Not-So Smart Mobs: The Wireless Industry War Against Net Neutrality

It’s not just the biggest phone and cable companies opposing a open Internet (net neutrality). It’s also the wireless industry—including companies providing cellular and mobile communications. One of the principal characteristics of our expanding ubiquitous digital media environment will be its reach—on the street, in transport, and everyplace else. New forms of political action and cultural expression could evolve if the U.S. can have a non-discriminatory mobile environment.

But that’s not what the CTIA-The Wireless Association wants. They are opposing network neutrality safeguards. In testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this month, CTIA’s chief Steve Largent warned of “many of the unintended consequences that would flow from some of the Net Neutrality regulations being considered [that] would have a particularly negative impact on wireless consumers.” What Largent really meant was that the wireless industry hopes to impose the same kind of toll booth regime for mobile communications. In their vision, ads and content supported by a McDonalds, P&G soap, Fox News or Disney will have preferential access. CTIA’s board includes T-Mobile, Cingular (AT&T), Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless and most of the key manufacturers. As we mentioned in yesterday’s entry, CTIA is also a member of the anti-open Internet group called (It’s time, by the way, we had a real anti-trust investigation of the mobile industry).

The united front of cable, wireless phone and wireless/mobile companies fighting against network neutrality is a good example of why we need serious policy safeguards (going beyond network neutrality) to protect freedom of communications in the U.S. Without such rules, the civic potential of Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs will be thwarted by powerful commercial forces.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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