Congress Vote Loses On Net Neutrality

By Nathan Weinberg

The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee voted 34-22 against a bill that was supposed to aid in the fight for net neutrality. (a refresher: telcos want to charge extra to companies like Google for higher speed data pipes, in order to give their own super-high-speed services, like TV over IP, an unfair advantage) The battle is far, far from over, but a good opportunity to get the politicians on our side (us being content providers and net surfers) has passed by.

Blame Joe Barton, Texas Republican congressman who decided this was a really big deal. Which would have been fine, except he wanted it to lose.

Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, pressured his fellow GOP members to vote against Markey’s amendment–even going so far as to remind them that he opposed it and to call in wayward colleagues who had strayed out into the hallway.

Barton argued that Net neutrality proponents were overstating their case and exaggerating the dangers of a more laissez-faire approach. “I don’t think all the Draconian things they (predict) will happen if we don’t adopt their amendment,” he said.

While I, and most of the technology industry, would agree more with the Republican position on a laissez-faire approach to business, in this case, monopolistic businesses are trying to hurt both consumers and hundreds of businesses.

In many areas, your particular broadband provider is your only option, and you won’t get the same access to a public utility (the internet) as you would in a free market. The government will step in to prevent these guys abusing their positions, or at least they should. Forget free markets, the government still does and always has had a responsibility to protect consumers and businesses from monopolies.

Just so you know, the “honorable” Congressman Barton’s top 3 contributors include SBC and Comcast. Boy, that sure does buy a lot of passion on the issues, doesn’t it?

Barton is the 13th highest earner of money from the telecom industry. That’s on a list of all politicians, including the President. I don’t like this guy already.

Posted:
April 27, 2006 by Nathan Weinberg in:
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5 Responses to “Congress Vote Loses On Net Neutrality”

  1. Eli Says:

    Nathan,

    I know that it’s me versus all the rest of the geeks on this one, but I don’t think that net neutrality needs to be as important as you say. As you say, we currently don’t have a free market in telecom services. I think we ought to. There are two steps to getting there:

    1. We need to allow competition in telecom services. That is, municipalities need to stop this nonsense of granting local monopolies for cash. There are better ways of raising revenue.

    2. We need to provide some incentive for telecom firms to build competitive infrastructure. As long as net neutrality is enforced, they will not have this incentive.

    Right now we have very strong disincentives for telecom firms to expand infrastructure. While eliminating net neutrality and keeping the local monopolies will cause problems (as every geek keeps saying), if you could jettison the local monopolies at the same time, I don’t think it would be the end of the world, and in fact, I think we might end up with more services for cheaper.

    You (and the rest of the geeks) probably still won’t agree with me, but I hope you will at least agree that the issue is not as cut-and-dry as most have been arguing.

    I shouldn’t have to say this, but doubtlessly someone will accuse me: I have no particular financial interest in any telecom firm, and I don’t know anyone who works for one.

  2. Stu Says:

    I think you’re reading too much into that. He’s the freaking chairman of the committee, I’m surprised he’s as far back as thirteenth.

    Myself, I’m not so eager to hand over yet another thing for the government to regulate. Things work better when they keep their fingers out of the internet.

    The WaPo had a good editorial about this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/12/AR2006031200808.html

    Some other pieces by people on the side of keeping the government out of your business, the good folks at Reason Magazine:
    http://www.reason.com/links/links041006.shtml
    http://www.reason.org/commentaries/titch_20060213.shtml
    http://www.reason.org/commentaries/titch_20060109.shtml

  3. B Says:

    What about Essential facilities ? Telcos & Internet providers are certainly one, and economic theory and the US politics agree to say they should be opened at a reasonnable price.

  4. Nathan Weinberg Says:

    Eli, you’re wrong on one thing: I completely agree with you. The problem is, politics is a thousand-sided war, with everyone pulling in different directions. We have to fight in every aspect of the law, in order to keep things as fair as possible, since we won’t win every battle. One major battle is going to be to bring a free market to broadband. The other is net neutrality. If we won the first, yes, we wouldn’t need the second. But we need to fight the second because it’ll be a long time before we win the first, if ever.

    Stu: Should the chairman of the committee be receiving money from the very companies arguing before him? Maybe that is practice, but that is like a defendant in a murder trial giving a check to everyone in the jury; it just isn’t going to bring a fair result. If an issue directly and greatly affects a company which has given a contribution, then the politicians who received contributions from that company should be forced to recuse themselves from the vote.

    Of course, that makes me an idiot, becuase here I am, arguing against politics as usual.

  5. Michelle Says:

    It’s disturbing to see how many of Barton’s contributions have come from telecom companies.

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