The Bush Administration’s attack on the New York Times is a poisonous and despicable political tactic. It was the Administrationâ€”backed by most of Congressâ€”which led us into a war based on lies and deception. They should be held in contempt by the American people for directly causing the loss of so many lives (let alone the daily misfortune of many). Bravo to the New York Times and the few other news outlets courageous enough to keep the American people informed about domestic spying and other surveillance schemes that threaten our civil liberties. The White House has clearly lifted a tactic out of Richard Nixonâ€™s political playbook: the use of Spiro Agnew to help defend another disastrous war–Vietnam. In a much-publicized speech, Agnew attacked the news media as â€œnattering nabobs of negativismâ€ as part of Nixonâ€™s political counter-offensive. As now, the White House was desperately trying to change the growing public disenchantment with that war. Plus Ã§a change, plus câ€™est la mÃªme chose.
The vote on the new communications â€œreformâ€ bill in the Senate was a victory for the nationâ€™s communications giants. It sets the stage for the `pay as you surf, download, & postâ€™ digital media system that is the business model for our broadband giants. The phone and cable companies wish to be first in line so they canâ€”in their own wordsâ€”monetize all digital communications. The reason they oppose network neutrality is simply because it would prevent them from readily tacking on a host of extra charges for both consumers and content providers. A net neutral U.S. Internet would also threaten their ability to ensure that their contentâ€”video games, movies, online gambling, etcâ€”receive favorable transport, processing, and promotion. Itâ€™s great that so many committee Democrats have finally woken up to the threat (led there in part, ironically, by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Me). The 11-11 tie on network neutrality should be a signal, however, that all must be done to prevent Sen. Stevenâ€™s absurd â€œAdvanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform Actâ€ from passing the full Senate. Among the give-aways to our new media conglomerates was a permanent ban on Internet taxation. This is a boon for a few online operators at the expense of education, public safety, health care and other community services. The vote to make the moratorium on Internet taxes permanent was 19-3 (helping lead the charge was Sen Allen (R-Va).
Meanwhile, up in Canada, we have another example about what happens when we permit broadband monopolists to control access via unfettered Quality of Service (QoS) pricing schemes. Shaw Communications, the leading Canadian cable company, is using its clout over broadband lines to derail competition in the voice-over-Internet-protocol (VOIP) market. Shaw claims that customers of Vonage and other competitors should pay it a $10 per month â€œQoS Enhancementâ€ fee in order to ensure their calls get the same favorable treatment the cable company gives its own VOIP customers. According to press reports about the litigation between Shaw and Vonage, the cable company says its VOIP service is â€œoffered over the operatorâ€™s QoS-enabled network, managed network, while Vonageâ€™s service travels the public Internet and is open to packet delays and other inherent limitations.â€
In other words, welcome to the wacky, undemocratic, and Citizen Kane-esqe world of the two-tiered Internet. Thank you Senator Stevens! Once again, building us in the U.S. the digital bridge to somewhere. Namely, the bank vaults of Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner.
Soon, the Bush FCC will launch an effort to further consolidate control of a few over the nationâ€™s major newspapers and T.V. stations. Martin is determined to accomplish what his predecessor Michael Powell was incapable of doing. Martin will allow major daily newspapers to be folded into T.V. empires (by eliminating the cross-ownership safeguard). He will also permit a single company to own several T.V. stations in the same town. As with Powell, Martin thinks itâ€™s fine and dandy for one company to own multiple TV stations, eight radio stations, the newspaper, the cable system, and the principal broadband Internet service provider in a single large market. Also as with Powell, Martin appears to be also giving a cold shoulder to fellow Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein who want to see real public debate and a serious independent research review done prior to any decision-making. As with so many other FCC officials, past and present, Democratic and Republican, Martin has a â€œdonâ€™t ask, donâ€™t tell meâ€ policy when it comes to honestly addressing the current crisis in U.S. electronic media (recall TVâ€™s failure to seriously cover the run-up to the war, among many other discouraging examples).
