Spin Cycle: Salon.com Claims Victory for Neutrality Regs

by on October 3, 2006

If you lose a battle, sometimes the best thing you can do is make it sound like a victory. That’s seems to be the only explanation for a truly bizarre article that appeared on Salon.com yesterday regarding the net neutrality battle. The lead in to the story sets the tone:

“In the Capitol Hill battle over Net neutrality, a ragtag army of grass-roots Internet groups, armed with low-budget videos, music parodies and petitions, have the corporate telecoms, and their allies in Congress, on the run.”

Good lead. Too bad it’s almost entirely fiction. To start with, it is beyond belief that anyone is still peddling this as a David v. Goliath story. The pro-regulation camp a rag-tag army? How ragtag can you be when you count some of the largest corporations on Planet Earth– including both Google and Microsoft–on your side? In fact, the combined market cap of the major “pro-regulation” firms actually exceeds that of their major opponents. (The article does acknowledge the presence of these corporate giants in the pro-reg camp, conceding “[t[hey’ve spent millions to slug it out with the telecom companies,” but dismisses this with the non-sequiterish statement: “they’ve yet to land a knockout blow.”)

But wait, there’s more. Daniel Reilly, the author of the piece, trots out Sergey Brin–the co-founder of Google–as further proof of the ragtag nature of this battle, colorfully pointing out that Brin showed up to lobby on Capitol Hill “wearing jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers.” Well, there’s a real grassroot for you. Of course, he doesn’t mention that poor Brin is the 12th richest man in America, with a net worth of $14.1 billion dollars, according to Forbes.

What about political connections? Telecom execs, the article breathlessly points out, “have testified before Congress dozens of times.” But pro-regulation lobbyists are no strangers to the witness chair either. Somehow, that little fact was overlooked. Not that it matters much, since anyone who has spent 15 minutes in DC knows that testifying to Congress is hardly a measure of real influence.

Even the description of the issue is botched in this article. Says Reilly: “The Net neutrality debate is really over a rather obscure provision in the Telecommunications Act, Title II, which ensures nondiscrimination in Internet service.” Where to begin? First, Title II is part of the Communications Act of 1934, not the Telecommunications Act. And far from being an “obscure provision,” Title II is the umbrella section for all federal regulation of telecommunications. Lastly, it does not ensure anything about the Internet–the title concerns “telecommunications”–i.e., telephone service.

This brings us to the last–and perhaps strangest part–of this piece: the assertion that the anti-forces are “on the run.” Reilly describes a pro-regulation advocate as “grinning in victory” and “smiling like a man who just hit the jackpot.” It describes another as “flush with success”. It is true that the bills pending in Congress have been stopped (a good thing for many reasons besides neutrality regulation). But, since there currently are no net neutrality rules in place, advocates need to pass legislation, not stop legislation. And, on that mission, the advocates of regulation have flopped at every turn–losing votes in the House Commerce committee, on the floor of the House, and in the Senate Commerce committee.

If anyone is “on the run,” it’s the proponents of neutrality regs, who–after a year’s effort–have nothing to show for their trouble. Of course, the battle, as Reilly points out, is not over. Regulation advocates could yet pull this one out. But the cause is certainly a long shot. And misleading, error-laden pieces like this do nothing to improve those odds.

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