Caspian×?Ts Net Neutral Proposal

The networking technology company Caspian has offered a ×??Fair Use Policy Framework×?? paper that claims to meaningfully address the current debate over the future of the U.S. broadband Internet. It has a mouthful of a subtitle: ×??A Nondiscriminatory and Noninvasive Approach to Managing Internet Traffic in Full Compliance with U.S. Law and Federal Communications Commission Policy.×?? The ×??abridged×?? version is available on its website (and is the one discussed below). A press release on the report is available.
On the one hand, we applaud the company×?Ts participation in what should be a more contested and public debate over our broadband future. But they show a lack of real understanding about why this issue is so important. Caspian dismisses the current discussion about how the Net should be governed as no more than heated rhetorical posturing. The authors of the paper should have understood that we are arguing about more than which company or industry will come out on top. Whatever is decided about so-called network neutrality will affect the quality of our lives in a democracy that is being fundamentally shaped by digital communications.
First, this is not about ×??maximizing consumer choice,×?? as they put it. It×?Ts about ensuring that digital networks strengthen civic discourse, diversity of expression, and economic opportunity. In another words, the debate is really about the role broadband communications and citizen/public participation in our society. The paper claims that ×??proponents of unlimited network neutrality×?ignore×?that increased Internet usage has resulted in increased congestion.×?? (Not surprisingly, Caspian’s message in the paper is that products such as its ×??media controllers×?? can help ensure more equitable traffic management.) But the paper fails to explore how policies requiring that the cable and telcos add more bandwidth capacity would help address many congestion concerns.

The paper does underscore why public interest groups and many new media companies are alarmed about cable/telco plans for the future of digital distribution. Caspian critiques what it terms their ×??absolutist position for unrestricted managed access×?? by underscoring how AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and others can readily impose higher consumer rates, invade our privacy, and block or impede access to online content.

We await the full paper from Caspian. But we urge readers not to readily support the notion of ×??higher-quality,×?? tiered ($) access models for broadband. It will help usher in a new generation of broadband content that potentially discriminates against users and content providers.

PS/Disclosure: Caspian cites some of our writings (and others, such as Rep. Rick Boucher and Common Cause) as examples of ×??sensationalist statements×?? about the net neutrality debate among their footnoted references. The paper also says that net neutral proponents don×?Tt see the need for fair traffic management. We do. But we don×?Tt want the cable/telco private cop patroling the digital beat.

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Mike McCurry Joins AT&T’s Campaign for a Monopoly Internet

Former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry is now part of an AT&T backed “coalition” working on a huge public interest rip-off. AT&T, as we know, is opposed to an open, competitive, and democratic Internet. Now they have used their clout to get McCurry–named as the coalition “co-chair”– to be a part of their “Hands Off the Internet” front group. AT&T wants to make sure that no “network neutrality” safeguards are enacted by Congress. McCurry’s role is to help snare Democrats over to the wrong-side—that being the position that will hurt everyone but AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and a few others.

Ironically, McCurry’s work on behalf of AT&T will ultimately harm many of the non-profit and public interest clients who work with Grassroots Enterprise and the Public Strategies Group. Among the clients listed at McCurry’s various firms include the ACLU, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Sierra Club ( is listed on Grassroots Enterprise website claiming that the firm’s leadership team played a key role with the group). If McCurry’s “coalition” has its way, there will be a threat to civil liberties as a few control the Internet (hello, ACLU); more targeted ads promoting unhealthy lifestyles targeted to kids (please take note, Tobacco-Free Kids); an explosion of commercialism and consumption that will further wreck the environment (the Sierra Club and other such groups should be outraged); and an Internet where only big bucks will ensure you can sway voters (which should alarm MoveOn and all other groups concerned about the future of the Internet in politics).

When Mr. McCurry comes calling on Members of Congress, they should be forewarned. If McCurry, AT&T and company have their way, our country’s hopes for a more just and informed society will be threatened. Such an outcome may be profitable for a very few, but ultimately will harm the many.

PS: McCurry’s Public Strategies Group has represented SBC (now AT&T) for years, helping them build a more powerful telecom monopoly.

