Google and Network Neutrality: Make Your “Open Edge” Proposals to the Telcos and Cable Companies Public

If the documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal provide Google with “a fast lane for its own content,” critical questions are raised about its commitment to meaningful network neutrality.  The Google policy blog post suggests that the Journal misunderstood the meaning of the alleged negotiation documents.  What Google wants, they claim, is to develop an effective caching arrangement.  But there are legitimate critical questions that should be raised about the ultimate effect of a contractual deal which places  “servers directly within the network of the service providers.”

We believe Google is seeking this arrangement to ensure that its advertiser-based services, including so-called rich media applications, You Tube branded ads, and multi-media universal search applications, have priority.  We think the future of the democratic potential of the Internet is undermined when those with deep pockets can favor their content over others.  In essence, Google’s Fortune 1000 client base will get to jump to the head of the queue before non-profit, small business and civic applications.  We recognize that many applications use similar strategies.  But all this needs to to be fully publicly debated, especially given the incoming Obama Administration’s support for network neutrality and its own political connections with Google.

That’s why Google should make immediately public the proposals made to phone and cable companies.  Let’s thoughtfully review what they are asking for, understand the context, and engage in the necessary public discussion. Google needs to be forthcoming on this.

New MIT Book Covers Children/Youth and Digital Culture/Politics

My wife Kathryn C. Montgomery has a new book about to be published. It’s titled Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet.” The following is from the MIT Press catalog:

“Children and teens today have integrated digital culture seamlessly into their lives. For most, using the Internet, playing videogames, downloading music onto an iPod, or multitasking with a cell phone is no more complicated than setting the toaster oven to “bake” or turning on the TV. In Generation Digital, media expert and activist Kathryn C. Montgomery examines the ways in which the new media landscape is changing the nature of childhood and adolescence and analyzes recent political debates that have shaped both policy and practice in digital culture.

The media have pictured the so-called “digital generation” in contradictory ways: as bold trailblazers and innocent victims, as active creators of digital culture and passive targets of digital marketing. This, says Montgomery, reflects our ambivalent attitude toward both youth and technology. She charts a confluence of historical trends that made children and teens a particularly valuable target market during the early commercialization of the Internet and describes the consumer-group advocacy campaign that led to a law to protect children’s privacy on the Internet. Montgomery recounts–as a participant and as a media scholar–the highly publicized battles over indecency and pornography on the Internet. She shows how digital marketing taps into teenagers’ developmental needs and how three public service campaigns–about sexuality, smoking, and political involvement–borrowed their techniques from commercial digital marketers. Not all of today’s techno-savvy youth are politically disaffected; Generation Digital chronicles the ways that many have used the Internet as a political tool, mobilizing young voters in 2004 and waging battles with the music and media industries over control of cultural expression online.”

Backing Further U.S. Media Consolidation: State Pension Funds, Foundations and Universities Help Providence Equity Partners New $12b Shopping Spree

Compounding problems with media consolidation is the role that private equity firms are playing buying major media, telecom and advertising properties. We are not only ending up with fewer owners of key newspapers, stations, networks, channels, and digital portals—but these private firms are even more unaccountable to the public. That’s why its disturbing to learn that what has been described as one of the largest funds to buy up media properties—the new Providence Equity Partners VI fund–is financially backed in part by groups which should know better. Investors of the new media merger fund include state pension funds, university endowments and private foundations (in addition to contributions from other pension funds, “high-net-worth” individuals and “funds of funds”). These investors are partnering with Providence’s plan to see more media properties are swallowed up. But likely missing from such buy-outs is any commitment to the public interest, let alone serious support for journalism. Ironically, foundations, unions, and a few university leaders have been part of the “media reform” effort combating further consolidation of “old media” and also working to restore “network neutrality” for U.S. broadband.

Former FCC Chair Michael K. Powell is a senior advisor at Providence, another irony (especially if any of the pension or foundation investment comes from groups backing the public interest media effort). Providence, as we’ve noted previously, has sought to acquire Clear Channel and Tribune. Its new fund will enable it to acquire more cable and other holdings, likely making it a fierce opponent of the effort to ensure broadband cable and phone networks are required to operate in a non-discriminatory manner.