Yesterday, President Bush made clear who is calling the FCC shots. At a signing of the new Bush-Martin (and sadly, Michael Coops) indecency law, the President said, referring to Martin [according to Broadcasting & Cable] that: â€œHe’s a part of the Executive branch. And since I’m the head of the executive branch, I take responsibility, as well, for putting people in place at the FCC who understand one of their jobs, and an important job, is to protect American families.” Of course, the FCC is supposed to be an independent agency. Itâ€™s notâ€”as White Houseâ€™s past and present frequently tell the Chair what to do via back channel. In the case of media ownership and network neutrality, you can be sure that WH has weighed in to help detail Kevin Martinâ€™s pro-Big Media agenda.
Next week, Martin will approve a new huge give-away to the broadcasting industry, worth billions (itâ€™s called multi-casting must carry). This will give every TV station, and powerful group owners, the leverage to extract programming and broadband distribution concessions from phone and cable companies (the TV lobby wonâ€™t need network neutrality, since Martin is giving them the ability to ensure their programming streams can run on the fast lane for free).
But Martin will find some rough seas ahead. His reputation as chair is likely to be one of a narrow-minded bureaucrat, rather than a real public servant.
A refrain from the phone and cable industry, in the debate over network neutrality, is they have to manage their networks. Hence, their claim they need the authority to oversee traffic flowsâ€”such as ensuring a time-sensitive Voice over the Internet (VOIP) phone call is promptly delivered (while allowing more time, say, for an email to reach you). Such traffic management techniques are often called â€œQuality of Serviceâ€ or QoS. Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and others suggest that they would be hamstrung by a net neutrality safeguard, because it would prevent or impede them from using QoS techniques to ensure time sensitive information is given priority.
But network neutrality proponents arenâ€™t saying that network providers shouldnâ€™t be able to fairly and efficiently manage the network. We are all for a digital traffic cop who works for the good of all. But phone and cable companies want a private electronic operative on the beat. They want to use QoS to give their traffic (video, data, etc.) a turbo-charged passage via fast lanes into our PCs, TVâ€™s, and mobile devices. Why? So they can enjoy what they are calling the â€œtriple play.â€ Thatâ€™s the latest communications industry buzzword ((goodbye synergy!) reflecting plans to monetize as much as possible our digital lives. Triple Play means that Verizon or Time Warner will lock up customers by selling them voice, video, and data services in either or both wired and wireless formats. As part of their â€œTriple Playâ€ business model, phone and cable companies want to use QoS to extract (extort) fees from content providers who also want to travel on fast lanes by getting a friendly electronic nod from the private traffic cops.
We urge you to read some of the literature illustrating how control over the network is key to AT&T and others plans to score a triple play. And then we askâ€”do we really want to let a few companies control the U.S. Internetâ€™s digital destiny? Tell Senator Stevensâ€”who doesnâ€™t seem to really get the problemâ€”that he should stand up for Internet freedom. (We also urge you to contact Senator Inouye and ask him to oppose any legislation that fails to protect U.S. online communications).
The Washington Postâ€™s editorial position on media and communications policy issues has generally taken a pro-consolidation line over the years. This is ironic and sad, especially given the concerns expressed by the paperâ€™s two top editors about the dramatic decline of quality in U.S. journalism. But in their much acclaimed â€œNews about the News: American Journalism in Peril,â€ Len Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser fail to acknowledge at all the role which consolidation contributes to the deterioration of journalism. For the impact of media industry lobbying on media ownership has led to newsroom cutbacks and an industry orientation to journalism `light.â€™ But Downie and Kaiserâ€”as well as their editorial board colleaguesâ€”fail to make the connection between regulatory safeguards and a media system that serves a broad range of information needs in a democracy. Nor is the Post ever clear to its readers about what it is really doing when it comes to lobbying Washington to advance its own corporate interests. For example, the paper has never well explained the Post Co.’s political support for the elimination of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership safeguard (which is about to be taken up, once more, by the FCC).
