The Democratic Congress' "tough choice" on net neutrality

With power comes responsibility and with responsibility comes tough choices. Both Speaker-elect Pelosi and Majority Leader-elect Reid have pledged to "govern from the center." The operative word here is "govern." While net neutrality may have been a good "political" issue for the Democrats, it is not a good "governing issue" for them.

With control of Congress, the Democrats can now make policy and pass legislation, which means, very practically, that they have to live with the real world consequences of their legislative rhetoric and decisions -- because Wall Street, markets and voters are taking them very seriously.

Political reality check for net neutrality in a Democratic Congress

 

Conventional wisdom among net neutrality proponents is that a new Democratic Congress is good for net neutrality. Proponents point to the fact that the Senate Commerce Committee vote was 11-11 and two of the Senators that voted “noâ€? (Allen VA and Burns MT) were defeated in the election. They also point to the fact that Ed Markey, a big net neutrality supporter, is now Chairman of the Telecom Subcommittee the subcommittee that defeated his net neutrality amendment last year. They also point to the fact that Speaker-elect Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader elect Reid are also big net neutrality supporters. Those are the positives and they are real and significant, but are they enough?   

Election impact on Communications and the Democrats universal broadband industrial policy

FCC Democratic Commissioner Copps editorial in the Washington Post, America's Internet Disconnect" is a very good guide to how the debate over communications policy and net neutrality will shift with Democratic asendancy in Congress.  

I have the utmost respect for Commissioner Copps personally even though I generally disagree with his conclusions when we look at the same set of facts or analysis. It probably results from his greater trust in government than markets and my greate trust in markets than government.

SEC Chairman encouraging Companies to blog!

Today is a big day in the history of blogging because the SEC Chairman Cox has gone on record effectivley encouraging companies to blog -- see the original AP story that highlights the SEC's Chairman's comment on Sun Microsystem's blog.

Corporations to date have been reluctant to embrace blogging technology in part I believe out of the fear of the unknown. One of those unknowns was clearly what the SEC and markets would think.

Google: Tech's discriminator in chief?

When financial types describe Google's growth juggernaut they routinely say that 99% of Google's revenues come from search advertising. Remarkably they have turned search advertising from nothing 8 years ago to a roughly $10 billion a year business. Truly extraordinary. But how did they do it? Through economic discrimination, the highest bidder wins. Basic market forces.

So what's my point? Google's entire business model is based on discriminating against websites -- what they say net neutrality is needed to prevent. 

  • Google implores Congress to not allow broadband companies to discriminate against any website or content based on how much they pay.
    • Google's highly successful economic discrimination business model should be illegal for Google's potential broadband competitiors. 
  • Does the little guy have a chance to outbid the big guys to get their business on Google's  first page of search results or will they be relegated to the "second tier" page where few ever tread?
  • Google's hypocrisy and competition double standard is especially galling, becuase Google has comparable market share in their market as DSL or cable providers have in their market.

FCC rules no Net Neutrality for Broadband over Powerlines

Kudos to the FCC for unanimously ruling that the promising "third pipe" into the home, Broadband over Powerlines (BPL) is an unregulated information service.

  • The import of this decision is that it means no net neutrality for BPL.
  • The FCC now has ruled all major intermodal broadband compeitors, cable modem, DSL, wireless broadband, and BPL to be information services and not subject to net neutrality regulation. Hooray! You go regulators!
  • It is ironic and incongruous however, that the FCC Democratic commissioners who voted no net neutrality for BPL, are reportedly still holding up the AT&T-Bell South deal in part over wanting to add more net neutrality conditions to that merger.

Please also make note of Chairman Martin's clever use of the word "neutrality" in his statement:

  • "I believe that it is the Commission’s responsibility to help ensure technological and competitive neutrality in communications markets."
  • The Chairman is dead right to remind everyone that net "neutrality:"
    • is not technologically neutral -- it would pick edge technologies over network intelligence technologies
    • Nor is it competitively neutral since it effectively would pick tech competitors over communications competitors.

