announced plans to set up disciminatory offerings.

    • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

      On what grounds is it currently illegal?

    • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

      On what grounds is it currently illegal?

    • Josh

      On the grounds that the FCC has applied four principles of network neutrality to information services until mid August. This was done to give congress the time necessary to revise the Communications Act. You may wish to do more research on the this topic Tim.

    • Josh

      On the grounds that the FCC has applied four principles of network neutrality to information services until mid August. This was done to give congress the time necessary to revise the Communications Act. You may wish to do more research on the this topic Tim.

    • http://www.freewebtown.com/dikapro Morgan Hargett

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