Congress Does a Corrupt ‘96 Telecom Act Re-run

The same `big telecom money buys itself special interest legislation’ that created the 1996 Telecom Act give-away is now in play again. A congressional wrecking crew—under the guise of “updating” our nation’s telecom laws—will do even more damage to our media system. Ten years ago, Congress gave us more consolidation in the cable, broadcast TV/radio, and telecom sectors. It sparked an unprecedented shopping spree where newspapers, TV/radio stations, telephone, and cable companies were bought and sold at dizzying speed. Freed by Congress from any constraint, cable rates soared. We have no policy so Americans can readily receive a diverse array of news and culture beyond the narrow confines of the show-biz, ad-supported media industry. The 96 Act failed to ensure low-income and rural Americans would have residential access to the Internet; nor were there any policies promoting diverse ownership of programming content in cable and satellite networks (esp. by persons of color). Behind closed doors, the GOP and media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, Robert Wright of GE and executives from many companies stuck a private deal that became the 96 Act.

Now, they are doing it again. Taking in huge sums of money from phone and cable companies, Congress is permitting the Internet and new digital networks to fall under greater control of phone and cable monopolies; they are killing off the last vestige of localism—municipal franchising for community communications; permitting wide-spread discrimination against lower-income Americans by allowing phone companies to only serve the most affluent. Congress will also set the stage for even more media consolidation (think phone companies buying TV stations or a broacast network and a Comcast/Google merger), higher rates for all communications services (wired and wireless), and a commercial culture for the U.S. dominated by the most powerful special interests (especially major entertainment and advertising companies).

Everything Congress is about to do is against the public interest. Isn’t time we all said—as we were advised to do by the late Paddy Chayefsky in Network, to scream (and advocate) from the rooftops: we’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to let you wreck our media system anymore!

AT&T’s Project

On the heels of the defeat yesterday in the House Telecom and Internet Subcommittee (23-8) that would have helped ensure the Internet remain an open and non-discriminatory highway, it may be useful to look more closely at AT&T’s broadband plans. AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other giants were the victors in yesterday’s defeat of the Markey “network neutrality” amendment. A number of Democrats joined with the GOP committee majority to kill off the open Internet safeguard. Just take a peak, by the way, at the end of this post to see how much cable and telecom money has been taken by some of the folks who supported the Telco/cable agenda yesterday.

But to the point about how AT&T and others are about to do the U.S. Internet great harm. AT&T (then SBC) laid out its digital vision in a September 14, 2005 document to the FCC as part of a proceeding on how “IP-Enabled Services” should be governed (“IP” meaning Internet Protocol, the basic communications structure of the Internet and many digital networks). Not surprisingly, AT&T told the FCC (on page 3) that there should be no public policies governing its “Project Lightspeed” service because it has a “architecture similar to the architecture used by customers to access the Internet.” AT&T then went on to say that its “switched, point to point, IP networks are purposefully designed and ultimately capable of allowing customers to access a wide variety of video and other content on a “on-demand basis.” The service will enable users to obtain “Internet-sourced data” and also gain access to “voice, video and data services.” (see p. 20).

But a few pages later in the 35-page document, AT&T reveals what is an outrageous policy “bait and switch” canard. While it says (on p. 24) that its “purpose in deploying this point-to-point two way network is to provide subscribers with maximum flexibility in customizing what they see and when they see it,” they also say (my bold) that “the ultimate breadth and scope of such on-demand capabilities will be a function of a number of factors, including arrangements with content owners and other programming vendors…”

In another words, the so-called Internet that AT&T will deliver us will be based on who can pay them the most money to have their content included in Lightspeed’s (video) service. AT&T is saying to the FCC and Congress: `don’t require us to have any policy safeguards, because we’re the Internet. Don’t “regulate” the Internet.’ But at the same time, AT&T is making clear (through a document only read by a few lawyers) that it doesn’t intend to give us the Internet at all—just a very profitable closed system where it can charge users and content providers ever-escalating fees. For more, read the “The Impact and Legal Propriety of Applying Cable Franchise Regulation to IP-Enabled Video Services.” [Filed by SBC. WC Docket No. 04-36, September 14, 2005].

PS: Follow the Telco-cable money to the House Telecom Subcommittee. Just look at who is contributing to Subcommittee chairman Upton; Rep. Stearns; Rep.Gonzelaz; and Rep. Wynn.

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The White House and FCC Connection: New Giveaway to Big Media

The Bush Administration and the U.S. newspaper, broadcasting and telecommunications industry are now involved in subtle conversations/negotiations about media ownership policies that will likely have an impact on journalism. The newspaper and broadcast lobby wants the Administration’s help to over-turn what’s left of the media ownership safeguards. This week, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told a meeting of the powerful newspaper publishers lobby, that he—like his predecessor Michael Powell—was ready to hand them their key political objective: the scuttling of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rule. That policy has helped ensure that one company in a community couldn’t simultaneously operate the two most important sources of information: TV channels and the daily paper. The rule has also protected newspapers from being swept up into ratings-driven/show-biz focused TV industry empires. If the cross-ownership rule is axed, expect even less serious print reporting and more tabloid/infotainment TV-business models for dailies.

