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How the Telecoms Lie

May 15th, 2006

As the fight for Network Neutrality heats up, the Telecoms are trying to pretend that there’s a grass-roots movement by “the people” and “a nationwide coalition of Internet users” to tell the government to “keep their hands off” the Internet, while simultaneously trying to paint giant corporations (well, other giant corporations) as the villains, trying to make billions at your expense. In short, they’re lying like hell.

The following are quotes from a cutesy Flash cartoon made by the Telecoms to try to pull the wool over your eyes:

“Building the next generation of the Internet is going to take a lot of work and cost a lot of money. And some big corporations can’t wait to use it…. They’re going to make billions. But they don’t want to pay anything. Instead they want to stick consumers with the whole bill.”

This statement rather coyly suggests that content providers don’t pay anything for their use of the Internet, without exactly saying so (“they don’t want to pay anything”). The clear implication is that companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon get a free ride on the Internet, and will not pay anything extra when higher-speed services are created. The ad says that those companies will stick you, the consumer, with the bill for creating higher-speed services.

None of that is true. The big content providers already have ultra-high-speed connections to the Internet, and they pay the Telecoms for these services; it will be consumers who upgrade, and the bill will be charged to the consumer by the Telecoms. The kindest interpretation of their message would be that the Telecoms are going to have to stick someone with the costs of creating fiber-optic networks, and they want to charge content providers more instead of being forced to charge you more. This, of course, is the same snow job that all corporations use to get whatever legislation they want passed: if you don’t give us what we want, we’ll be forced to charge you more.

Of course, the premise for that argument is bunk: Telecoms already charge for their services, and will charge you as much as the market will bear for fiber optic. It’ll all be paid for, by you, no matter what. Their current campaign is just to charge the content providers more in addition to charging you more; it’s a grab for even higher profits and more control. They’re simply trying to make other giant corporations look like the bad guys.

In fact, the Telecoms have already charged you for the fiber optic networks, to the tune of about $200 billion, and have not used that money to provide the broadband services they promised in exchange for the higher costs you already pay. So you know in advance how much you can trust the Telecoms: not at all.

“These corporations are asking Congress to create volumes of new regulations to control how content is delivered over the Internet. Should politicians and bureaucrats replace network administrators? It will be the first major government regulation of the Internet and it will fundamentally change how the Internet works. These big corporations and the SavetheInternet campaign want the government to take control of the Internet.”

Net Neutrality is the current rule, and would not create more regulation. Existing government policy is what made the Internet work so successfully; what the Telecoms want is not a stop to more regulation, they want a de-regulation–the same kind that led to wonderful results like the Savings & Loan crisis.

“The net neutrality issue is a fundamental question about who should control the Internet: The people or the government? And it’s a fight about who’s going to pay: multi-billion dollar corporations or you?”

These are both false-choice fallacies. It’s not a question of whether the people or the government will control the Internet; the government has power over regulation, it’s a question of whether the government will serve your interests (by leaving the Internet relatively uncontrolled by any one interested party) or whether they will serve the interests of the Telecoms (by deregulating and letting the Telecoms do whatever the hell they want).

The second question is not whether you or multi-billion dollar corporations pay the Telecoms; the Telecoms already charge both you and the multi-billion dollar corporations. It’s a question of how much more the Telecoms can charge content providers, costs which will be passed on to you, while at the same time your access to non-multi-billion dollar corporation web sites will be crippled. In other words, you get charged more for worse service (even if you don’t upgrade your connection) while the Telecoms rake it in. Or, the Internet stays as it is now, and you have the choice of just paying more for getting a fiber optic connection when it becomes available.

There are other implications beyond the Telecoms charging selected web sites more for faster service, and relegating every other web site to low-speed backwaters. Network Neutrality is also about what applications you can use on your Internet connection. No neutrality could allow your ISP to control which applications you use (whether Skype or your ISP’s own VoIP app will work), or even what kind of home networks you can have. Companies like Verizon have even threatened some customers with criminal prosecution just for setting up home networks–that is, hooking up more than one computer to a network connected to the Internet, or having a home WiFi network. Companies like Verizon force you to agree to let Verizon closely monitor your computers to see what network configuration is used and what applications you’re using, in the name of providing customer support–but there’s no doubt that there are other motives driving that monitoring. Your ISP could make more money if they get to demand that you pay them to set up home networks, and charge for each computer connected, even though bandwidth stays the same.

Right now, you have the freedom to decide how you use the Internet. If the Telecoms get their way, you could lose that freedom to the Telecoms, who could then dictate to you what you could and could not do on the Internet, and they could charge you extra fees to do certain things, using only software they pre-approve or sell to you themselves. Imagine the electric grid being run without neutrality: your local electric company could dictate to you which lamps you could buy, how many TVs you could use, how you could use your air conditioner, and so on.

Don’t be fooled. Keep up the fight for Network Neutrality.

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