September 4, 2010

The NYT’s Nocera Lies About Net Neutrality

Filed under: Corporatism, Internet Democracy — Tags: , , — Russ @ 7:04 am


The NYT has fitted to print a pack of lies about the telecom rackets, net neutrality, and the future of democracy. The flack du jour is business columnist Joe Nocera.
He starts out describing the basic situation – a broad coalition at least claims to support net neutrality, but the FCC keeps dithering.

And yet, here we are, a year and a half into the Obama presidency, and net neutrality is no closer to being encoded in federal regulation than it was when George W. Bush was president. Just this week, the F.C.C. asked for comments on two of the issues surrounding net neutrality, issues that have been hashed over for months. It was an obvious effort to push any decision beyond the midterm elections.

Correct so far. But then the lies commence:

The F.C.C.’s punt doesn’t begin to get at the turmoil. When Google and Verizon, a month ago, put together a well-meaning proposal for enforceable net neutrality rules, the two companies were vilified by the net neutrality purists — because they wanted to exempt wireless. “There was universal condemnation of Google for abandoning its ‘don’t be evil’ ethos,” said Art Brodsky, the chief spokesman for Public Knowledge — the very group that was leading said condemnation.

There was nothing at all “well-meaning” about the Google-Verizon Pact. Its goal is clear: to set standards for gutting net neutrality. They want to exempt wireless (which they and many others believe is the future of the Internet) completely, while setting up a paid VIP lane alongside the “open Internet”. But there’s no reason as all why wireless should be treated any differently from fixed lines. And we can fill in the blank for ourselves as to where all subsequent infrastructure development for fixed wires will go. The proposals of the Pact are a way of passively killing the democratic Internet.
Here’s a truly malicious distortion:

In the wake of the Google-Verizon announcement, the F.C.C. abruptly called off talks among the various parties aimed at coming up with net neutrality rules. The talks have since been restarted, more or less, though without the involvement of the F.C.C. Yet even if the talks succeed, the resulting framework wouldn’t have the force of law, so it is hard to know precisely what they would accomplish.

These talks were nothing but an end-run around the democratic process. The goal was to remove public policy regarding the public Internet from the public purview. Instead they’d deliver democracy into the hands of racketeer elites whose goal isn’t to “come up with net neutrality rules”, but to gut net neutrality for profit.

And last but not least: thanks to a court decision in March — a decision that resulted directly from the F.C.C.’s effort to punish one big Internet service provider, Comcast, for violating the principle of net neutrality — the agency’s very authority to regulate broadband is in doubt.

Another lie. Only its “ancillary authority” under the tendentious and arbitrary 2005 classification is in doubt. At will the FCC can reclassify these communications services as communications services.
Nocera goes on to spew a telecom talking point:

Surely, this has to rank as the Mother of All Unintended Consequences: there is an outside chance that in its zeal to make net neutrality the law of the land, the F.C.C. could wind up as a regulator with very little to regulate.

This is a version of the Big Lie that net neutrality constitutes a government “takeover” of the Internet. On the contrary it’s a defense of the Internet against a monopoly racket takeover.
So we already see how Nocera and the NYT are in the bag for the rackets. Note how throughout the entire piece Nocera takes for granted the rationale for the very existence of the access rackets, and never explains why the public Internet which the public built and paid for shouldn’t be in the public’s hands, since the very fact that we’re even having this fight proves that the private sector can’t be trusted with it. (As we’ll see later, Nocera agrees with this but draws the opposite conclusion – the very fact that the rackets want to destroy the democratic Internet is sufficient reason for the citizenry to surrender completely.)
Just in case there was any doubt left, Nocera brings in Wall Street for commentary. Now we know Nocera and the NYT are on the side of the people!

“Net neutrality arguments have been reduced to bumper stickers,” sighed Craig Moffett of Sanford C. Bernstein, Wall Street’s premier telecom analyst. Mr. Moffett’s point is that like most political slogans that wind up on bumper stickers, the issue isn’t nearly as simple and straightforward as it might appear to be at first. Net neutrality is, in fact, incredibly complicated.

Data networks, after all, have to be managed. The engineering is complex. The capacity is limited. Inevitably, some form of prioritization is bound to take place. Rules also have to be created that will give companies the incentive they need to spend the billions upon billions of dollars necessary to extend broadband’s reach and improve its speed, so we can catch up to, say, South Korea.

Again, a flat out lie. Network management can be reasonably performed under net neutrality, and the FCC’s proposed rules allow for “reasonable network management”. Indeed, they’re probably too lenient.
Nocera goes on with some backhanded “balance” and distortions, repeatedly sneering at citizen advocates as “purists”. (Of course, mercenaries like Nocera arguing for the existence and aggrandizement of parasitic monopoly rackets aren’t “purists” making a “furor” with hatchet jobs like this piece, oh no!)
He lies and calls the existing adherence to net neutrality standards “purely voluntary”, representing the FCC’s attempt to sanction Comcast for discrimination as capricious and autocratic. On the contrary, implicit in the ancillary authority argument was that net neutrality could and would be enforced. Even the Bush administration said so.

