Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Politicians, guns and money

It is ironic that the big corporations, who are most often decrying loudest the intervention of regulation, are now bringing out the big guns (read: money) to bring more regulation to the Internet. It is self-serving regulation, to be sure, meant to benefit the big guys and their friends, but hypocritical. If you have been living under a rock, you may not have heard the buzz of the season: Net Neutrality. Major telecom companies and others who stand to gain are lobbying heavily to have control over what they charge various users of the Information Super Highway. "The telco and cable giants want to fence off the Internet: one area for the haves — who will pay a premium to enjoy life in the fast lane — and the other for the have-nots." Robert McChesney, who runs the Free Press website and emails me the news articles that affect the free press everyday, was on Democracy Now! a couple days ago, and put it this way:

ROBERT McCHESNEY: Their lobbying money, which is an extraordinary amount. And they can't spend too much, because the future is they can control the internet. And what they want to do desperately is be in a situation where they can rank order websites. And websites that come through the fastest to us, to the users of the internet, are the ones that pay them money or the ones they own. And websites that don't pay them come through slower, much harder to get, or in some cases, they’ll have the power to take them off the internet altogether.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I mean, right now, the user pays per month for use of the internet, and that’s how these companies get their money. So they’d be both charging the user and the content provider, the one who makes the website?

ROBERT McCHESNEY: And there’s no technological justification for this. There’s no economic justification. It's pure corrupt crony capitalism. They're basically using their political leverage to change this so they get a huge new revenue stream, and it gives them an inordinate amount of power over the internet. I mean, I think what people have to remember is that I think what’s excited us all about the internet was the idea that anyone could start a website at a fairly nominal fee and be competing equally then with General Motors, with General Electric, with Rupert Murdoch. We all had a shot at it. Democracy Now! had a shot right next to FOX News.

What this will do is change that, because that genius was built on policy, not technology. It was a common carrier requirement of the Telecom Act, which required the phone companies to give all websites equal access. They want to get rid of that, because they see enormous amounts of money if they can decide which website gets the inside lane and which website is on the dirt path.

But, he also said, with public outcry reaching a fever pitch, congress is showing signs of resistance to the bill being lobbied by these media oligopolies. Among the unlikely but less hypocritical opposition to the bill are the Gun Owners of America. "The concept of Network Neutrality has unfortunately been misunderstood by many conservatives, libertarians, and other champions of the free market. That’s too bad, because the free market essence of the Internet is exactly what would be lost without Network Neutrality," says the director of their Internet operations.

So, is it hypocritical of me, a socialist, to also be a champion of Net Neutrality? No, because Net Neutrality, as the first amendment of the Internet, means the Internet is accessible to and useable by everyone, not just fat cats who want to get rich off the spoils of the market, but don't want to share it with the country whose infrastructure made it possible.

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