Mr. Martin clearly doesn’t have the facts with what’s causing the crisis in U.S. journalism today. Nor can we expect either Martin or his Commission to actually honestly investigate what is happening with journalism. His speech to the publishers was lifted from their lobbying playbook, including the absurd notion that allowing one company to operate several TV stations and the daily paper can bring “a significant increase in the production of local news and current affairs…” Media consolidation and cost-cutting to please Wall Street has led to this crisis. Additional consolidation will further weaken the last vehicle currently capable of sustained and meaningful serious journalism: the daily newspaper (we believe it’s too early to say whether online journalism will evolve into a permanent robust alternative in the near term.)

In another example of Martin (and the GOP) currying favor with big media, the chairman published an op-ed in the Financial Times that declared once again his support for the Telco/cable monopolies stance that they should be able to fully control the future of the high-speed Internet in the U.S.

Martin’s zealous advocacy for the telephone, cable, broadcast, and newspaper industry certainly reflects the view of the Bush White House. The chairman’s wife, Catherine Martin, is Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Communications Director for Policy and Planning (before that she was key aide to Vice President Cheney; prior to her White House position she was an aide to then Texas AG John Cornyn (now a U.S. Senator). We have a difficult time believing that whatever Kevin Martin is doing has not been vetted by the White House (just as the Clinton Administration did with its FCC agenda).

But as we proceed into the 2006 election, it will be interesting to look at how both the newspaper and broadcast TV news operations treat the Bush agenda. Will it be—as it was during the run up to the war in Iraq—a subtle quid pro quo: you waive the rules and we’ll waive the flag?

PS: Here’s the link that will take you to the great speech given by FCC Commissioner Copps at the Freedom to Connect conference on Tuesday.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps: Save the ‘Net

Commissioner Michael Copps give the opening keynote speech today at the Freedom to Connect conference. Copps is that rare high-ranking government who places the interests of the average person over the country’s wealthy elite (such as the phone, cable, and broadcast lobby). Copps has continually been in the forefront defending the public interest on both the media consolidation and broadband communications issues. His full speech won’t be online today, but here’s an excerpt (thanks to

“I think this is one of the most important dialogues taking place in the country. We view the Internet as a place of freedom and openness, a place where anyone with a good idea can develop a business plan with global reach. But news reports have sounded the warning bell where new broadband toll bridges may restrict services like VOIP or your ability to watch videos over the Web. The more concentrated that network providers get, the easier it will be for them to become gatekeepers. We cannot let that happen. If that occurs history will not forgive us, nor should it.

We still have a long way to go to secure the future of the Internet. Network providers are saying Websites should pay for broadband. This misses the mark because Website content is what makes network providers’ services valuable in the first place. It seems to me they want to double dip [by charging both consumers and Websites for the same content]. If providers with bottleneck control can erect tolls that inverts the entire democratic network of the Internet. It makes the pipe intelligent and the end-user dumb. It artificially constrains the supply of bandwidth.

Braodband is going be one of the drivers of our economy, so we need to get our national policy right. More I important we need to get a national policy. It is not just about a better Internet, this is about a better America.”

USTA’s “TV Freedom”: You Can Fool Almost All the Politicians All of the Time

Shades of the 1996 Telecom Act, Congress is about to do it again. Joe Barton and company will give away our digital communications treasure house in exchange for some smooth talking lobbying snake oil. Passing out the potion last week was Telco uber-lobbyist Walter B. McCormick, Jr—President and CEO of the United States Telecom Association (USTA). We wish that committee witnesses would be made to swear an oath that what they are testifying is the whole truth and—you know what.

For starters, McCormack actually claimed that the U.S. has “government managed competition” and it was “time” to “embrace market-based competition.” Hello! When was the last time the FCC stopped a telecom merger, rolled back consumer rates or did anything but lie like a obedient puppy at the feet of our telecom conglomerates? For example, recently the FCC has given (see 8/5/05) USTA’s members tremendous control over broadband—enabling them to soon begin imposing a “pay us when you surf and pay us as you post content” regime.

McCormick also had the audacity to claim that the Barton bill was going to give the U.S. “video choice.” “Video choice” is a code word for now the U.S. will have two big monopolies over broadband and IP-based video communications: cable and telcos. A real “video choice” would mean we could bypass these gatekeepers and choose whatever provider and programs we desired. McCormick promised consumers would save lots of money, once the phone companies competed with cable. Does anyone take that seriously? Besides, the cable and telco lobbies told Congress the exact same thing back in 1996 (and several times before that).