Since that ruling came down in March, the agency has been going down two tracks at the same time. It has been desperately trying to find a way to re-establish jurisdiction over broadband services, while at the same time continuing to push for net neutrality. It has become a very complicated dance.

In May, for instance, Mr. Genachowski proposed that the F.C.C. could use Title II of the Telecommunications Act to re-establish jurisdiction. (Trust me: You don’t want to know the details.) But Title II brings with it all sorts of onerous, outmoded regulations better suited to the age of rotary telephones — including price regulation. Although Mr. Genachowski vows not to impose such regulation, who is to say that his successor will agree with his “forbearance” approach (as he calls it)?

Another lie. There’s nothing at all complicated about Title II classification. It’s very simple: Title II applies to communication services like telephone and cable lines. The ISPs deliver Internet access over telephone lines (Verizon, AT&T) or cable (Comcast). They are communication services. They should be classified under Title II.
Was that so hard? Are we the people really as stupid as Nocera pretends we are?
As for Genachowski’s forbearance, the real question regards the “voluntary” forbearance of the rackets, in which propagandists like Nocera always want us to believe.

And no matter how strenuously Mr. Genachowski vows not to impose price regulations, the Internet service providers have made it plain that they will sue to prevent the F.C.C. from asserting Title II jurisdiction over broadband. It is not inconceivable that the providers will win. At which point, the F.C.C. might as well close up shop.

So we should give in to extortion. Yes, Nocera’s colleague Errand Boy Sorkin has made a career of it. I guess Nocera wants to get on that ransom note delivery gravy train.

It is this strange stew — uncertainty over jurisdiction, combined with a campaign pledge to establish net neutrality — that explains the recent Google-Verizon proposal. The truth is, virtually every player involved wants the F.C.C. to have oversight over broadband services. Otherwise, chaos is likely to ensue.

Yeah – in exactly the same way the banksters want Treasury and the Fed to “have oversight” – in order to serve as bagmen for bailouts and otherwise enable them. Otherwise, to do nothing. To help privatize public wealth and socialize risk and cost. That’s all the telecoms and their flunkeyboy Nocera want here.
And now back to the earlier lie about the anti-democratic cabal of “stakeholders” against the net neutrality:

That’s why, at the request of the F.C.C.’s chief of staff, Edward P. Lazarus, representatives from all the sides of the issue, including the Open Internet Coalition, convened to see if they could come up with a framework for net neutrality they could all agree on — and that the F.C.C. could supervise. When those talks bogged down, Google and Verizon decided to come up with their own plan, thinking that they could help lead the others into the light.

Instead, they were slammed. Why? Because even though the framework they came up called for no discrimination of Web sites, for transparency and for all sorts of good things when it came to the kind of broadband that came in through a pipe, it exempted wireless broadband.

Google’s rationale — and, without question, Google was the one that compromised — is that wireless was still too new, and the capacity constraints were still too severe, to impose net neutrality, at least at this point. To put it another way, Google was looking at the issue realistically, instead of theologically.

There’s totalitarian code. Read: Our corporate theology cannot coexist with net neutrality, so it must be gutted. The FCC sought a realistic way to apply theology here but failed, so Google made its own attempt. The most realistic lie to try to put over is that wireless is somehow “new” and “complicated” and needs special study and lots of time before we can decide if net neutrality should apply. That way we can entrench the wireless Internet free of democratic requirements. It’ll be a done deal. Net neutrality will be dead.
Nocera proceeds with his sermon:

So there we now stand. Net neutrality is in limbo because the public interest purists believe that any compromise is a sellout, and because the F.C.C. so badly shot itself in the foot by pursuing the Comcast case. It is difficult to see how we’re ever going to get net neutrality rules.

Yes, net neutrality isn’t in limbo because it’s under attack by the monopoly rackets. No, this attack is simply part of nature’s way, God’s order. The world was put here for the profit of gangsters. They have an absolute god-given right to assert every prerogative everywhere. Anyone who resists this is resisting the market god himself….There’s the corporate theology. Nocera’s one of its priests.
And then an anodyne ending:

Then again, maybe the current snarl isn’t such a bad thing. “If everybody just walked away, the probability of anything bad happening is quite small,” said Mr. Moffett. I agree. Consumers have come to expect an open Internet, and companies will violate net neutrality at their peril. That is just the way the Internet has evolved.

Um, no. Access to the Internet has (d)evolved into a monopoly. If nothing is done the rackets will destroy the open Internet. That’s the Rule of Rackets. The moment a corporation can switch from competitor answering to the customer to an oligopolist who buys power and rams that power down the public’s throat, it will. That’s what’s happening here. Nocera knows that. He’s simply lying about it.
He does make one useful admission:

Without the F.C.C., the Federal Trade Commission would probably wind up serving as the Internet’s sheriff, using antitrust law as its guide and bringing tough enforcement actions. Nobody in the industry wants that.

Yes, the “industry” definitely doesn’t want real public interest enforcement. I’ve always said that breaking up the rackets is the only answer. That’s as true here as everywhere else. Anti-trust would be a good tool for this and should be applied to both the horizontal and vertical monopolies that afflict us.
Then with any luck a parasite like Nocera would lose his paid liar gig and have to get a real job for the first time in his life. We already know he can figuratively shovel shit. So maybe physically doing so is his proper place in this world.

