‘Net Take Over Attempt Now Under Way

If one felt compelled to search for evidence that the phone and cable companies STILL don’t get the Internet, that person would have to look no further than the ongoing attempts by the Regional Bell Operating Companies and cable companies to Lenin-ize the Internet.

One of Vladimir Lenin’s more noted quotes was that “freedom of the press belongs to those who own the presses.”

The phone and cable companies are trying to legislatively claim ownership to the Internet by seeking permission to allow them to sell prioritized access to websites. The deals would be between online entities and the networks, but it would fundamentally alter the Internet.

Jonathan Krim of the Washington Post explains how
in a column in that paper today. Here are three paragraphs that nicely sum up the power of the Internet as it has manifested itself thus far:

Compared with, say, the banking, utility or telephone systems, the Internet is indeed barely regulated. But what gave the Internet its disruptive power and exhilarating appeal was that it was barely owned .

Suddenly, the mom-and-pop store in Des Moines could advertise and sell to the world, without paying the freight of someone else’s marketing apparatus. Intellectual and artistic works could be shared rapidly, at little or no cost. Games could be created and distributed without ever having to manufacture a physical item.

We may think of it as the information superhighway, but really the Net has been a gigantic bypass, circumventing barriers to entry and whole swaths of middlemen (think travel agents or, I’m sad to say, newspaper owners) who are now trying to figure out how to survive.

Krim provides the great service of linking the looming threats to the Internet to the fatally flawed policies developed and implemented by Michael Powell’s FCC (‘competition’ between duopolies of closed networks owned by either phone or cable companies) and the general resistance of industries that feel threatened by the Internet’s disruptive power:

But large stakeholders don’t sit idle in the face of this kind of uncertainty and upheaval. For them (and many others), private ownership brings efficiency and entrepreneurship.

So, much of the lobbying and jockeying over the past several years have been efforts to restore order by assigning property-like rights to cyberspace wherever possible.

Thus, we’ve had the end of requirements that network owners lease their pipes to competitors that who want to provide Internet access. We’ve seen the lengthening of copyright terms, an explosion of patents, and moves by companies to block governments from adopting open-source software standards or from offering their own wireless Internet systems.

But even Krim is taken aback by the power grab of the network owners as perhaps most starkly articulated by William Smith, BellSouth’s chief technology officer.

In Smith’s view, network owners should be able to, for a fee, give one Web vendor’s traffic priority over the traffic of a competitor.

In this world, if the travel site Orbitz pays the freight, it will work faster and better on your computer than Travelocity. And of course any service provided by the network carrier itself will go to the head of the line.

Raising barriers to entry is 180° opposite of what the Internet has been about. It is the Internet’s ability to lower the barrier to market industry in so many fields that has made it the powerful economic engine that it has become. If it were not so, would the phone and cable companies be making such a brazen grab to capture it?

But, the thing to remember is this: phone and cable companies have not been responsible for a single innovation in the entire history of the Internet.

•• Packet switching, the basic idea of the Internet, was rejected by AT&T as threatening is business model.

•• The phone companies argued for inclusion of the concept of Reciprocal Compensation in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 because they were certain that, since they had all the customers, the competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) would have to pay them the bulk of the dollars to complete calls. The Internet happened, CLECs hosted Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and much more call traffic went from the customers of the RBOCs to those ISPs served by CLECs. The RBOCs tried to stiff the CLECs on the bills and were able to withhold enough of the money until many CLECs were forced into bankruptcy. By that time, the RBOCs didn’t mind making the payments, the CLECs had been driven from the field.

•• Phone and cable companies have been pushing for close to a decade to restrict access to their networks, for legislative and regulatory permission to drive independent Internet Service Providers (like Earthlink, Net Zero and others) from their networks, particularly their high-speed networks. They have succeeded.

Now, the push is on to be able to shape their customers web experiences based on fees paid by companies to the providers.

What has made the web powerful has been the ability of the end user to find their own way to the the sites and resources that have responded to their needs and wants. What the phone and cable companies are trying to do to the Internet itself is the same thing that Cox and BellSouth have tried to do in Lafayette: substitute their judgment for yours. Their respective judgments are shaped only by their financial interests and those interests are too narrow to include OUR interests.

Contact your senators and congressmen today and tell them to oppose the incumbent carriers attempts to take over the Internet. Demand that Network Neutrality be required of every carrier that wants to sell Internet service in this country.