Reflecting that hubris is always present when big bucks are at stake, McCormick actually called for the removal of the pathetically weak “network neutrality” language in the bill (which would send any broadband discrimination complaint to the dead letter office at the FCC). Any legislation that would ensure an open Internet, said McCormick, was “premature” and would “chill innovation and investment” (meaning what Verizon, AT&T and others hope will be fat bottom lines as they charge us all higher rates for service). Finally, illustrating that USTA members are fearful of any competition at all, McCormick urged the Telecommunications subcommittee to remove the provision that would help encourage municipal networks.

It’s time that folks stood up against the selling out of our digital rights to such powerful special interests as the USTA and NCTA.

Rep. Joe Barton and Co. destroy “Community Communications”

The Barton-Hastert-Rush bill has been concocted by telephone industry lobbyists (with some recent help by the cable industry) to remove any scintilla of oversight the public might have over broadband communications. It reflects how corrupt so many lawmakers are in the nation’s capital—and how the big money from special interests easily buys them off. It also illustrates how the same tired communications lobbying pleas–heard most recently when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed–conveniently provides political cover for a huge giveaway. Just free us from rules designed to protect the public, claim (fill in the blank) the Bells, cable, or broadcasters, and the country will be awash in jobs, better health care, and competition. These are really code words for: get ready for an even bigger monopoly over communications.

The Bells want to string out their wires in the most affluent neighborhoods of the country—all so they can profit from what they know will be a IPTV gold mine: pay-per-view movies, on-demand TV programming, and interactive advertising. They also wanted to unleash their broadband business model that will give us the pay-as-you-surf Infobahn: that’s why they oppose “network neutrality” safeguards.

However, the U.S.’s last remaining form of local control over communications—known as cable TV franchising—has stood in the way. Cable TV was supposed to be a “community communications” service. That’s the way it was sold to the U.S. back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Each community would have the ability to ensure that the powerful medium of cable broadband (yes—it was called that even back then) would serve the local public interest. Cable companies were required to negotiate an agreement with local government before they could offer service, called a franchise. This process permitted local government to obtain communications services that would be especially beneficial for their residents. So cities have been able to negotiate for their schools to be connected to the Internet. They were able to negotiate for networks that connected all their public buildings, important for city services and public safety. Finally, local franchises permitted cities to negotiate for communications services that provided for public, educational and governmental public access channels.

And it’s now about to be swept away. It was never perfect—far from it. The cable lobby used its vast resources to buy off politicians at the local, state, and national level. A system meant for local service became, as we know, primarily a medium for national programming and advertising. But the concept of local public oversight over multichannel communications services has remained an important one.

Smart communities around the country began negotiating for pieces of cable’s broadband capacity. Not just a few channels for public access, but a modest portion of bandwidth that could deliver a multitude of local digital communications services. Cities had asked for their broadband networks to be operated under an “open access” or “network neutrality” regime. More importantly, cities had the political leverage of the franchise to ensure that cable companies couldn’t “redline” against low-income neighborhoods.

The phone companies were horrified that they would actually have to provide unique public service for each of the communities they intended to pump out digital dollars from. They were frightened that local community leaders might actually be able to hold their networks accountable to serve the community. So they used their deep pockets to push through favorable state legislation and now, it appears, in the Congress (take a look at Joe Barton and Dennis Hastert’s top contributors).

We are about to lose all this, especially the important principle of community communications. It is to be replaced by a “national franchise” that doesn’t provide the public with any leverage to ensure their cities receive what should be substantial benefits in the digital age. Under the bill, communities won’t be able to obtain any help to ensure they are networked and connected. Public access “channels”—supposedly the public’s voice—won’t have the capacity to remain a vital form of communications in the broadband era. Under the proposed law, the cable industry will also be able to soon escape from their current franchises. The bill does next-to-nothing to address the dangers to the public as both the phone and cable industry transform the broadband Internet into a bigger digital gravy train (the so-called network neutrality issue).

Both the cities and the public interest community haven’t really fought the Barton bill with the ferocious opposition it requires. Some public interest groups have decided to offer a form of trade-off, mistakenly believing that they can win support for network neutrality safeguards by giving the Bells a national franchise. They are naive if they believe such a deal would occur. More importantly, we are giving away an important principle: the right of communities to ensure the public benefits from broadband communications.

It’s true that the Bell-backed lobbying effort seems unstoppable. But the concept of “community communications” is even more necessary, in my opinion, in this new era. We will be awash with all kinds of national services—and connected to international ones. But if our digital transformation isn’t designed to benefit real people where they live—what’s it good for?

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