September 2, 2010

The FCC and Net Neutrality: Superfluous Public Comment = “No Comment”

Filed under: Internet Democracy — Tags: , — Russ @ 7:05 am


Continuing its truant pattern since spring, the FCC has called for an extension of the comment period on its proposed net neutrality rules.

After months spent gathering comments about preserving an open and competitive Internet, the F.C.C. requested more feedback on Wednesday about whether regulations should apply to wireless Internet service.

The agency is also asking for comments about one of the most hotly debated Internet regulatory issues: special services that offer to prioritize certain digital traffic for a fee.

Those two issues were at the center of a recent proposal by Verizon and Google that generated widespread debate in the telecommunications and Internet communities.

To recap the timeline, the FCC issued its proposal for rulemaking and held the requisite comment period. In April an appeals court ruled that under the FCC’s existing classification scheme (a classification done by fiat in 2005 and which can be changed at the FCC’s will) it lacks authority to informally enforce net neutrality principles. (The 2005 classification of access providers as “information services” rather than “communications” claimed any additional regulation needed could be performed under “enhanced authority” provisions; this is what the court denied.) This called into question the agency’s formal net neutrality proposal as well as its proposed National Broadband Plan.
The obvious solution is for the agency to reclassify ISPs as communications services. The Communications Act also provides for separating communications from information elements of a bundled service, applying the two different levels of regulation. The FCC’s own proposed “Third Way” is a version of this. Either would certainly satisfy any non-corrupt court.
But instead of doing what it can, should, and must, the FCC has consistently acted as if the court setback has permanently traumatized it. Later last spring it was hinting it wanted to cave in completely. Pro-racket Congressmen signed threatening letters while astroturf groups propagated the lie that net neutrality would constitute an FCC takeover of the Internet, when on the contrary it would prevent Interent racketeering, a takeover of the Internet by the same corporate criminals who crashed the economy. A stern letter from Waxman and Rockefeller seemed to have reinvigorated the process; after some earlier defeatist talk, Commissioner Genachowski reaffirmed his devotion to the Third Way and the net neutrality rulemaking.
But at the same time he convened an anti-democratic cabal of telecom rackets and big information providers to negotiate the issue. The FCC’s goal was to contravene the democratic process and gut net neutrality indirectly. The goal was to broker a deal between the telecoms and big information providers like Google and Amazon which would be beneficial to the latter and pull up the ladder behind them on all smaller info providers. Big Info would join the big telecoms as entrenched rackets dominating a newly enclosed, feudalized Internet.
The evidently unsatisfactory tempo of this haggling led Google and Verizon to strike their own bilateral deal and spew their own proposal for a phony “net neutrality” deal which would actually gut it. Genachowski apparently took this as emblematic of the failure of the FFC-brokered discussions and ended them. (For a more optimistic take on this closure, see here.)
Public commentary throughout the process has been overwhelmingly in favor of strong net neutrality rules and against a corporate takeover of the Internet. The reaction to the Google-Verizon Pact was particularly fierce.
Optimists took all this as a hopeful set of indicators that the FCC would finally find a backbone and go ahead and do the right thing – issue the net neutrality rule and go ahead with the Third Way classification.
Instead today we get the ultimate whimper: an extended comment period, which will extend the existing procrastination at least beyond November.
There have already been two extended comment periods, both of which established a clear demand for strong net neutrality rules among everyone except the lobbyists. The agents of delay and subversion are trying to claim that yet another round of comments is necessary to satisfy the courts:

F.C.C. officials said the request for additional comments was tied in part to the Google-Verizon proposal. But the agency was also trying to guard against generating unintended negative consequences, and to ensure that any rules it did adopt would not be thrown out on a technical claim that the commission had not followed federal rule-making procedures.

“As we’ve seen, the issues are complex, and the details matter,” Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman, said in a statement. “Even a proposal for enforceable rules can be flawed in its specifics and risk undermining the fundamental goal of preserving an open Internet.”

But this is a lie. The agency has been punctilious to a fault about the process. No non-corrupt court would ever find that the FCC hasn’t already gone by the book. And of course if judges on a court (or anyone else) are corrupt, then nothing you could do would ever satisfy them. (Appeasement never works – a rule; no exceptions.)
So there’s no conscientious reason for this delay. The real reason is simply to again “kick the can down the road” as Derek Turner of the Free Press said. The FCC is now using the parameters of the G-V Pact itself (as Google and Verizon intended; they were trying to set political standards for the struggle going forward) as the pretext for starting from square one.

The FCC will seek comments on whether net neutrality rules should apply to mobile broadband or specialized and managed services, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced Wednesday. Under a net neutrality proposal released by Verizon Communications and Google in August, mobile broadband and managed services would be exempt from net neutrality rules, but many consumer and digital rights groups have complained that those exemptions would fragment the Internet and hurt users.