We hope that there will be some serious soul-searching in the foundation, union, and pension investment community. More is at stake than a good return on a dollar. It’s the future of free expression, democratic participation, and civil rights.

The Phoenix Center and Georgetown U School of Business: The Latest `Hyperbolic’ Attack on Network Neutrality

Yesterday, the “Phoenix Center” and the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University jointly presented some scholarly-types who, trade press reports, approved the idea of the Internet evolving as a “two-tier” market. They held the event at the Dirkensen Senate Office Building, in order to make it easier for Hill aides to attend. According to Communications Daily, Dr. John Mayo of Georgtown noted that: “net neutrality legislation could limit markets’ flexibility to set prices. Mayo suggested the periodicals model to take the “hyperbole” out of the net neutrality debate, said needs more cerebral discussion, he said. “The level of certainty in arguments is too high,” Mayo said. At the same time, the potential investment at risk, depending on how legislation is written, is “staggering,” he said.

What these academics and groups like the Phoenix Center don’t want to recognize is an old-fashioned power grab. The phone and cable giants are fearful of an ever-evolving Internet where they will face numerous challenges to their monopolistic broadband plans. AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner are alarmed about an “always-on” network where anyone can be a multichannel provider of interactive video, or cheaply send voice and SMS messages. We wish Georgetown University would ask its historians, political scientists, psychologists and other academic experts to work with some of the folks at its School of Business. An economic lens is an insufficient instrument when one is discussing the “good and services” required for a democracy. The broadband Internet is a fundamental public service; an essential information utility in this era. We hope that academics and universities will examine this issue in a way which does true service to the debate. When a broadband platform is fundamentally connected to civic participation, cultural expression, journalism & public affairs, diverse ownership, community development and public safety, we suggest that the scholarly analysis has to be elevated to meet the challenge.

We note, btw, that Professor Mayo has served as an advisor and consultant to a number of companies and government agencies, including Enron, AT&T, Sprint, MCI and the FTC. Professor Mayo is also listed as an “external expert” for the Analysis Group. Among its clients include various telephone and cable companies, including Time Warner.
Source: “View Internet as Two-Sideded Market, Experts Say.” Anne Veigle. Communications Daily. dateline: Feb. 20, 2007. Subscription required.

Congressional Dems: Why Help out MPAA When its Members Oppose Network Neutrality?

Today’s New York Times has a story about leading Hill Democrats prostrating themselves before the star-power lobbyists of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) [“Hollywood Takes it Concerns about Piracy and Taxes to Washington” Reg. required] Among the Democratic leaders receiving visits included Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, Sen. Pat Leahy and Sen. Chuck Schumer. As the article reported, the MPAA “put on a daylong show for lawmakers, lobbyists and Capitol Hill aides, armed with some A-list talent…” Among the stars helping the industry fly its political flag were Will Smith and Clint Eastwood. Amazingly, part of the Hollywood pol spin was that it was pro-“working class.”

But MPAA’s members include companies opposed to network neutrality for U.S. broadband. Other members have allied themselves with the anti-open broadband cause. MPAA member Warner Bros. Entertainment, controlled by cable giant Time Warner, is one of the leading opponents of network neutrality. Sony Pictures is a partner with anti-open Net ringleader Comcast. The Walt Disney Company no longer supports a national open broadband policy (given its own dealings with Comcast and others, it has reversed its once open Net stance). NBC Universal and Murdoch’s Fox, the other two MPAA members, also support the anti-net neutrality status quo (of course, most MPAA companies have used their political clout to secure additional access to digital and broadband distribution, via retransmission consent).

There should be no tax breaks for Hollywood or help with “piracy” until the organization comes out for restoring network neutrality. Star-struck Democratic lawmakers who support network neutrality should tell the MPAA its Hill agenda is in “turnaround” until they agree to a national non-discriminatory policy for U.S. broadband.