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<nettime> Congress Poised to Unravel the Internet (fwd)
Alan Sondheim on Mon, 21 Aug 2006 14:16:28 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Congress Poised to Unravel the Internet (fwd)


Forwarding this in relation to what has been called 'the fragility of good 
things' - i.e. here the kind of precipice the Net's always been on - and 
which all too often we take for granted. Sooner or later we'll be back on 
a descendent of Fidonet, if we can afford it, if Verizon allows us...

- Alan



---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 20 Aug 2006 22:29:08 -0400
From: moderator {AT} PORTSIDE.ORG
To: PORTSIDE {AT} LISTS.PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: Congress Poised to Unravel the Internet

Congress Poised to Unravel the Internet

By Jeffrey Chester
The Nation
August 18, 2006
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060828/internet_bill

Lured by huge checks handed out by the country's top lobbyists,
members of Congress could soon strike a blow against Internet freedom
as they seek to resolve the hot-button controversy over preserving
"network neutrality." The telecommunications reform bill now moving
through Congress threatens to be a major setback for those who hope
that digital media can foster a more democratic society. The bill not
only precludes net neutrality safeguards but also eliminates local
community oversight of digital communications provided by cable and
phone giants. It sets the stage for the privatized, consolidated and
unregulated communications system that is at the core of the phone and
cable lobbies' political agenda.

In both the House and Senate versions of the bill, Americans are
described as "consumers" and "subscribers," not citizens deserving
substantial rights when it comes to the creation and distribution
of digital media. A handful of companies stand to gain incredible
monopoly power from such legislation, especially AT&T, Comcast, Time
Warner and Verizon. They have already used their political clout in
Washington to secure for the phone and cable industries a stunning 98
percent control of the US residential market for high- speed Internet.

Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens, the powerful Commerce Committee
chair, is trying to line up votes for his "Advanced Telecommunications
and Opportunities Reform Act." It was Stevens who called the Internet
a "series of tubes" as he tried to explain his bill. Now the subject
of well-honed satirical jabs from The Daily Show, as well as dozens of
independently made videos, Stevens is hunkering down to get his bill
passed by the Senate when it reconvenes in September.

But thanks to the work of groups like Save the Internet, many Senate
Democrats now oppose the bill because of its failure to address net
neutrality. (Disclosure: The Center for Digital Democracy, where I
work, is a member of that coalition.) Oregon Democrat Senator Ron
Wyden, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and North Dakota Democrat Byron
Dorgan have joined forces to protect the US Internet. Wyden has placed
a "hold" on the bill, requiring Stevens (and the phone and cable
lobbies) to strong-arm sixty colleagues to prevent a filibuster. But
with a number of GOP senators in tight races now fearful of opposing
net neutrality, the bill's chances for passage before the midterm
election are slim. Stevens, however, may be able to gain enough
support for passage when Congress returns for a lame- duck session.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Thus far, the strategy of the phone and cable lobbies has been to
dismiss concerns about net neutrality as either paranoid fantasies
or political discontent from progressives. "It's a made-up issue,"
AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre said in early August at a meeting of state
regulators. New Hampshire Republican Senator John Sununu claims that
net neutrality is "what the liberal left have hung their hat on,"
suggesting that the outcry over Internet freedom is more partisan than
substantive. Other critics of net neutrality, including many front
groups, have tried to frame the debate around unsubstantiated fears
about users finding access to websites blocked, pointing to a 2005 FCC
policy statement that "consumers are entitled to access the lawful
Internet content of their choice." But the issue of blocking has been
purposefully raised to shift the focus from what should be the real
concerns about why the phone and cable giants are challenging federal
rules requiring nondiscriminatory treatment of digital content.

Verizon, Comcast and the others are terrified of the Internet as
we know it today. Net neutrality rules would jeopardize their
far-reaching plans to transform our digital communications system.
Both the cable and phone industries recognize that if their broadband
pipes (now a monopoly) must be operated in an open and neutral
fashion, they will face real competition--and drastically reduced
revenues--from an ever-growing number of lower-cost phone and video
providers. Alcatel, a major technology company helping Verizon and
AT&T build their broadband networks, notes in one business white paper
that cable and phone companies are "really competing with the Internet
as a business model, which is even more formidable than just competing
with a few innovative service aggregators such as Google, Yahoo and
Skype." (Skype is a telephone service provider using the Internet.)

Policy Racket

The goal of dominating the nation's principal broadband pipeline
serving all of our everyday (and ever-growing) communications needs is
also a major motivation behind opposition to net neutrality. Alcatel
and other broadband equipment firms are helping the phone and cable
industries build what will be a reconfigured Internet--one optimized
to generate what they call "triple play" profits from "high revenue
services such as video, voice and multimedia communications." Triple
play means generating revenues from a single customer who is using
a bundle of services for phone, TV and PC-- at home, at work or via
wireless devices. The corporate system emerging for the United States
(and elsewhere in the world) is being designed to boost how much we
spend on services, so phone and cable providers can increase what
they call our "ARPU" (average revenue per user). This is the "next
generation" Internet system being created for us, one purposefully
designed to facilitate the needs of a mass consumerist culture.

Absent net neutrality and other safeguards, the phone/cable plan
seeks to impose what is called a "policy-based" broadband system that
creates "rules" of service for every user and online content provider.
How much one can afford to spend would determine the range and quality
of digital media access. Broadband connections would be governed
by ever-vigilant network software engaged in "traffic policing" to
insure each user couldn't exceed the "granted resources" supervised by
"admission control" technologies. Mechanisms are being put in place
so our monopoly providers can "differentiate charging in real time
for a wide range of applications and events." Among the services that
can form the basis of new revenues, notes Alcatel, is online content
related to "community, forums, Internet access, information, news,
find your way (navigation), marketing push, and health monitoring."

Missing from the current legislative debate on communications is how
the plans of cable and phone companies threaten civic participation,
the free flow of information and meaningful competition. Nor do the
House or Senate versions of the bill insure that the public will
receive high-speed Internet service at a reasonable price. According
to market analysts, the costs US users pay for broadband service is
more than eight times higher than what subscribers pay in Japan and
South Korea. (Japanese consumers pay a mere 75 cents per megabit.
South Koreans are charged only 73 cents. But US users are paying $6.10
per megabit. Internet service abroad is also much faster than it is
here.)

Why are US online users being held hostage to higher rates at slower
speeds? Blame the business plans of the phone and cable companies.
As technology pioneer Bob Frankston and PBS tech columnist Robert
Cringely recently explained , the phone and cable companies see our
broadband future as merely a "billable event." Frankston and Cringely
urge us to be part of a movement where we--and our communities--are
not just passive generators of corporate profit but proactive
creators of our own digital futures. That means we would become
owners of the "last mile" of fiber wire, the key link to the emerging
broadband world. For about $17 a month, over ten years, the high-speed
connections coming to our homes would be ours--not in perpetual hock
to phone or cable monopolists. Under such a scenario, notes Cringely,
we would just pay around $2 a month for super- speed Internet access.

Regardless of whether Congress passes legislation in the fall,
progressives need to create a forward-looking telecom policy agenda.
They should seek to insure online access for low-income Americans,
provide public oversight of broadband services, foster the development
of digital communities and make it clear that the public's free speech
rights online are paramount. It's now time to help kill the Stevens
"tube" bill and work toward a digital future where Internet access
is a right--and not dependent on how much we can pay to "admission
control."

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