How’s That Net Neutrality Thing Working Out?

The free-wheelin’ days of the Internet are numbered. The Internet now becomes subject to Federal encroachment with the new net neutrality regs. It is not clear if the FCC has the authority to regulate the Internet, and that proposition might be tested in court, but they went ahead and grabbed the power anyway.

The most immediate impact is on Internet stocks: cable is up, phone companies are down, and content companies have gone up a bit then plateaued. Google and Apple went down when the news broke.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this is breaking when WIkiLeaks is under assault. Julian Assange is in jail under a somewhat odd (if not trumped up) sex charge from Sweden, and he may fall into the clutches of the US government.

Where are the civil liberty folks when we need them? Is it that hard to compare WikiLeaks to The New York Times, and the private who illegally leaked to Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers? Or are web sites about to lose the protections of the First Amendment, including Freedom of the Press?

Instead, it is left to the WSJ of all places to expose the forces behind net neutrality, which are probably not what you think they are. John Fund unveiled what led to this decision and the motivations behind it – which are to control content, not simply price the fast lanes of the info highway:

The net neutrality vision for government regulation of the Internet began with the work of Robert McChesney, a University of Illinois communications professor who founded the liberal lobby Free Press in 2002. Mr. McChesney’s agenda? “At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies,” he told the website SocialistProject in 2009. “But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”

There is a lot of blather flying around the blogosphere over this, and over McChesney’s background, and the story could easily blow this out of all proportion. The current administration did, however, try to shut Fox News out of the flow of press briefings by the While House, and have floated the idea of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine in order to shut down talk radio in general and critics like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck in particular. Their record on a free press is already suspect.

The FCC decision today is much more limited, but might be the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. This is the angle taken by TechCrunch, which views the fight as just beginning. GigaOm focused on the disparate treatment of wireline and wireless networks, expecting wireless broadband prices to rise. VentureBeat found the exemption of wireless networks “a bit of a head scratcher.”

The capstone to this story might be the old adage to be careful what you wish for. Big Internet content companies like Google have been lobbying for some sort of net neutrality rules, and may someday wish they had left things alone.

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About Duncan Davidson 228 Articles

Affiliation: NetService Ventures

Duncan is an advisor to NetService Ventures, where he focuses on digital media and the mobile Internet.

Previously he was at four start-ups: Xumii, a mobile social service based on a Social Addressbook; SkyPilot Networks, the performance leader of wireless mesh systems for last-mile access, where he was the founding CEO; Covad Communications (Amex: DVW, $9B market cap at the peak), the leading independent DSL access provider, where he was the founding Chairman; InterTrust Technologies ($9B market cap at the peak), the pioneer in digital rights management technologies, now owned by Sony and Philips, where he was SVP Business Development and the pitchman for the IPO.

Before these ventures, Duncan was a partner at Cambridge Venture Partners, an early-stage venture firm, and managing partner of Gemini McKenna, a joint venture between Regis McKenna's marketing firm and Gemini Consulting, the global management consulting arm of Cap Gemini.

He serves on the board or is an adviser to Aggregate Knowledge (content discovery), Livescribe (digital pen), AllVoices (citizen journalism), Xumii (mobile social addressbook), Verismo (Internet settop box), and Widevine (DRM for IPTV).

Visit: Duncan Davidson's Blogs

3 Comments on How’s That Net Neutrality Thing Working Out?

  1. Really? The vision of a free and open Internet, where you can communicate with any party without asking permission from carriers, only dates back to 2002? Try the 1960s.

    I’m in favor of government regulation of the Internet through the principles of Net Neutrality. The big reason is, the government actually has to respect the First Amendment, and Net Neutrality (in its pure form, not the half-hearted corporate selloutathon that the FCC just passed) says that, if you’re in the business of carrying Internet traffic, you have a responsibility to treat all traffic equitably. You can’t block, slow, or charge for 3rd party services for the purpose of extracting rents.

    This is important, because the cable companies and other carriers don’t do much in the way of innovation, not compared to the blisteringly fast innovation that occurs above the network layer. Face it, the problem of carrying data from point A to point B is a solved problem.

    In the name of “preserving innovation” on the level of the pipeline, opponents of Net Neutrality are giving carriers the leverage to extract rents that they aren’t entitled to, and allowing them to choke off superior services in favor of their own.

    Show me one single, solitary paragraph in the new ruling that allows government to regulate what ideas travel the Net. You can’t, because there is nothing even remotely like that here. If there were, any court in the land would throw it out on First Amendment grounds.

    Net Neutrality has nothing to do with Julian Assange or Wikileaks, and it has nothing to do with government interfering with free expression on the Net. But it has everything to do with keeping private corporations from interfering with my free expression on the Net.

    The alternative is nationalization of all Internet-related infrastructure. The Internet is too important a means of communication and civic engagement to let carriers choose which sites I can access, whether for personal or political reasons.

    • You cannot equate the Net Neutrality movement with an authoritarian drive to give the government censorship control over the Net.

      Here’s an analogy: Say I owned a private road. The government proposes a rule that says I have to stop charging people double if their ultimate destination is a competitor’s store, and that I have to let anyone who pays a fee drive on it.

      When I go to the next city council meeting, I bring along an angry mob of folks who are screaming about the government’s new plan to “spy on them while they drive,” and tell them “when and where they can drive.”

      Whatever I said to get the people out to the meeting must have been pure fabrication.

  2. Net Neutrality is an answer to a question nobody outside of the academy has asked. Net access is widespread. No problem there.

    You know what? The internet costs money! Millions of dollars of hardware had to be installed and/or upgraded to allow broadband access.
    It should NOT be treated like commons. It isn’t common!
    Nobody had to build the airwaves; all that’s needed is a transmitter.
    As the article notes, it’s odd indeed that wireless net access is exempt.
    That’s a common. The internet is not. Even wireless must somewhere hook up to the actual internet “backbone”.

    This is nothing but a power grab from a career academic socialist/marxist,
    clouded in “capitalism bad” rhetoric so young folks will buy into it.

    What part of “the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control” don’t you neutrality believers understand? This has NOTHING to do with neutrality of the network! That is just a typically misleading marketing name dreamt up by academics who have been targetting the ‘net for years.

    This is EXACTLY like the “fairness doctrine” which had nothing to do with fairness whatsoever. I’m disgusted that anyone who spends enough time on the ‘net to make a commment is in favor of this. It’s just another case of Obama appointing an extremist and allowing him to create a fiefdom.

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