Democrats & Liberals Archives

Strangulating the Internet

The Internet is probably the greatest invention of the 20th century. Nevertheless, Rep. Joe Barton, Chairman of the House Commerce Committee, together with other representatives, is sponsoring the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE), which would transfer control of the Internet to the major telecoms - ATT, Sprint, Verizon and Bellsouth. The result of this legislation may very well be the strangulation of the Internet as we know it.

The Internet is unlike any other medium ever invented. Newspapers, radio, TV, music discs and video CDs are one-way media: A tycoon uses a newspaper to distribute the news to the rest of us; members of the elite use radio and TV to tell us what's what and entertain us; and entertainment companies sell us musical and video products. The telephone is a 2-way medium: it allows you to talk to your friend or colleague or family member. Sometime you may get several people on a special hook-up.

The Internet, however, is a multi-way medium. I can send a message to many people at once. Many people may communicate with each other as they do on this or any other blog. This means that the littlest "little guy" has a voice he has never had before. It means that the "litle guy" not only has more economic choices, but personal, social and political choices. It means that the Internet is vastly leveling the so-called playing field.

And this bothers big corporations. In the '90s when the Internet became commercial, the telephone companies were bypassed. If we had to pay the fees they would have charged, the Internet would have had a hard time getting off the ground. The telecoms were so disturbed, they have been working diligently towards gaining control of the Internet ever since. Microsoft took a stab at gaining more control with a special operating system. That did not work. AOL merged with Time Warner for the same purpose. That fell apart too.

Now the so-call new ATT (with whom Bellsouth is trying to merge), Sprint and Verizon are trying. And if we don't do anything they stand a good chance of achieving control of the Internet.

This issue is especially urgent because in the future there will not be all these media. TV, radio, music, news, telephone and video will all be transmitted via the Internet. The potential is huge. All the more reason why we must be careful with legislation such as COPE.

Basically, COPE, does 2 things: Telecoms would no longer earn franchises from cities and states, but would get them directly from the FCC. The FCC would be in charge of "regulating" the telecoms.

On the surface there is little wrong with this. However, the legislation as currently written, will lead to the following problems:

  • NO BUILD-OUT REQUIREMENTS - Telecoms may "cherry pick" areas of service. If you live in a rural area, too bad
  • NO REDLINING PROTECTION - Telecoms may not provide services for low income or minority areas
  • TIERED SYSTEM - Telecoms will have different rates for different customers. They will favor their big customers to others
  • REDUCTION OF CONSUMER PROTECTIONS - Cities and states will not be able to enforce the laws they have to protect the consumer
  • SHRINKING OF PUBLIC INTEREST AREAS - Libraries, for example, may receive short shrift from telecoms
Learn more about COPE here.

The big problem is that the bill does not provide "Net Neutrality." "Net Neutrality" means that those who provide the communication facilities should have no say about the content. Without net neutrality telecoms can determine who gets good service and who does not, and thereby they can exercise inordinate control.

Democrats offered an amendment to introduce net neutrality. Republicans voted it down. We must maintain net neutrality to keep the Internet alive. Without it, the bill will enable the telecoms to strangulate the Internet. All your favorite Internet companies - Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay and Amazon - are for net neutrality.

Prevent the strangulation of the Internet by signing this petition at Consumers Union.

Posted by Paul Siegel at April 24, 2006 3:19 PM
Comments
Comment #142715

ICANN is doing a great job running the internet. We don’t need to fix what isn’t broken. I sent my petition.

Posted by: traveller at April 24, 2006 3:48 PM
Comment #142719

Paul,
I posted about this the week before last (and was surprised to get only one comment about it in return), therefore, I’m glad you’ve written a whole article about it so that more people will be aware of what they’re trying to do and want to take action. In my other post, and for this one, I’d also like to make readers aware of another petition in addition to the one you’ve posted above, which will also send the message to most major internet providers.

Posted by: Adrienne at April 24, 2006 4:07 PM
Comment #142727

Done.

Posted by: tony at April 24, 2006 4:57 PM
Comment #142729

I sent them my two cents.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at April 24, 2006 4:59 PM
Comment #142746

Ditto.

Posted by: d.a.n at April 24, 2006 5:27 PM
Comment #142751

I’m curious about something. I’m not a lawyer and my current schedule doesn’t allow me the time to research the question, so I’m hoping someone already knows. Imagine a local phone company has made some deal with, let’s say, Pizza Place A. And as part of this deal, said local phone company degrades or restricts telephone subscribers from being able to complete a telephone call to, let’s say, Pizza Place B. The question is, is there an existing law, rule, regulation, etc… which covers this type of thing? If so, wouldn’t the internet be covered under such a law?

Posted by: Grant at April 24, 2006 6:07 PM
Comment #142763

I worked for a telco for many years (sbc in fact). I can tell you that SBC is considered an ILEC. An Incumbant Local Exchange Carrier. What this means is that SBC is mandated by the FCC to provide service - no matter where. They are also tariffed. This means that the price that SBC and other tariffed companies charge is SET BY THE FCC! As a sales guy working for them, I was afforded no ability to negotiate our rates whatsoever. This is unlike other CLEC’s - Competitive Local Exchange Carriers. These guys can pretty much do what they want.

Im not sure how Telco’s can “control” the internet? Telco’s control access - to the pstn (public switched telephone network” or to their local internet POP (point of presence). Once you get on to the internet “cloud” you are essentially riding over multiple networks - a telco cant control this…

As far as redlining, think of it this way. If you lived out in a trailer in the middle of nowhere, do you realistically expect a telco to invest millions of dollars trenching up roads to run the latest and greatest technologies (FTTC currently - fiber to the curb)? It doesnt make sense… Just because an ILEC is mandated to provide basic service does not mean that they have to provide all options. That would be absurd!

