PBS’s 90-minute Ad for Internet Regulation

by on October 18, 2006 · 10 comments

Bill Moyers has an incredibly one-sided special on PBS tonight on telecom policy. So far, about halfway through the program, the anti-regulatory side has been represented by Mike McCurry and one Republican Congressman. McCurry was billed as a lobbyist for the telecom industry, and his every sentence was followed by a rebuttal from a pro-regulatory representative. The pro-regulatory side has gotten roughly a dozen representatives, none of whom were labeled as lobbyists for Google or Microsoft. They got lengthy interviews consisting mostly of softball questions.

Astonishingly, Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America cited the Interstate Commerce Act, which imposed nondiscrimination rules on the railroad industry, as a model for network neutrality regulation. As I explained in the New York Times back in August, they’d be wise to pick a different example:

After President Grover Cleveland appointed Thomas M. Cooley, a railroad ally, as its first chairman, the commission quickly fell under the control of the railroads, gradually transforming the American transportation industry into a cartel. By 1935, when it was given oversight of the trucking industry, the commission was restricting competition and enabling price increases throughout virtually the entire surface transportation industry. Decades later, in 1970, a report released by a Ralph Nader group described the commission as “a forum at which transportation interests divide up the national transportation market.”

Of course, viewers of Moyers’s show didn’t hear that side of the story, as they didn’t bother to ask any critics of regulation to respond to Cooper’s arguments.

  • Bergamot

    Yeah, but who the hell watches PBS?

  • Bergamot

    Yeah, but who the hell watches PBS?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14019452 Steve R.

    Conceptually, I favor Net Neutrality. I will agree that it would be nice to have a balanced debate as I would be very interested in listening to both sides in a rational manner. On the flip side, I am currently seeing a one-sided industry sponsored commercial on TV that uses scare tactics to imply that Net Neutrality will cost you. How it will hurt you is never disclosed.

    I will also agree that regulations should be kept to a minimum. But this leaves me with the concern that the argument against implementing regulations to guarantee net neutrality is not correctly framed. Similar the one-sided PBS debate, the argument against regulations to guarantee net neutrality have apparently not yet considered the alternative outcome. To restate, what happens if we don’t have net neutrality?

    Corporations are not altruistic; they exist to make a profit, which means that they will do whatever they can to maximize that profit. Even if it means implementing bad (unethical) business practices. CNET for example reported on July 7, 2006 that “A class action lawsuit charges that Cingular Wireless, the nation’s largest carrier, deceived AT&T Wireless subscribers into paying extra fees and degraded their service after acquiring that company in 2004.” Additionally, Ed Foster writes (10/17/2006), regarding Verizon, that It’s a time-honored marketing tradition in the Internet access business to promise the customer anything, and then renege on any promises that turn out to be inconvenient by changing the service’s terms and conditions.” In this case it appears that Verizon offered unlimited internet usage and then apparently reneged. I would like to here how the user will fare under a no-network neutrality scenario.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Conceptually, I favor Net Neutrality. I will agree that it would be nice to have a balanced debate as I would be very interested in listening to both sides in a rational manner. On the flip side, I am currently seeing a one-sided industry sponsored commercial on TV that uses scare tactics to imply that Net Neutrality will cost you. How it will hurt you is never disclosed.

    I will also agree that regulations should be kept to a minimum. But this leaves me with the concern that the argument against implementing regulations to guarantee net neutrality is not correctly framed. Similar the one-sided PBS debate, the argument against regulations to guarantee net neutrality have apparently not yet considered the alternative outcome. To restate, what happens if we don’t have net neutrality?

    Corporations are not altruistic; they exist to make a profit, which means that they will do whatever they can to maximize that profit. Even if it means implementing bad (unethical) business practices. CNET for example reported on July 7, 2006 that “A class action lawsuit charges that Cingular Wireless, the nation’s largest carrier, deceived AT&T; Wireless subscribers into paying extra fees and degraded their service after acquiring that company in 2004.” Additionally, Ed Foster writes (10/17/2006), regarding Verizon, that It’s a time-honored marketing tradition in the Internet access business to promise the customer anything, and then renege on any promises that turn out to be inconvenient by changing the service’s terms and conditions.” In this case it appears that Verizon offered unlimited internet usage and then apparently reneged. I would like to here how the user will fare under a no-network neutrality scenario.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Steve R asks an interesting question: “what happens if we don’t have net neutrality?”