Check out this great new analogy for why net neutrality is so off-base -- "food-neutrality"

Every now an then someone comes up with a new great analogy that really helps us get to the heart of a matter. Canadian Mark Goldberg's telecom trends blog really hit the nail on the head in this post. 

Let's go right to his analogy:

  • Videotron boss Robert Depatie: "also spoke from his past business experience.
Before I worked at Videotron, I was in the food business – we were a 'content producer' in the parlance of today's communications business. To reach our customers, we dealt with a distribution channel, in our case, grocery stores.

To reach our customers we needed to convince our distribution channels to place our product in advantageous positions (end of aisles, eye-to-shoulder height on shelves – too high, or too low and sales suffered), and to help promote our product. We paid for that service. We compensated the distributor for his 'help' in making our product more successful.

  • Not all producers pay stores for product placement. And I have noticed that my neighbourhood grocery stores and drug stores give preferred placement to their house brands. But I don't see people shouting about food neutrality. There is no 'Save the soft drinks' movement. Although with winter approaching I would like to find Red River cereal more prominently displayed, I shop around until I find it. I'm not calling for a federal inquiry as to why Sugar Zombies are easier to find at every store.

There is limited shelf space next to the cash registers or at the end of each aisle. How do you think the decisions get made as to which products get displayed there?" [bold added for emphasis]

Diller's IAC unabashedly showcases their Net Neutrality competition double standard

Newsweek's article "Diller Weaves a Web" is a very clear example of the gross competition double standard that tech companies are pursuing in asking for a "non-discrimination" principle to only apply to competitive broadband companies but not to themselves.

  • (Barry Diller is CEO of IAC which is one of the six online giants funding the "ItsOurNet" coalition along with Google, Yahoo, ebay, Amazon and Microsoft.) 
  • Until now, I hadn't been lumping IAC in with the other online giants becuase their name is hardly a household brand although many of thier holdings are: ask.com, ticketmaster, etc.
  • Now that IAC is shamelessly trumpeting the great value of its "discrimination-based" Internet business model to pump its stock, I can't resist shining a well-deserved spotlight on IAC.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have any trouble with IAC pursuing this business model. Â I am only needling IAC for its bald, self-serving hypocrisy of seeking to get the government to protect them from potentially "discriminatory" competition so they can freely "discriminate" against the little guy website that ItsOurNet claims to be supporting.

Let's look at an interesting quote from the Newsweek article:

Google's self-serving "innovation without permission"

Something that Alan Davidson, head of Google's Washington office, said at our NVTC net neutrality debate yesterday has been troubling me. He said Google believed in "innovation without permission."

While "innovation without permission" may be a useful mantra in encouraging Google folks from not getting bureaucratic and to "think outside the box" -- it's very troubling because it seems it is their public policy too.

I guess it means Google doesn't need any property owners' permission to innovate.

  • That must be why the publishers are suing them over digitizing their books without permission.
  • That must be why the newspapers are suing them for using their headlines and photos without permission.
  • That must be why trademark owners are suing them for using their trademarks for commercial purposes without permission. 

What a buzz kill to have to ASK for permission to innovate. Doesn't everyone understand that Google is just "liberating" that property for the common good and just earning a little commission along the way for their altruism? What's the harm in that? They are not "doing evil" are they?

Net neutrality is an online fundraising ploy masequerading as public policy

I launched the debate this morning at the NVTC forum on Net Neutrality with the following comment: "Net neutrality is an online fundraising ploy masequerading as public policy." It certainly focused the debate on the real reason why this issue has become so big so quickly. I pointed out that on substance it was a bogus issue. No substantiated problem or consumer harm and that all the substantive assertions made by net neutrality proponents have proven false. When the substance was so weak and the threat only theoretical, there had to be more going on.

I focused on the dirty little secret that partially-motivated many net neutrality proponents --which is how super-productive it is for groups that want to raise money online to scare people that there are boogymen that want to take the Internet away from them. Net neutrality has clearly become one of the most efficient ways to "shake the money tree."  

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Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths