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.

Why?

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.

    • http://gondwanaland.com/mlog/ Mike Linksvayer

      Excellent post. I agree with all of it with one minor quibble that does not detract from your argument — why characterize VoIP as high-bandwidth or next generation? Skype is evidence against both. And latency-sensitive applications have existed for decades, e.g., interactive shell.

      In my option the “net neutrality” debate has almost zero technical content. It is simply a power struggle. Which side one is on (apart from those with direct stakes) is determined by whether one fears and trusts corporations or government more. Or, like GOA, one has been bamboozled (that’s the Christian Coalition’s first name!)

    • http://gondwanaland.com/mlog/ Mike Linksvayer

      Excellent post. I agree with all of it with one minor quibble that does not detract from your argument — why characterize VoIP as high-bandwidth or next generation? Skype is evidence against both. And latency-sensitive applications have existed for decades, e.g., interactive shell.

      In my option the “net neutrality” debate has almost zero technical content. It is simply a power struggle. Which side one is on (apart from those with direct stakes) is determined by whether one fears and trusts corporations or government more. Or, like GOA, one has been bamboozled (that’s the Christian Coalition’s first name!)

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

      Usable VoIP is about 5 years old, so it’s “next-generation” compared with the web and email, which are 15 and 25 years old, respectively. And it’s higher-bandwidth than those applications.

      So maybe we could say that the web is “last-generation,” VoIP is “this-generation,” and video on demand is “next generation.”

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

      Usable VoIP is about 5 years old, so it’s “next-generation” compared with the web and email, which are 15 and 25 years old, respectively. And it’s higher-bandwidth than those applications.

      So maybe we could say that the web is “last-generation,” VoIP is “this-generation,” and video on demand is “next generation.”

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

      Corporations may get involved in political issues that directly affect their bottom lines. But if they do, they always leave themselves plausible deniability. They can plausibly claim the lack of Chernobyl coverage was a coincidence. They can’t possibly make the same claim if they put all pro-life groups on a blacklist.

      As for pro-life groups’ budgets, I’m not an expert on the subject, but I know I’ve seen more pro-life than pro-choice advertisements in each of the three metro areas I’ve lived in the last 5 years (Twin Cities, Washington DC, St. Louis).

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

      Corporations may get involved in political issues that directly affect their bottom lines. But if they do, they always leave themselves plausible deniability. They can plausibly claim the lack of Chernobyl coverage was a coincidence. They can’t possibly make the same claim if they put all pro-life groups on a blacklist.

      As for pro-life groups’ budgets, I’m not an expert on the subject, but I know I’ve seen more pro-life than pro-choice advertisements in each of the three metro areas I’ve lived in the last 5 years (Twin Cities, Washington DC, St. Louis).

    • Luv2Box

      Excellent dissection of the Combs quote! As this debate continues, it is becoming more and more clear how ridiculous the notion of net neutrality really is.

    • Luv2Box

      Excellent dissection of the Combs quote! As this debate continues, it is becoming more and more clear how ridiculous the notion of net neutrality really is.

    • Net Chick

      Why are all these random organizations coming out in support of net neutrality? What do pro-lifers and Moby/REM have to do with government regulation of the internet?

    • Net Chick

      Why are all these random organizations coming out in support of net neutrality? What do pro-lifers and Moby/REM have to do with government regulation of the internet?

    • SoCal619

      This whole issue has certainly made for strange bed-fellows. The way I see it, the internet has prospered incredibly without government intervention and will continue to do so…if there comes a time when regulation is needed, due to some providers nefarious deeds toward the consumer or whatever, then it’ll be time to talk…but at the moment, what who does “regulation” purport to help? It’s certainly not the consumer!

    • SoCal619

      This whole issue has certainly made for strange bed-fellows. The way I see it, the internet has prospered incredibly without government intervention and will continue to do so…if there comes a time when regulation is needed, due to some providers nefarious deeds toward the consumer or whatever, then it’ll be time to talk…but at the moment, what who does “regulation” purport to help? It’s certainly not the consumer!

    • Tedwin

      At the risk of being the pot calling the kettle black, I wholeheartedly agree that many of the groups who have thrown in their two cents on NN should stick to what they do best – and that usually has nothing to do with telecommunications. So many folks don’t have the facts on this…Kudos to this site for providing so many good arguments for this debate, and making it so easy for a novice like me to grasp.

    • Tedwin

      At the risk of being the pot calling the kettle black, I wholeheartedly agree that many of the groups who have thrown in their two cents on NN should stick to what they do best – and that usually has nothing to do with telecommunications. So many folks don’t have the facts on this…Kudos to this site for providing so many good arguments for this debate, and making it so easy for a novice like me to grasp.

    • mrmilsap

      I agree with your point that groups like the CC don’t seem to fully understand the issue of NN. They claim that the ISPs must be stopped from having the chance to blacklist sites through their services. I agree that if any company starts controlling content thorughout the internet, NN laws would pass in an instant. That is why I think all of these pro-NN fears are unsubstantiated and seem to stem from fear internet companies have that they will lose business due to other companies offering newer services.

    • mrmilsap

      I agree with your point that groups like the CC don’t seem to fully understand the issue of NN. They claim that the ISPs must be stopped from having the chance to blacklist sites through their services. I agree that if any company starts controlling content thorughout the internet, NN laws would pass in an instant. That is why I think all of these pro-NN fears are unsubstantiated and seem to stem from fear internet companies have that they will lose business due to other companies offering newer services.

    • enigma_foundry

      Hmmm…well noting that my post which noted the fact that NBC (owned by General Electric, which makes nuclear power plants) gave much less coverage to the Chernobyl accident than either ABC or CBS (This was before Fox) was deleted, I would restate the large corporations have a history of trying to eliminate dissenting opinions, and this extends into the education sphere as well (see Michael Perelman’s book Steal This Idea) I don’t believe we should allow corporations one more route to restrict Freedom of the Press and the Free Flow of Ideas..

    • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

      Hmmm…well noting that my post which noted the fact that NBC (owned by General Electric, which makes nuclear power plants) gave much less coverage to the Chernobyl accident than either ABC or CBS (This was before Fox) was deleted, I would restate the large corporations have a history of trying to eliminate dissenting opinions, and this extends into the education sphere as well (see Michael Perelman’s book Steal This Idea) I don’t believe we should allow corporations one more route to restrict Freedom of the Press and the Free Flow of Ideas..

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