In the case of network neutrality, the Post should have been more candid about the political role its parent (Washington Post Co.) is playing. Itâ€™s not as simple as [we have] â€œinterests on both sides of this issue.â€ The Post Coâ€™s cable subsidiary president, Thomas O. Might, has been on the cable lobby board of directors (NCTA) for years. The Post therefore has been intimately involved in the closed-door strategy developed by the NCTA to over-turn the rules requiring an open, non-discriminatory Internet. In addition, the Post’s clout enables it to distribute its content over GE/NBC/Microsoft online properties–something a start-up would find it difficult to readily obtain.
On the merits of the Postâ€™s argument, we can only say that they are either being disingenuous with readers or are incredibly naÃ¯ve about the media business. In its editorial, they dismiss our concerns that–in the absence of network neutrality– the Internet will come to resemble the cable T.V. industry. They claim that technology will ensure the low-cost production of content. But what they ignore is that like cable, the company that controls the wires (or airwaves, in the case of wireless), can determine how each packet of content fares on the network. The few cable and phone companies, which now control 98% of the U.S. broadband market, can use their power to choose winners and losers (as the cable TV industry has done with video programming). In addition, those content providers that can best promote and process their interactive content will also have a digital leg up. Without net neutrality, the online programming owned or affiliated with the phone and cable broadband duopoly will always be in the lead.
As for speculationâ€”itâ€™s not. The equipment to control the Netâ€™s future is being rolled out, as we speak
Itâ€™s time for the six big new media corporate supporters of network neutrality to get realâ€”or go back to Silicon Valley, Seattle, or Aspen. Whatâ€™s needed nowâ€”after the disastrous and humiliating vote in the Houseâ€”is the one thing that politicians really respect and fearâ€”TV ads. Letters from Microsoft and visits from cyber wunderkinds arenâ€™t enough, especially with the PR and lobbying blitz underwritten by the Telcoâ€™s. As the Senate Commerce Committee takes up network neutrality this week, itâ€™s time for Gates, Brin, Barry Diller, Terry Semel, and Bezos to get real (we acknowledge with respect the work done by eBay CEO Meg Whitman asking one million of its members to take action).
The copy for the ad is a no-brainer: `The big Phone and Cable Companies (yesâ€”our partners AT&T, Verizon, Comcast) want to have a monopoly over the Internet. They want to jack up the prices you and I pay for service. They want to transform the â€˜Net into a pay as surf toll road filled with commercials and the kinds of programs the FCC will soon impose stiffer fines for. Help us stop them. (So, okay, thatâ€™s not the ad. But they can afford their own copywriter.)
So, we ask. Will these companies devote the resourcesâ€”a pittance to their bottom linesâ€”to help save the U.S. digital communications system from these corporate cutthroats? Or, are they really a two-faced bunch of new media conglomerates that donâ€™t have the best interests for the democratic potential of the broadband Internet at heart?
Watch your TV screens to find out.
