Brooklyn Bridge for Sale

by on May 20, 2006 · 18 comments

Larry Lessig proudly points out that network neutering isn’t a left-right issue. His evidence? The Christian Coalition has signed on to the pro-NN coalition.


Mrs. Combs said, “Under the new rules, there is nothing to stop the cable and phone companies from not allowing consumers to have access to speech that they don’t support. What if a cable company with a pro-choice Board of Directors decides that it doesn’t like a pro-life organization using its high-speed network to encourage pro-life activities? Under the new rules, they could slow down the pro-life web site, harming their ability to communicate with other pro-lifers – and it would be legal. We urge Congress to move aggressively to save the Internet–and allow ideas rather than money to control what Americans can access on the World Wide Web. We urge all Americans to contact their Congressmen and Senators and tell them to save the Internet and to support ‘Net Neutrality’.”

I can only say that whoever talked Mrs. Combs into making this statement did a hell of a sales job. Too bad the pitch was massively misleading. Let’s count the ways that this scenario is ridiculous:

  • In the first place, no one seriously expects broadband ISPs to restrict traditional websites. Websites are sufficiently low-bandwidth that current connection speeds are more than enough to transmit them to consumers. The worry is over high-bandwidth, latency-sensitive next generation services like VoIP and video on demand.
  • The board of directors of a major corporation wants to stay as far away as possible from political controversies. When’s the last time you saw a Fortune 500 company stake out a position on the abortion debate? Even if the board of directors happened to be majority pro-choice, people on boards of directors clearly understand that their role is to represent the interests of shareholders, not to promote their pet political causes.
  • Pro-life groups aren’t hurting for money. I drive around Saint Louis and I see far more pro-life billboards than pro-choice ones. So even if we assume that corporations began to cut off access to web sites that don’t pay up, there’s every reason to think this would hurt pro-choice groups more than pro-life ones.
  • Finally, is there any doubt that the first time a company pulled such a stunt, there’d be a groundswell of support for government action? Most people aren’t fired up about network neutrality because they perceive (accurately, in my opinion) that the world will not come to an end if we maintain the status quo. But if Comcast created a blacklist and puts all pro-life web sites on it, suddenly network neutrality would become a top voting issue for millions of pro-life voters. If Comcast didn’t back down, network neutrality regulations would pass in a matter of weeks.

    I think that like Gun Owners of America’s support for legislation, this demonstrates the hazards of opining outside your professional competence. Gun Owners of America does a great job of representing pro-gun conservatives. The Christian Coalition does a good job of representing the views of religious conservatives. But it seems unlikely that either one of them has much expertise when it comes to telecom policy. Which makes them susceptible to misleading sales pitches by the left-wing activists and large corporations pushing for new regulations.

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