Thursday, September 06, 2007

DoJ deals blow to Net Neutrality: Pay up or Shut Up

Make no mistake--the U.S. Dept of Justice is acting like the muscle for the Telco Dons....check out what the DoJ believes is fair in these comments on the issue of Net Neutrality
The Department of Justice cautioned against imposing regulations that could hamper the development of the Internet and related services in response to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Notice of Inquiry regarding broadband practices. In its filing the Department said that some regulatory proposals offered by various companies and organizations in the name of “net neutrality” could deter broadband Internet providers from upgrading and expanding their networks to reach more Americans.

The term “net neutrality” encompasses a variety of proposals that seek to regulate how broadband Internet providers transmit and deliver Internet traffic over their networks. The Department stated that precluding broadband providers from charging content and application providers directly for faster or more reliable service “could shift the entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers.” If the average consumer is unwilling or unable to pay more for broadband Internet access, the result could be to reduce or delay critical network expansion and improvement.

The Department said in its filing that it may make economic sense for content providers who want a higher quality of service to pay for the Internet upgrades necessary to provide such service, arguing that “any regulation that prohibits this type of pricing may leave broadband providers unable to raise the capital necessary to fund these investments
Check out this from Russell Shaw at ZDNet and the AP distillation of the DoJ opinon in WaPo...

Excuse, but, what about all that money we're paying *right now* for broadband access? And what about all those regions where the telcos won't go and wire-up? The bit above about "unwilling or unable to pay" is an absolute joke when companies like Verizon have not just refused to wire places, but are actively seeking to sell lines in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine...

Another joke is the line about content providers. All content providers want people to find them--large or small. Right now, content providers can get with SEO and get their stuff up in search and easy to find. If it downloads too slow maybe it's got something to do with the way the site is built (like, maybe it's garbage-laden crap??) and that the idea of some getting better access because they pay for speedier connecting isn't going to make a site any better.

And get this:
The Department also noted that differentiating service levels and pricing is a common and often efficient way of allocating scarce resources and satisfying consumer demand. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, allows consumers to send packages with a variety of different delivery guarantees and speeds, from bulk mail to overnight delivery. These differentiated services respond to market demand and expand consumer choice.

This speaks to a complete inability to understand how content is delivered over the Internet. It's not like some little magic gremlins are zipping content around out here. We may call the Internet the "Information Super Highway" but it ain't like driving on the Turnpike! (where you *do* have to watch for those high-speeding postal trucks...)

And what about the impact of having to pay for access on citizen-powered sites? Bob Niles at OJR starts the conversation on that issue:
The industry's plan, however, would charge individual publishers different rates for bandwidth based on negotiated deals. AT&T, for example, could cut a deal with Fox News, serving its content to subscribers at a faster rate than that of the New York Times. And people-powered sites from DailyKos to Free Republic would be left with the digital scraps, their readers waiting while AT&T gives higher priority to requests for webpages from its corporate partners.

We have to stop squabbling about "gatekeepers" amongst our own ranks and look at who *really* could become the official, pay-for-play gatekeepers in this mess.

Guess that's one way to shut up those pesky bloggers and citizen journalists....

Let's face it, folks--the telcos want to have control not just over who's allowed to have service (which they already do with their feigned inability to wire rural areas) but what those who do have service are allowed to access. In an odd way, it can also be seen as some bizarre form of parentalism--as if they're saying to various sites "When you grow up enough (make enough money to pay us), you can have access to all those people out there. Otherwise, we can't allow them to see you..."

Yet the DoJ ironically concludes:
"While cautioning against premature regulation of the Internet, the Department noted its authority to enforce the antitrust laws. “Anticompetitive conduct about which the proponents of regulation are concerned will remain subject to the antitrust laws and enforcement actions by government as well as private plaintiffs, and the Department will continue to monitor developments, taking enforcement action where appropriate to ensure a competitive broadband Internet access market,” the Department stated."

So, we should allow the Telcos to do what they want, and wait till anti-trust suits are filed against them?


Therefore, we should let the telcos do what they want, *then* bring it to court and *then* figure out through long, costly legal battles if they are engaging in anti-competitive conduct.

Doesn't this seem kind of counter-intuitive? And won't this put the U.S. further back with broadband access than it already is, not move us forward? And why does the control of where and what gets wired in this country have to be in the hands of the telcos anyway??

Perhaps because we're spending too much money fighting some other country's civil war? (oops! got a bit political there....)

Meanwhile Terry Heaton looks over Accenture’s new Global Content Study 2007 (which interviewed over 100 "leaders and decision-makers in the media and entertainment sectors" and finds this telling tidbit:
Asked what they believed was a top threat to the business, over half of the executives (57%) identified “consumer-based competition” or “user-generated” content

yow! Really does make you wonder if there's some sort of collusion between the telcos and the media and entertainment big-wigs. Now, if we could only get proof before we have to file those anti-trust suits...

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