There’s no call whatsoever for recasting the crux of the debate this way and saying we need to rehash the whole thing. This is a wretched little ploy by Google and Verizon whose spirit was already resoundingly rejected in the prior comment rounds, and has been rejected in particular since the pact was announced. No one who commented before would feel the need to rethink because some new consideration has been brought to light. There’s nothing new here at all. (Indeed, if anything the fact that Google sold out after having claimed to support net neutrality for all those years will probably deepen feelings that net neutrality rule-making is even more imperative and should be considerably stronger than the rules the FCC actually proposed.)
If there’s still any doubt, look who’s praising the extension:

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group representing cable-based broadband providers, promised Wednesday to work with the FCC on net neutrality rules. The new inquiry raises “important and complex issues,” NCTA said in a statement.

Randolph May, president of conservative think tank the Free State Foundation, praised the FCC for issuing the new inquiry.

“Seeking further comment on the issues relating to specialized services and wireless platforms can only serve to further clarify the issues and, potentially, bridge differences,” May said. “This is surely positive.”….

Thomas J. Tauke, an executive vice president at Verizon, said the company was encouraged by the commission’s decision to further study net neutrality as it applied to wireless broadband and specialized services.

“At the same time, it remains clear that whatever action the F.C.C. takes will be clouded by legal uncertainty until the Congress enacts legislation that spells out the authority of the F.C.C. and establishes a broadband policy,” Mr. Tauke said.

As that last line said, the rackets want this thing decided in Congress, which is likely to either do nothing (thus ratifying the status quo heading toward Internet enclosure) or pass a sham bill. This outcome would be even more likely in next year’s Congress.
The FCC again looks willing to abdicate and abandon net neutrality and Internet democracy to its fate.
Was there ever any reason to hope for effective regulation here? Is there still any chance of it, if everybody comments yet again, this time demanding even stronger rule-making? This time explicitly rejecting the parameters of the Google-Verizon Pact as absolutely unacceptable? Even under a Republican Congress, a resolute FCC could still accomplish this.
My rationale for thinking it’s still possible is that the FCC never had to issue proposed rules in the first place. The number one piece of evidence that Obama wants to gut Social Security is that he unilaterally, as an act of pure volition, set up his Star Chamber, his Catfood Commission. So by the same logic, the FCC’s original unforced, voluntary proposal of net neutrality rules is the best evidence that in principle it does want to make such rules. If they’d always wanted to gut net neutrality, the path of least resistance would’ve been to do nothing, right from the start. So I go with the premise that, while maybe never gung-ho about it, the FCC did have a basic interest in preserved net neutrality.
Since then, the evidence has been that, while maybe having started with these good intentions, Genachowski is craven and inertial, and is likely to act in accordance with the strongest stimulus upon him at any given time. Thus his multiple flip-flops in terms of indicating his will: proposing the rule, then backpedaling in the face of the adverse court decision, then flipping again after receiving one Congressional letter, but convening the racket cabal in the face of corporate pressure (including a contrary congressional letter), now seeming to want to just throw the bone out there once and for all for the public and the rackets to fight over by reverting to “comments” again. (Anyone who’s read The Peter Principle will recognize this pattern of behavior. The “teeter-totter syndrome”, perhaps? Or in this case the “John Q. Public Diversion”.) Almost certainly his dream is that Congress will take the whole mess off his hands.
But as I said, I think it’s still possibly worth trying again, so I hope people will comment. As I’ve pointed out before, this seems to be an issue where renouncing the system can’t work by itself. Internet democracy, so far as I can see, will need regulation to protect it.
That doesn’t mean I think it’s an exception to my Rule of Rackets (you cannot regulate rackets; they will always win the war of attrition; you have to destroy them completely; as a rule the ROI will be much better if we eschew the “regulation” delusion completely and work on the destruction). All I mean here is that while we try to muster the counterforce to destroy these rackets, we do still have to keep fighting the war of attrition. Here rejection and passive resistance won’t suffice; action within the system is necessary.

August 9, 2010

Tightrope: No Wire, Shredded Net (The Google-Verizon Deal)

Filed under: Internet Democracy, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , , — Russ @ 4:00 pm