When Verizon and Disney signed a â€œlong-term programming agreementâ€ in 2005, it illustrated why the Congress should enact net neutrality safeguards. Disney sought to secure the broadband gate keeping power that Verizon (and only a few others) have over both digital TV and Internet distribution. Under the deal, Verizon agreed to distribute (via its FIOS service) a dozen channels on the preferential expanded basic tier. They included: ABC Family, ABC News Now, Disney Channel, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, ESPN HD, ESPN2 HD, Ton Disney and SOAP net. Disney also gained favorable distribution for its Spanish language content and its video-on-demand library,
But more importantly, Verizon agreed to bless a Disney owned â€œbroadband product portfolioâ€ including â€œABC News Now, Disney Connection, ESPN360, Movies.com and a newly launched broadband soap opera product.â€ This will likely give Disney content the fast-lane service (including better promotion) that Verizon, AT&T and cable want to impose for the online medium. In addition, in an example of how a Verizon can police the Internet for its favored customers, the agreement included a promise by the phone giant to identify subscribers who are infringing on Disneyâ€™s â€œcopyrighted works.â€ Verizon agreed to â€œforward and track notices to its subscribers allegedly engaged in the unauthorized distribution of Disneyâ€™s copyrighted works, without identifying the subscribers to Disney, and either provide subscriber identifying information pursuant to lawfully served subpoenas or terminate Verizon Internet service provided to subscribers who have infringed Disney copyrights and received multiple notices.â€
Without network neutrality, every content provider will have to try and negotiate some deal with a Verizon or Comcast. The Internet should operate without gate keepers and online snoops. Letâ€™s not let them turn the Net into Mickey Mouse. Congress must stand up to the special phone and cable interests
For too long, conservative media and communications advocates have supported a policy regime that has failed the public. Just give (fill in all or your favorites) the broadcasters, the cable companies, the phone companies, the technology companies a â€œfreeâ€ rein, and all of our needs for a diverse, competitive, and democratic system will flourish. Technology, if left unfettered, will fulfill its potential (see his blog entry at Technology Liberation Front). Like the trickle-down economists, Mr. Gattuso and colleagues have held sway with many politicians and FCC commissioners. Butâ€”media history has proved them wrong. Thatâ€™s why we are not going to let them do to the Internet what they have done to commercial broadcasting and cable communications.
Just leave us alone, eliminate all public interest policies, and the technology will fulfill its democratic potential. Thatâ€™s what commercial radio said in the early 1930â€™s. Broadcast TV echoed it during the 1950â€™s. Cable used it to win â€œderegulationâ€ in 1984. Consequently, we have a homegenous system of broadcasting and cable where there is no real diversity, little in-depth journalism, barely any competition. Such a laissez-faire media environment has harmed the country, principally through undermining the potential for serious journalism.
The rhetoric of Mr. Gattuso and many of his anti-network neutrality allies is wrapped around a decades old critique of communications policy. In their worldâ€”the public are just consumers. They are not citizens or other active members of the community. They espouse that the interests of the network provider should be paramount. We believe itâ€™s the interests of everyone: teachers, parents, children, journalists, the poor and countless others that must be taken into account when conceptualizing policy for communications. Democratic expressionâ€”not corporate profitsâ€”must come first. The market will still have plenty of room (and will do even better if it treats people fairly and helps build a stronger U.S.)
I am amazed that many so-called experts ignore whatâ€™s really going on in the commercial marketplaceâ€”let alone behind the scenes in the policy sphere.
First, there are clear plans to change the way the Internet works. Itâ€™s not about generating revenues to build out the network. Itâ€™s about greedâ€”money for a few telecom giants. At the expense of a communications system that serves allâ€”for other commercial giants, small businesses, non-profit corporations, and the average Jane and Joe. AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast want to seize what they are already calling their â€œpipesâ€ to give themselves the monopolistic advantages they have lost as a result of technological change.
We all know that competition lawâ€”and the FCCâ€”are not effective tools to protect either competition or [more importantly] public discourse. Conservatives have railed against government for yearsâ€”esp. the FCC. Now they are saying, donâ€™t worry, if there are problemsâ€”our bloated, corrupt and ineffective governmental institutions can take care of you. I donâ€™t believe in buying the digital equivalent to the Brooklyn Bridgeâ€”nor should conservative media advocates argue for one.
The cable and phone lobby have used their collective political power to gain dominant control over U.S. broadband distribution. They went to the FCC and wiped out competition via other ISPs (there were thousands in the U.S. during the dial-up era). Phone and cable companies have lobbied side-by-side to prevent municipal or non-profit competition. They deliberately eliminated the policy requiring non-discriminatory treatment of contentâ€”a sure sign in my view they intend to discriminate (but come to our website to read white papers and other documents that show how such discrimination online will be done).
Both the cable and phone industry have the same business modelâ€”a souped up broadband video on demand kind of service filled with data collection, interactive ads, and other elements from our popular culture. They donâ€™t need the network to differentiateâ€”because they are the same. The vision they have for the future of the Internet is television. We deserve better.