    Fortunately, we know the answer. Net neutrality, according to PBS, existed until 2005. That tells us that this week “net neutrality” means “unbundling”, as that was the only network regulation that went away in 2005, and it was only a DSL regulation. Cable Internet was never regulated by the rules that were rescinded for DSL.

    So we can answer the question by comparing the non-net-neutrality-regulated cable vs. the heavily regulated DSL. Sumbitch, cable is better, faster, and cheaper.

    So that’s what happens if you free the infrastructure of stupid regulations. Now which one do you want?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Steve R asks an interesting question: “what happens if we don’t have net neutrality?”

    Fortunately, we know the answer. Net neutrality, according to PBS, existed until 2005. That tells us that this week “net neutrality” means “unbundling”, as that was the only network regulation that went away in 2005, and it was only a DSL regulation. Cable Internet was never regulated by the rules that were rescinded for DSL.

    So we can answer the question by comparing the non-net-neutrality-regulated cable vs. the heavily regulated DSL. Sumbitch, cable is better, faster, and cheaper.

    So that’s what happens if you free the infrastructure of stupid regulations. Now which one do you want?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14019452 Steve R.

    I fully agree that we need to free the infrastructure of stupid regulations. The concern is what constitutes a “stupid” regulation???

    The collapse of Amaranth Advisors, for example may result in a stupid regulatory over reaction. It doesn’t appear that Amaranth actually did anything ethically wrong. However, in the stock option scandal, the unethical behavior of some corporate executives demonstrates a need for regulation.

    The removal regulations under the mantra of promoting competition can also have unforeseen consequence. For example the deregulation of the power industry was interpreted by Enron as a license to steal.

    If the content corporations can act ethically towards their customers, then I would agree that regulation would be stupid. However, if they initiate unethical behavior, then regulate away

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    I fully agree that we need to free the infrastructure of stupid regulations. The concern is what constitutes a “stupid” regulation???

    The collapse of Amaranth Advisors, for example may result in a stupid regulatory over reaction. It doesn’t appear that Amaranth actually did anything ethically wrong. However, in the stock option scandal, the unethical behavior of some corporate executives demonstrates a need for regulation.

    The removal regulations under the mantra of promoting competition can also have unforeseen consequence. For example the deregulation of the power industry was interpreted by Enron as a license to steal.

    If the content corporations can act ethically towards their customers, then I would agree that regulation would be stupid. However, if they initiate unethical behavior, then regulate away

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Incidentally, Moyers makes a connection in this program that few have been loony enough to make previously, although it’s not totally novel. He argues that the Telcos and Big Media are colluding to take away Net Neutrality (the holiest principle of the Internets since the days of Moses, doncha know) in order to monopolize what you can see and who you have to pay to see it.

    So he’s not making the same boring old argument about Telcos stealing the Internet and wrecking democracy, he’s saying that Fox News and CBS are stealing the Internet to sink YouTube and the Daily Kos.

    The Moyers program is an ad for all of Robert McChesney’s obsessions rolled into one gigantic burrito of panic. It’s epic, and insufficiently appreciated.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Incidentally, Moyers makes a connection in this program that few have been loony enough to make previously, although it’s not totally novel. He argues that the Telcos and Big Media are colluding to take away Net Neutrality (the holiest principle of the Internets since the days of Moses, doncha know) in order to monopolize what you can see and who you have to pay to see it.

    So he’s not making the same boring old argument about Telcos stealing the Internet and wrecking democracy, he’s saying that Fox News and CBS are stealing the Internet to sink YouTube and the Daily Kos.

    The Moyers program is an ad for all of Robert McChesney’s obsessions rolled into one gigantic burrito of panic. It’s epic, and insufficiently appreciated.

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