Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lost in the noise: House committee voted to kill the Internet

(Updated again below)

There has been so much going on lately with plans to nuke Iran and the like, that a major story seems to have slipped under the radar for the entire blogosphere.

We've been jawing for weeks about the plans that Big Telecom have for discriminating between the bits they like and the bits they don't flowing through their pipes into our houses. Last week Matt @ MyDD flagged the very dangerous bill working through the House right now.

That bill took a big step toward being enacted into law last week, and it seems nobody noticed.
A House subcommittee handed phone companies a victory Wednesday by voting 27-4 to advance a bill that would make it easier for them to deliver television service over the Internet and clearing the way for all Internet carriers to charge more for speedier delivery.

The lopsided vote was a defeat for Internet and technology firms like Google and Microsoft, which had hoped to amend the bill to enforce a principle called network neutrality and preserve the status quo under which all Internet traffic is treated equally.

Earlier in the day, the subcommittee voted 23-8 to reject an amendment by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., that would have inserted specific language designed to enforce network neutrality and prevent the feared creation of fast and slow lanes on the Internet.

Markey said his amendment was necessary to protect the "Internet as an engine of innovation" and ensure that new services had an equal chance to sprout.
Supporters painted defeat of Markey's net neutrality amendment in bleak terms.

"Members from both sides of the aisle endorsed a plan which will permit cable and phone companies to construct 'pay as you surf, pay as you post' toll booths for the Internet," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington.

But Sonia Arrison, director of technology studies for the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, dismissed concerns that the proposed bill would lead to a two-tiered Internet.

"There's plenty of competition," Arrison said. "The market will take care of it."

Ah, yes... the market. Just as the market driven television and radio airwaves have been well-allocated by the market? Just as the oligopolistic and largely bootlicking newspaper industry reflects the market?

Cough, cough (bullshit) cough.

I don't mean to say that the free market is a bad thing. It is a good thing, but it has fatal flaws. Perhaps the biggest one is that in many industries the big just keep getting bigger, and eventually dominate in ways that hurt everyone else. I'll save the economics lesson for another time, but there are industries where, if left alone, the market eventually reduces to no more than a handful of "competitors" who don't actually do much competing.

Telecom is one of those industries. A few players have now bought and paid for enough Congresscritters (and, presumably, Senators) to get what they want, which is unfettered power -- to set prices, of course, and to grow larger, but that ain't all.

There is now an ugly symbiosis between the telecoms and their regulators in Congress. An unfettered, content-neutral Internet has zero direct cost to the telecoms, but muzzling the political rabble certainly won't displease them -- the more you own, the more you tend to value order. On the other hand, we have become a growing thorn in the side of the political establishment, and making it easier for their corporate keepers to keep us out is a high (if unstated) priority. So I have no doubt that, behind closed doors, the ability to shut us up was integral to the game plan.

From the carrier's standpoint, my ones and zeros are no different from Instapundit's ones and zeros, which are no different from Sesamestreet.com's ones and zeros. But mine are the ones with a bullseye painted on them. So it doesn't surprise me that the conservative blogs aren't talking about this. But I am surprised that the left hemiblogosphere isn't making a serious stink about this.

Anyway, six Dems joined the evil Republican majority on this bill in the subcommittee vote. It now goes before the House Energy and Commerce Committeewhere it is expected to be taken up the week of April 24.

We need to get our shit together and make some serious noise about this. We can't afford to lose this fight, or we may not have the tools for the next one.

Update: I cross-posted @ dKos, and it got a ton more comments over there. Several of the commenters there, like Jeff Kaplan here, pointed that a bunch of folks have been paying attention and are taking action. Go here right now and sign up to make your displeasure known. Later tonight I will try to pull together a buch more resources and update this again with more action items.

Use it or lose it, people.

Update #2

OK, friends. This is where the rubber meets to road -- where we protect the real "crown jewel" of our democracy, which is our ability to effectively communicate and participate in it. So do the following:

  • Go to the Center for Digital Democracy, which has collected a bunch more sites and action items.
  • Here's the list of members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. If any of them represent you, contact them directly.
And as Jane Hamsher would ask, come back and tell me what you have done. The line for gold stars forms to the left.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feel like a surf, er... serf, uhhh... subject yet?

4:14 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

You're right to broadcast this news. It's important and will affect every one in the U.S., eventually.

You're quite off base that it received no notice in the blogosphere or news. Try googling "net neutrality" and you'll find plenty of news, including attention by mainstream media like LA Times, SF Chronicle, etc. And quite a few blogs, including my own.

But I'm with you on its importance.

Jeff Kaplan
Founder & Director
Open ePolicy Group
Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Blog: http://jakaplan.blogspot.com

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

scary. in most of the US there is only one choice of broadband internet access - if that. to dismiss concerns with "the market will solve it" is worse than naive - it's cynical and hateful to the average american.

this measure is like saying that telephone access won't be harmed by monopolistic practices because 2/3 American communities have a Western Union telegraph office nearby.

pathetic. stupid. anti-capitalist. anti-consumer. anti-american.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Eric Soderstrom said...

Oh please don't let this pass.

And I have to disagree with you on free markets being a "good thing." I entertained this notion for a long time. And I've had a running debate with a good friend of mine on this idea over the years. The Libertarian idea of free markets is an even bigger utopian idea than any socialist fantasy.

Human nature may be inherently good when it comes to helping those who are suffering right in front of you. But greed kicks in in any free market and it just won't work without regulation and enforcement.

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If an RBOC or cable company can decide what sites run fast or slow, can thay decide that a site they don't like runs REAL slow, like stoped?

What's to say that the companies don't use REAL SLOW to censor sites that they, or their friends don't like? For example, the US govement censors what sites our troops can visit, even when they are on R&R. Could AT&T SLOW left wing blogs, or stop you seeing xxx and yyy because they, or their right wing friends dont like it?

If they have site by site pricing do you think they will give MoveOn the same price structure as their friends?

See where this gets us? And once the pricing model has paid for band with and bit filtering controls to be put in place, it's just so easy to abuse, oops I meen adjust, during election time.

You could be filtered and never know it. 404 is dead, now you just get dead slow.

8:36 PM  
Blogger John Peltier said...

I'm supporting Common Cause and urge everyone to pass this along!

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isent my 2 cents to free press.net

1:09 PM  

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