After disputed news reports last week, today Google and Verizon announced their “deal”, a set of promises to guide their own behavior going forward and a proposal for legislation.
Although the plan has lots of nice words about net neutrality, non-discrimination, investment in infrastructure expansion, and transparency, it’s all predicated on a basic scam.
This scam is that they fraudulently claim wireless and landline transmission are fundamentally different and need to be treated differently. Specifically,  they say that since wireless is allegedly so new and radical, lots of study and learning from experience will allegedly be needed before we can know the right policy. If anyone actually believed this, one would think the precautionary principle would be indicated, and that this inscrutable new frontier should receive the same guiding principle of net neutrality which was so benevolent in the evolution of the Internet itself. But no, for Verizon and Google, somehow this time around we should meet uncertainty by doing the exact opposite.
That doesn’t meet the smell test, even if we believed that wireless is all that new and different. But that’s in fact a lie anyway. There’s no reason at all to treat wireless transmission differently from wireline. This is a bogus distinction meant to carry out a vast bait and switch. The legislative proposal is a classic exercise in “what we give with one hand, we take away with the other.”
The proposal has seven points. The gist of points one and two is that Verizon concedes, indeed celebrates, net neutrality and vigorous FCC authority – but for landline only. This is because Verizon and the other telecoms think wireline is headed for the antique shop, while all future action will be wireless. So every “concession” in the deal is, from their point of view, a meaningless pseudo-concession since it regards something they regard as almost obsolete, while it doesn’t touch what they think is the wave of the future.
Point three calls for transparency. This is the only point of the legislative proposal they would let apply to wireless. 
Point four indicate that the vigorous FCC ain’t supposed to exercise so much vigor where it comes to judging complaints regarding wireless discrimination. Here, the legislative proposal calls for the FCC to be stripped of rule-making authority, and to instead have to deal with things case by case, each decision an island.
Point five brings us to the gutting of net neutrality,the VIP lane. Providers are to be empowered to set up “additional, differentiated online services.” In their conference call, Verizon CEO Seidenberg promised that Verizon won’t offer transmission regular Internet stuff over the VIP channel, just special entertainments, games, health care applications and such, while Eric Schmidt promised that Google won’t be using the VIP lane at all. Seidenberg also said the rackets will undertake all necessary capacity expansion for the Open Internet so that the investment starvation and bottleneck scenario won’t come to pass the way I and many others suspect. Never mind that they’ve been refusing to undertake any expansion except with massive subsidies for overa decade now.
These are lovely promises, and I’m sure we can trust them once the FCC surrenders completely, once Congress gives the rackets carte blanche, once we’re at their mercy. Does everybody agree we can trust to their mercy?
Point six simply asserts that wireless is a totally new thing which needs totally new practices and rules. This is the basic lie anchoring the deal, rendering all the promises irrelevant.
What they really want for wireless, which they expect to be the dominant mode of Internet transmission going forward: “Paid prioritization”, i.e. the end of net neutrality; no systematic FCC authority; on the contrary a privatized judiciary to sort out all Internet issues. This private arbitration scheme would simply enshrine a permanent session of the elitist closed door meetings the FCC was just forced to adjourn by the wave of public outrage which met the initial news of precisely this Google-Verizon deal. So we’re being whiplashed in a matter of days from a bottom-up surge on behalf of net neutrality and transparency to what’s expected to be a meek submission to the permanent enshrinement of exactly what we condemn.
We started the year demanding permanent formal enshrinement of net neutrality; we’re slated to conclude with the permanent formal enshrinement of the radical opposite.
What boggles the mind in all this, and even more the moral imperative, is that we the people built the Internet; we paid for it; it belongs to US. How did we get to this extremity of abjection and servility, how did we again end up squirming under the filthy thumb of a handful of gangsters? Once again, it was a criminal government which has committed treason against us, alienating our property, alienating our sovereignty, murdering our democracy.
And now the killers have tracked down the last heir to the democratic heritage, the child Internet Democracy. Can any guardian arise to defend this child from their knives? There can only be one, we the people have to guard our child.

August 6, 2010

To “Do Evil”, Kill Net Neutrality, Kill Democracy


After a day of terrible and then contested news on the net neutrality front, things look somewhat better this morning, as I read a report that the FCC says it’s ending its secret elite corporate summit to dictate the future of the Internet. Meanwhile Google and Verizon dispute the NYT story which has them reaching a bilateral deal to gut net neutrality
Let’s hope these are true. But after all this whip-sawing I refuse to believe anything until I actually see a process being carried out in the full sunlight. Is the FCC going to go ahead with its Third Way plan and the NBP? Let’s see it do so. The fact that it preferred the closed door and the smoky room to democracy remains on the record. If it is now responding to public demand, it is doing so only under duress. (As it evidently did earlier when it seemed to be waving the white flag, and only an angry letter from Rockefeller and Waxman spurred it to renew its proclaimed commitment to a net neutrality standard. It really seems like the FCC obeys whichever was the most recent force vector pressing upon it. This has to be the most inertial agency out there.)
At any rate, I’m not going to change the text of the draft I wrote yesterday, since even if the news therein is for the moment moot, all the anti-political forces I describe remain virulent. The trends remain latent. Unless we continue and redouble our vigilance, this is how it will still end up in the end:
The NYT has taken notice of what the FCC itself calls its attempt to broker a “secret deal” which will decide the future of the Internet.
I’ve already mentioned this FCC-sponsored elitist conclave which seeks to strike a deal between the telecom rackets and the biggest information providers like Google, rackets or proto-rackets themselves. Big info providers have been among the supporters of net neutrality, for the obvious reason that they transmit vast amounts of information and don’t want the added costs which would inevitably be imposed by the telecoms if net neutrality could be gutted. Passing on these expenses to the individual user would be a headache.
Evidently the FCC’s preferred outcome would be if the telecoms would guarantee the biggest providers like Google and Amazon discounts on their “paid prioritization”, and in return those provider rackets (which is what they’d incontrovertibly become if they made such a deal) would drop their net neutrality enshrinement demands. That would save the lazy, conformist FCC its current political headache: They could then say “the stakeholders have agreed, so there’s no need for further action on our part.” (Never mind that the people are not included among the “stakeholders”, as citizens or consumers; even the net neutrality supporters in Congress are elitists who will withdraw their demands if Google does. Al Franken’s petition is good, but we’ll see if he keeps up this fight once the deal is made.)
The new development which provides the occasion for the NYT piece is a possible private side deal between Google and Verizon. According to the piece these players are dissatisfied with the tortuous progress of the conclave and want to wrap up their own deal (which also would encompass other business entanglements between the two which aren’t directly related to net neutrality). But the main result would be to gut net neutrality:

Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.
The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.