Also, ILECs have been losing money for many years, because of unfair laws in place which force ILEC to lease their lines to their competition for a loss! All in the name of trying to make the playing field more fair for startup telcos (to give the consumer more competition). How is that really fair tho? Make one company eat it, while others can mooch off of a network that you built and spend tons of money to maintain.

With the new fiber rules, the governemt has agreed to let ILECs spend BILLIONS of dollars to completely revamp their infrastructure. Yes, this means that pretty soon you will be able to have a fiber connection to the internet, have your phone service and cable all over one network. Is it wrong for someone shelling out billions to see a return on their investment??? Is it fair for these telcos to spend all that money, just to be forced to give it away to their competitor at a loss???

Doesnt sound like the american way to me. All of this “big corporation is bad stuff”, and “lets make sure everyone has exactly the same thing as everyone else” mentality smells a lot like communism to me.

Flame away.

Posted by: b0mbay at April 24, 2006 6:42 PM
Comment #142821
Im not sure how Telco’s can “control” the internet? Telco’s control access - to the pstn (public switched telephone network” or to their local internet POP (point of presence). Once you get on to the internet “cloud” you are essentially riding over multiple networks - a telco cant control this

Without getting too technical, let me just explain this. You request to go to a website through your browser by typing in a web address. That request goes down your line, through your local internet provider (telco) and out into the “cloud” of the internet. Your request bounces around from one switch to another until it tracks down the site you requested. That site fulfills your request and returns the page you asked for. That pages bounces around the “cloud” of the internet, finally arriving back at your internet provider (telco) who passes it on to you. Your internet provider is the gateway for all requests and responses from the internet.

Now, it would be relatively easy for a telco to filter this exchange in either direction. Large companies do it all the time. My company uses a program called WebSense. I have internet access at work however I am unable to go to ESPN.com, for example. My company filters a number of things, sports, sex, etc… while allowing me to see other things, email, news, etc… It would be just as easy for a telco to do the same thing to all of it’s subscribers, limiting access to google, for example, while allowing access to yahoo.

That being said, and given my previous example, by your argument, it would be acceptable for the phone company to deny you access to call Pizza Place B while allow you access to Pizza Place A, right? That would be the free market, right? If you didn’t like it, you could sign up with another phone company.

The problem with the internet is that 1) there is no real competition and 2) people wouldn’t know why they can’t reach a website, they would just move on to the next. Removing Net Neutrality removes the free market from the internet. Telco’s would decide which sites succeed and which fail, not the consumer.

Posted by: Grant at April 24, 2006 10:08 PM
Comment #142867

Not being an expert either, wouldn’t the restricted sites providers sue telco? Isn’t this bill about letting the phone companies in on the cable tv business? Won’t that provide competition in an otherwise monopolistic business?

Posted by: gergle at April 25, 2006 1:40 AM
Comment #142871

And here I was worried about China on the internet. They want to sell slots. Go to a search and the highest bidder comes up first. Offtimes capitalism stinks.

Posted by: BillS at April 25, 2006 2:42 AM
Comment #142891

Adrienne and Paul: thanks to both of you for keeping this on the front burner. I had already signed over at Adrienne’s link, and just finished sending from Paul’s.

BillS: Capitalism is fine so long as it is regulated. Like any fast, short-tempered, ravenous beast, it poses a grave danger if not kept under careful watch. Pollution, False Advertising, Corporate Welfare, Shoddy / Dangerous Products, and Criminal Business Practises are all potential dangers of run-amok Capitalism. And, of course, they want to limit the Right To Redress for Wrongs committed against Consumers. `Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

Posted by: Betty Burke at April 25, 2006 7:19 AM
Comment #143101

There is no net neutrality problem. End of story. No violations, no planned content blocking. It just isn’t there. As such, neither should the government be there.

Posted by: pkp646 at April 25, 2006 5:41 PM
Comment #143167

I, too, have not seen any evidence that Telcos are blocking websites. Further, such a practice is prohibited (not that consumers would allow it anyway). It’s interesting that you mention corporate welfare (governmental subsidies for corporations) as a reason for asking government to regulate the Internet. In my view, allowing government to pick winners and losers on this issue opens the door for the very abuses you describe.

Posted by: tpwk at April 25, 2006 11:11 PM
Comment #143177

Well, the evidence is there. It’s already been done. The most prominant example was the Madison River case of 2004 (Vonage CEO Slams VoIP Blocking) where Madison River Communications blocked the use of Voice Over IP services to their subscribers. This case is what put the teeth into the network neutrality battle, and while the FCC has general guidelines, there is no law guarenteeing a free and open internet. This provision has been included in many bills over the last couple of years and has always been struck down, in large part due to the telecom and cable lobbies. Now why would telecom and cable companies be lobbying against this provision if 1) the practice was already prohibited and 2) they weren’t planning on duplicating the Madison River incident?

tpwk, you indicate that this practice is prohibited already. What law prohibits ISP’s from this practice?

You also indicate that consumers would not accept this, but consumers wouldn’t necessarily know why google won’t load while yahoo will, and even if they did, what’s to be done about it? I live in a medium sized city, yet I only have two options for the internet, one is telecom the other is cable. There isn’t any real competition here.

I’m not sure where you are going with the government regulation thing. Those who believe in net neutrality believe just the opposite. We don’t want government OR corporations deciding where we can go on the web or what services we can use. We don’t want government regulating the internet, we want a law that prevents corporations from regulating the internet.

As I mentioned, the internet, and internet companies and websites, should be allowed to grow, and be allowed to be effected by free market forces like any other business, without the external influence of ISP’s or the government.

Let’s let the public decide what should be available through the internet, not the ISP’s.

Posted by: Grant at April 26, 2006 1:33 AM
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