Monday, June 19, 2006

A Little Known Fact About Net Neutrality

There is an important point being overlooked in the net neutrality debate. Those who oppose laws preventing ISPs from charging for preferential treatment of content couch their debates in libertarian terms; slogans like "Hands Off the Internet" have been propagated for months by various astroturf organizations (translation for the politically disinclined: fake grassroots organizations which are actually funded and organized by big business). The ISPs (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) insist that they have no plans to implement the pay-to-play speech restrictions envisioned by those supporting net neutrality laws, so why legislate against a nonexistent problem?

The way they phrase their arguments, it sounds like one day somebody just went, "Holy shit! AT&T could charge content providers like Google and J. Aaron Brown for speedy service!" Then this hypothetical person (with excellent taste in blogs, I might add) ran down to the local Congressperson's office and demanded that action be taken to stop this imaginary threat quickly, before the same idea occured to the telecommunications industry.

What you never hear is that laws preventing telecoms from discriminating against their competitors have been on the books since 1934; apparently the telecoms thought it up a long, long time ago. Phone companies were prevented from demanding a fee to connect calls to competitors' equipment over quality lines. AT&T, for instance, couldn't put Sprint customers through second-rate phone circuits if Sprint refused to pay a fee. Until last August, that law applied to the internet too.

And then the Federal Communications Commission created an exception for telecoms that provide internet service. You read that right. Bush's FCC, the same one ramming the theo-conservatives' moral agenda down the public throat, created a very narrow, carefully tailored loophole in a 71-year-old regulation.

They must have just decided to do this out of thin air, right? I mean, the FCC makes decisions to do random things like this all the time, don't they? Guess again. If the FCC changes a regulation, it's either because the old one doesn't work (clearly not the case here since you're reading this) or because big business lobbied for it and the President told the FCC to do it. And why would the telecom industry spend good money lobbying to have that standard changed (not to mention all they money they've dumped into organizations opposing the regulation) if they didn't intend to take advantage of it?

I favor net neutrality regulation more and more strongly the more I learn about the situation. The telecoms argue that regulation like this is unnecessary and will stifle the growth of the internet, but the truth is that the internet has not flourished because it was unregulated. During the fastest growth in its history, it was regulated, in exactly the way proponents of net neutrality seek to have it regulated again, and the telecoms are the ones behind the removal of the regulations in the first place. Don't buy the bullshit; this is a ploy to fuck us all.

(Damn, it's liberating to be able to say that! Hooray for an absence of editors! Long live the internet!)


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