Such an agreement could overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another. In its place, consumers could soon see a new, tiered system, which, like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service.

If this deal is made, and the administration remains idle, there would no doubt follow a series of other deals and/or a general agreement, and the whole idea of net neutrality and probably of broadband access and Internet democracy itself would unravel. The experiment in Internet democracy would be dead before it reached the age of majority.
The NYT piece tells several lies.

The court decision said the F.C.C. lacked the authority to require that an Internet service provider refrain from blocking or slowing down some content or applications, or giving favor to others. The F.C.C. has since sought another way in which to enforce the concept of net neutrality. But its proposals have been greeted with much objection in Congress and among Internet service providers, cable companies and some Internet content producers.

The court said that under the FCC’s arbitrary 2005 reclassification of access provision as an “information service” (under Title I of the 1996 Communications Act), it couldn’t enforce net neutrality. All the FCC would need to do to resume its authority would be to perform the rational reclassification to Title II, “communications services”. The FCC’s proclaimed preference, the “third way” of retaining Title I classification but exerting “ancillary authority” for the “communications” portion of the service, would also fit the bill. (The “third way” is a pusillanimous cop-out, since these are clearly communication services with some ornamental “information” services like e-mail and such which nobody cares about tacked on purely to justify the scam Title I classification. But just as Goldman’s a hedge fund with a puny bank tacked on, so Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and others are communication providers with some “information service” tacked on. That’s of course enough to satisfy and/or intimidate the government. Still, the “third way”, if actually enforced as advertised, should be sufficient for the time being, and would certainly meet legal muster in any honest court.
We should go much further than Title II classification and break up any vertical monopolies here on anti-trust grounds. How can it be justified to have first an access monopoly and then let it become a content provider? But of course the criminal government is letting the Comcast-NBC merger go through.)

At issue for consumers is how the companies that provide the pipeline to the Internet will ultimately direct traffic on their system, and how quickly consumers are able to gain access to certain Web content. Consumers could also see continually rising bills for Internet service, much as they have for cable television.

“Provide the pipeline”? “Their” system? Wrong – we the people provided the pipeline in the first place. We paid for it. And since it’s been privatized we’ve had to subsidize all infrastructure expansions.

Many content providers — like Amazon, eBay and Skype — prefer no favoritism on the Internet or they want to be sure that if a pay system exists, all content providers have the opportunity to pay for faster service.

That’s some paragraph. We want democracy! – Or, we can accept its destruction if we get a rate.

The F.C.C., meanwhile, favors a level playing field, but it cannot impose one as long as its authority over broadband is in legal doubt. It has proposed a solution that would reclassify broadband Internet service under the Communications Act from its current designation as an “information service,” a lightly regulated designation, to a “telecommunications service,” a category that, like telephone service, is subject to stricter regulation.

This distorts the reality of the FCC’s chosen fecklessness. It can reclassify at will. For the time being it has plenty of political support for doing so: Companies like Google and Amazon, legislators like Rockefeller and Waxman. If it chose to assertively reclassify, it could do so. The fact that it has chosen instead to preside over this elitist secret negotiation proves it would prefer a racketeering “solution”. And like I said, if Google and the others come to an agreement, no doubt the legislative support for net neutrality would evaporate.

Consumer groups have objected to the private meetings, saying that too many stakeholders are being left out of discussions over the future of the Internet.

Mr. Lazarus said the meetings “are part of our efforts to identify the best way forward in the wake of the Comcast case to preserve the openness and vibrancy of the Internet.”

It is explicitly and intentionally anti-democratic, just like Obama’s secret deals with the health insurance and drug rackets for the health racket bailout. No one could seriously argue that consumer and democracy advocates aren’t intentionally, systematically excluded from elitist conclaves like this. Is this unconstitutional against the Constitution as written, or an anti-constitutional end-run around the Constitution completely?
Either way, it’s invalid, illegitimate, anti-sovereign, and unconstitutional against the general constitution of the American people ourselves.
Recently I wrote about the intensifying feudalization of America. Part of the fight against net neutrality and expanded broadband access as an element of citizenship and democracy rather than a commodity (the FCC’s proposed National Broadband Plan, also in limbo amid these machinations) is to entrench the digital divide. (Although so many still go around at least implicitly chanting “We’re #1! USA!”, broadband access is yet another of the long list of metrics by which, relative to its aggregate wealth, the US is an inferior, declining country, slipping to Third World status. According to the Broadband Composite Index, America is 23rd out of 57 industrialized countries in broadband access.)
So we have the secret elite conclave, and we have an astroturf propaganda push against net neutrality, and we even have an aggressive anti-neutrality bill in the Senate, sponsored Jim DeMint, with of course the support of Democrats like Bob Casey (D-Comcast/NBC).  
The feudal goal is simply to rout vast masses of people completely out of “the economy” and the life of the nation. Here they can accomplish vast exclusions by the simple expedient of kicking them off the Internet. The destruction of Internet democracy would also make coordination and resistance to feudalization all the more difficult, which is also part of the plan. (I’ll again make my quaint suggestion that we need non-electronic physical printing presses. I maintain that’s a necessary prep measure, in the same vein as self-reliant food production and off-grid medicine.)
So it’s the stateless alien elites deciding the fate of the people beyond any sunlight of accountability, any motion of democracy. We’ve seen how that works out. So will the people stand for this, or lie in the mud for it, to be trodden upon? That’s what’s happened every time so far. We ask, where will we draw the line, stop them, and start driving them back?
If we don’t draw the line here at the last real democratic space left, we render the already herculean task of drawing a line at all far more difficult.

