Thursday, September 23, 2010

OPINION: Verizon, Google Pledge Allegiance to Net Neutrality - Right!

Can We Talk?
By Jack Fairweather

The "Legislative Framework Proposal" jointly announced last week by the chief executive officers of Verizon and Google represents the tip of the latest corporate iceberg. Following the well-worn recipe for a charm offensive, Eric Schmidt and Ivan Seidenberg wanted to be sure to register with the public their bedrock commitment to equal access to the internet for all (so-called "net neutrality") as the telecommunications industry moves into new generations of technology. We citizens should know by now to be wary of the rest of that iceberg, knowing that charm offensives mounted by unaccountable entities with the power to directly influence Congress are likely to turn out to be, well, offensive.
The most visible and promising (from a profit standpoint) new technological wrinkle is wireless technology, as cell telephones sprout all manner of new digital functions received via radio waves rather than through good old-fashioned wiring. One can scarcely spot a kid or adult anywhere these days who isn't furiously pecking at some kind of handheld device. The question on everyone's mind going forward is whether or not communications behemoths (including other major players like Comcast, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile) will continue to offer all users the same level of internet access and speed regardless of application type or message content, or choose to boost profits and/or eliminate competition by introducing a tiered system of access or speed based on ability to pay what could become outlandish sums.
To the extent the history of corporations clearly reflects their structural need for constant growth, the answer is obvious.
The Verizon-Google proposal outlines several areas of operation and/or principles to which the companies are claiming fidelity in maintaining an open internet: consumer protection, non-discrimination, transparency, network management, additional online services, wireless broadband, case by case enforcement, regulatory authority, and enhanced broadband access for Americans.
It all sounds great, if slightly wonky, however less invested media analysts are already pointing out the true meanings of the document: adoption of its principles, which largely apply only to the "old" wired technology, would serve to excuse Google and Verizon (and therefore every other communications giant) from exercising the most fundamental principles of an open internet as they increasingly move into the realm of wireless technology.
At the same time, the companies continue to whip the dead horse of “corporate social responsibility,” by prohibiting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversight capabilities - the same corporate “trust us” mentality that has consistently proven disastrous to the public.
Mistrust of government regulation is in many cases justified, as we've seen in industry after industry how agency approval is purchased by the deep pockets of corporations. But however tenuous relying on the FCC to regulate the telecommunications industry may be, at least the record-keeping required when government is involved affords the option of inspection by a third party (we citizens) to uncover funny business. Trusting corporations to do the right thing eliminates any such possibility. The very suggestion would be laughable if not for the fact public policy in most instances relies on this philosophical fraud.
Verizon's and Google's insistence their document is only food for thought should not be believed. According to "the phone and cable industries that control Internet access for 97 percent of Americans are spending tens of millions of dollars on nearly 500 Washington lobbyists."
Don't think for a moment those lobbyists aren't busy right now twisting arms to cement the industry-friendly principles of the Legislative Framework Proposal.
The ace up their sleeves? The millions of dollars media corporations routinely pour into election campaigns. In May, 74 members of Congress, including Democrat Harry Teague of New Mexico, signed onto an industry-drafted letter urging the Federal Communications Commission to abandon efforts to protect Net Neutrality and promote universal broadband access.
The absolute bottom line is that telecommunications companies manipulate forces of nature to make their profits. The physical elements involved do not belong to businesses but to us, even though the actions of industry often deny this fundamental truth.
Too many of us have the whole democracy/business thing upside down. We've been brainwashed into believing what's good for corporations is good for us - ironically by the constant bombardment of corporate media itself. That's what makes this issue so critical - we are talking about the future of something with the proven capability to define the way we think about who flourishes in our society, We the People or soulless profit centers.
Instead of compromising our ideals so as not to inconvenience corporations, we need to start demanding those entities play by rules WE lay down, laws that are consistent with our common welfare. Public policy not only trumps business policy, but must also define it. If Verizon, Google, or any other corporation can't figure out how to do that, fine. Let them retire from the field while we find someone else who will.

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