Monday, March 14, 2011

Net Neutrality

Senator Al Franken got an enthusiastic reception from all the techies at South by Southwest Interactive, talking about what he calls the First Amendment issue of our time, net neutrality. He framed the issue for this group as a way of avoiding having to sell out, just as he tried to avoid selling out in his early years as a comedian. In other words, net neutrality allows start-up companies, as well as independent filmmakers and musicians, the possibility of competing on a level playing field, with product sponsored by major corporations. Otherwise, these artists and entrepreneurs are going to have to surrender an unfair share of their future worth to distributors.

Franken was here to ask the help of the entrepreneurs in the audience, who may not realize the political power they possess by virtue of being job creators. This power is needed to combat the power of Comcast and other corporate lobbyists, who receive an unfair share of attention on Capitol Hill. They operate by using what Franken described as an old rhetorical device, called "making stuff up." For example, the effort to preserve net neutrality is portrayed as a government takeover of the internet, just as the effort to reform health insurance was falsely portrayed as a government takeover. Franken mentioned that a Congressman on the floor actually asked why we need net neutrality.  Why shouldn't we leave the net the way it is? But of course net neutrality is already the way it is, and that has allowed the internet to become the powerful force it is today. It is the effort to slow down or speed up the flow of information, based on how much content providers are willing to pay, that would represent a dangerous change.

Since the Senator asked the help of those in the audience to get the word out on this important issue, and we all said yes, I am obligated to post this to respond to his call.

9 comments:

  1. << Why shouldn't we leave the net the way it is? But of course net neutrality is already the way it is, and that has allowed the internet to become the powerful force it is today. >>

    Exactly.

    << It is the effort to slow down or speed up the flow of information, based on how much content providers are willing to pay, that would represent a dangerous change. >>

    Was that one sentence Franken's key point?

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  2. For the record -- I strongly agree with Franken's statement above. But not so much the one about "avoiding having to sell out". Nobody is forced to sell out. It is true, we may miss economic opportunity by not selling out, but that is why the world's oldest profession is so controversial.

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  3. For the record, Franken made clear that he does not think corporations are inherently evil, and he also has respect for people's choices, whether they want to sell out or not. Certainly from the SXSW trade show I visited this morning, it seems clear that lots of people in the tech field are quite eager and willing to sell out.

    Franken does have a bias in favor of encouraging people to pursue their dreams, of course, which is one reason he is fighting this issue. His key point, I think, at least to this audience, was that it is going to be a lot harder for a start up company or a struggling artist to get noticed if their content is streaming to the public at a slower rate and worse resolution from the content that giant corporations are making money from. But I heard him give a similar talk on this issue last year to a more political crowd, and there he emphasized the importance to free speech and democracy of preserving net neutrality.

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  4. Yes, corporations are not inherently evil, the same way sharks are not inherently evil. They simply want to devour everything that comes their way without regard for the consequences ...

    Have fun in Austin, guys!

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  5. I have no problem with a company slowing down your connection speed if you're downloading 10 gigabytes a day whereas most people are downloading 200 megabytes per day.

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  6. I don't think the issue is about cable companies being able to charge customers based on how much they download. The issue is whether they should be allowed to transmit data at a faster rate for content providers who are willing to pay more. In other words, Harrison, should Comcast be allowed to transmit your blog more slowly than the content that they receive a higher fee for? So that if people wanted to read your blog or my blog, they would have to wait a few extra minutes for that content to load. That would be like letting the phone company send preferred calls more quickly than ordinary calls, which has never been allowed.

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  7. This issue is especially important once we decided to allow a company like Comcast to acquire a network like NBC Universal. Do we want Comcast to have the power to send us their own programming at fast speeds while slowing down programming they transmit from other sources? It's about preserving competition. It's about preventing the potential abuse of power by a monopoly.

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  8. Great comments Joe, thank you.

    Adam, if a politician or any political party espoused your position they would immediately become unelectable.

    Harrison, interesting argument. I had not considered that. I think you are saying that quality of service might be tied to personal habit. That would be crazy if we charged for gasoline at the pump that way (reverse). Joe might like it :-)

    Personal habits do alter the price of car insurance, medical care and life insurance. There is currently little agruement about life and car insurance but plenty on medical costs/care. I am interested in more -- but Joe makes a compelling arguement.

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  9. Maybe my understanding is wrong but I thought it was about "throttling" certain users because they download a lot of data.

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