August 2, 2010

Net Neutrality: Battle Lines

Filed under: Internet Democracy — Tags: , , — Russ @ 1:52 am


We often see the disparagement of the freedom ideology, for example from those who rail only against “the government” but somehow always neglect to mention the corporations. It’s always governmental jack-booted thugs but never corporate jack-booted thugs.  Who do they think runs the government? If pressed, they may say something like “Wall Street”, but they usually mean some vague shadowy black-helicopter cabal whose intentions are vague but malevolent. 
But to clearly recognize that the banksters do run the government, the banksters are the core drivers of tyranny, the banksters are doing it all for their personal power and “profit”, the big banks are simply organized crime rackets, and that the same is true across all sectors which are also racketeering oligopolies, that it’s all organized crime, and that the one and only way to defeat tyranny and restore morality, justice and freedom is to smash the rackets, eradicate the corporations in legality and reality, and that fighting the government is to be valued as a strategy for fighting the corporations, not as the goal in itself, to recognize all this seems beyond them.
So there’s the problem with the proposition that true citizen activists, who of necessity must be anti-corporate activists, can find real common ground with the tea partiers and so on. At best, they seem inclined to focus only on the puppet and not on the puppet master. Many of them are actually agents of the puppet-master. For example, as soon as Rand Paul won the primary he wasted no time rushing to a podium to declare “I’m in the bag for BP!”
One critical theater of the general struggle is the net neutrality fight. The two great policy threats to the Internet are corporate strangleholds and government censorship. Both are threats, but the corporate threat is far worse at this time. If we lose net neutrality, so that smaller, decentralized information providers can’t be heard in the first place because they’ve been definitively economically censored, then what difference would de jure government censorship make after that?
So we have the specter of primary censorship, economic, structural, corporate-imposed censorship; and that of secondary censorship, censorship of content imposed by the government (corporations may of course undertake this kind of censorship as well, and have often already done so). This division of the primary corporate socioeconomic tyranny and the secondary governmental “regulatory” tyranny can be performed for most or all other sectors and issues as well.
So today the real front line for the battle of freedom vs. tyranny is always the primary anti-racket line. For the preservation of Internet democracy, the real front line is the preservation of net neutrality. And here, as everywhere else, the real enemy, the puppeteer, tries to distract attention from himself to the government puppet. Net neutrality is under assault by a propaganda campaign trying to depict the fight against economic censorship as being a fight for government censorship. This is the standard fraud: “Don’t look at me, the puppet master; look at the puppet, and interpret his motions according to how I tell you to interpret them.” Of course FCC enshrinement of net neutrality would be a pure anti-censorship measure. The only ones seeking any censorship at all here are the rackets. Economic censorship is the truly pervasive, insidious censorship. Government content censorship is a side issue for now. If any tea party type tries to argue otherwise, just respond: Why obsess on the puppet? What about the puppet master?
(Here I’m trying to express some conceptual ideas. But I recognize that this use of terminology may be politically fraught. If “censorship” is the astroturf buzz word, trying to redefine it might not work in the political short run but just backfire, since we know that most people are likely to vaguely register terms like “censorship” and “FCC” and continue to associate them even if the argument just proved the opposite.
So I’ll continue to think about the political words that work, and welcome any suggestions. Unfortunately we don’t have much time, since the fight is likely to climax this autumn.)
So here’s the real deal with net neutrality, the scam being concocted behind closed doors. It looks like we’re in for a replay of the health racket debacle.
After all the talk about seeking a “third way” between the existing Title I information service classification and fully reclassifying Internet providers as Title II communications service providers, the FCC has been holding closed door meetings with the telecom rackets and some of the biggest information providers. Big info providers like Google and Yahoo have hitherto advocated net neutrality enshrinement. It looks like the plot here is to buy off the biggest information providers so they drop their opposition, pull up the ladder behind them, and abandon all their smaller brethren. After all, does Google (which would never have achieved success without net neutrality) really want net neutrality to help small potential competitors? A sellout here would be in accord with its increasingly oligopolist behavior.
Meanwhile, in that health racket replay I just mentioned, a sham “net neutrality” concept is being fabricated to supercede the real version in all official propaganda. There are two versions of overthrowing the substance of net neutrality while trying to keep the name. The more brazen is “paid prioritization”, letting the telecom rackets like AT&T, Time Warner, Comcast etc. favor their own related conglomerate content, and getting the likes of Google to go along by giving them a rate. This is in fact not even sham net neutrality but the simple destruction of it. That they would even try to call this a version of  “net neutrality” should surely receive an Orwell Prize.
Perhaps more insidious, because it may sound quasi-reasonable, is the “managed services” scam. This would purport to leave the existing pipes net neutral, while letting the telecoms construct additional VIP pipes where they could then prioritize transmission based on payment of tolls. So we’d have an Internet version of Plessy vs. Ferguson, “separate but equal”, the neutral net and the discrimination net.
In practice, though, this would work as well and embody as much justice as did the original separate-but-equal. This is because we know exactly how it would work:
1. Picture people having to line up for an essential service. (And by now Internet access and information transfer has become a social and economic necessity almost as much as driving; and just as with driving the system has aggressively engineered itself this way, from the top down. So no one has any right to tell the individual he must fend completely for himself. If the system conscripts us, it has to do all it can to accomodate us and help us be functional. This is true of the Internet just as it’s true of every other realm of social and/or economic engineering. The Internet is an economic and democratic imperative by now.)
2. Picture three lanes where everyone is charged the same and the lines usually move smoothly enough. And if things get congested, they can easily put in a 4th lane (and 5th and 6th etc.), just as they put in the 2nd and 3rd.
3. Instead, they put in the 4th lane but call it the “managed service” lane, charge extra for it, and move most of their personnel and resources to providing luxury service for it. Now that lane moves super-fast, while service cuts reduce the original three lanes to hideous congestion and otherwise poor service.
4. They could just as easily have put in the 4th lane, increased servicing proportionally and kept service spread equally among all 4 lanes. In that case everything would work well for everyone, except for the parasites who want to extract unproductive rents.
5. Instead everything’s being destroyed, for no reason at all other than that the telecom racketeers who did no work, who innovated nothing, who produce nothing, who make everything less productive, less efficient, can extract more tolls from the pipes the people built and paid for.
6. It’s anti-public interest, anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, and most of all anti-American.
So that’s what we’re in for if we let either the racketeers and their Congressional prostitutes crush the FCC’s attempt to enshrine net neutrality, or if we let the FCC cave in on its own, as it has from time to time looked ready to do.
I don’t like the notion of having to vest expectations of reform in an existing government agency. That’s precisely what we generally consider pointless and counterproductive. But as I’ve written earlier, I don’t see any alternative for this particular fight. The Internet and its democracy are technologically dependent upon the system, and therefore politically dependent. (I have started looking around for possible ways to go “off-grid” with the Internet itself, and I sometimes read stuff like this, but not being a tech guy I’m not sure how possible it is or even if it’s talking about the same thing I’m thinking of.)
The reason net neutrality may possibly be an exception to the general rule that Regulation Can’t Work is that the average consumer has become so used to relatively fast service at his whim that the people may refuse to tolerate being ghettoized online the way they’re tolerating their economic liquidation in most other ways. Surely the basic functioning of the economy is so dependent upon efficient online transmission that it would be intolerable for the rackets to set up their tollbooths everywhere? Or maybe that’s being absurdly optimistic.
At any rate, we cannot be complacent about the posterity of Internet democracy. It’s extremely vulnerable to both economic and political censorship. So as ridiculous as it may sound to most or all who read this, we should really think about reviving physical printing presses and physical distribution networks for political communication. That should already be on the Peak Oil preparation list (the grid is also physically vulnerable to increasing disruption during energy descent), and should be a priority for any vision of a self-reliant, system-independent political movement.