Net neutral rules would enable new entrepreneurs to emerge and help protect free speech. Yes, Mr. Gattuso. It would lead to lobbying and lawsuits. The big cable and telephone companies will do anything to control the future of the U.S. media marketplace. But with net neutral rules, other voices will have a better chance to be heard. Voicesâ€”we hopeâ€”interested in building a better democracy and an Internet that serves all equitably.
PS: Iâ€™m sorry that Mr. Gattuso doesnâ€™t like our pointing out some of Heritageâ€™s funders that raise a potential policy conflict over network neutrality. But disclosure is very important. So when AT&T is a premium sponsor of Heritageâ€”it behooves Mr. Gattuso to say so clearly. He also should have identified where Prof. Yooâ€”whom he quotes/cities frequentlyâ€”gets some of his money as he attacks network neutrality (the cable lobby).
We are astonished at the reaction of all the so-called conservative/â€free marketâ€ groups that have rushed to side with the telephone and cable monopoly in the network neutrality fight. This is battle between those who want to ensure our individual freedom to travel online wherever we wish to go, versus those who wish to create a private Internet toll-road. The Internet should not be a gated community. Itâ€™s the public squareâ€”with plenty of convenient shopping nearby.
So why oh why are the groups backing AT&T, Verizon, and Comcastâ€”such as the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform, CATO, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Taxpayers Unionâ€”doing this? They claim that network neutrality supporters are either liberals desiring to â€œregulateâ€ the web or that companies such as Google and eBay are looking for competitive advantages. Butâ€”they are simply wrong. And the public will pay dearly for their foolhardy bad judgement.
The phone and cable companies have plans to dramatically change the wide, open spaces of online into their private property. They want a digital monopolyâ€”like they have had either in the phone or cable TV business.
Itâ€™s a land grab of the Internet in the U.S.â€”with restrictions on our freedom to travel online, new threats to our privacy, and lack of consumer choice. These so-called conservative groups have been badly misinformed—or are on the financial dole from the phone and cable lobby. Whatever the reason, itâ€™s evident that theyâ€™re not well serving their members by selling out the Internet to a tiny handful of monopolists. (They should all identify whether they have taken money from the communications lobby and how much).
They are also unaware of the phone and cable plans for the Internet. When the Heritage Foundationâ€™s James Gattuso says network neutrality would prevent â€œnetwork ownersâ€¦[from using] scare Internet capacity more efficientlyâ€ he ignores there plans to impose a pay as you go Internet toll road. That would mean that a phone or cable company could make it harder for us to access the website of our choice because they have given themselves priority. In other wordsâ€”the public gets to stand or lumped into cramped digital economy class, while the phone or cable company puts itself in first class (paying for that service with the money they get from our bills each month).
Shame, shame on â€œAmericans for Tax Reformâ€ and the other groups. Why are they putting hard-working families last and the Internet `super size usâ€™ media companies first?
Ready as always to weaken the public interest potential of U.S. communications, James L. Gattuso wrote a anti-network neutrality “Backgrounder” for the Heritage Foundation (released June 2, 2006). Subtitled “Will Congress Neuter the Net?”, the piece is a politically timed missive designed to undermine the growing pressure on Congress to enact network neutrality safeguards. It contains the usual litany of rationalizations and under-developed analysis used by big cable and phone advocates to criticize network neutrality.
But notably missing from Mr. Gatttuso’s piece is any admission that two of the Heritage Foundation’s funders just happen to be–yes, AT&T and Verizon. In its 2005 annual report, AT&T is listed as one of the few “premier associates.” Verizon is placed at “executive associates” status. It just so happens, as you know, that AT&T and Verizon are leading the charge against network neutrality (and paying a lot for the work of many opposition groups). Perhaps it was an oversight of Mr. Gattuso. But such financial ties must be identified (he should also have noted that Professor Yoo, whom he frequently cites, undertook a anti-network neutrality study funded by the cable lobby).
We will respond to the so-called Backgrounder in our next post. Mr. Gattuso should look closely at his Heritage’s Foundation funders and acknowledge any potential conflicts of interest.