May 26, 2010

Dispatch From the Net Neutrality/NBP Front

Filed under: Corporatism, Internet Democracy — Tags: , , — Russ @ 9:14 am


A few weeks ago I wrote on the current policy battle over Internet transmission regulation, specifically net neutrality and a proposed National Broadband Plan (NBP). Today I’ll comment on recent developments.
2010 started with some promising rhetoric from the FCC. It issued its draft NBP, a comprehensive policy to expand affordable broadband access to underserved regions while safeguarding consumer and privacy rights and strengthening cybersecurity. This dovetailed with newly proposed net neutrality principles which, while questionable in their (lack of) breadth, seemed to augur the agency’s commitment to the goal.  Although the FCC didn’t propose actual reclassification of Internet provision as a Title II “common carrier” rather than a Title I “information service”, which would seem to be the best policy, it claimed to be confident it could achieve its goals under the existing classifications.
This paradigm was upended by a Court of Appeals decision that under the status quo classification the FCC does not have the authority to regulate Internet transmission. Immediately pundits followed with a welter of prescriptions. Some said the FCC should just reclassify on its own authority (just as the original Title I classification was done by Bush-era fiat), others that we need legislation to bestow regulatory authority, while Republicans took the lead in advocating the status quo.
What does the status quo portend? That telecom rackets like AT&T, Comcast, and Viacom will be able to further entrench their monopolies, providing ever worse service at higher cost, while net neutrality and Internet democracy itself are destroyed forever. “Competition” is already dead. Almost nowhere is there any more than a choice of two or three providers, market access for new entrants is practically impossible thanks to massive infrastructure costs and existing pro-racket regulation, as in any mature sector the rackets now spend revenue not on expanding infrastructure and access and improving service, but on rent-maintenance activities like marketing, lobbying, and of course executive pay. The moment they feel secure enough in this monopoly, they’ll jack up rates enough to radically ration access itself by wealth, and impose political censorship. They probably won’t even need to go the heavy-handed Australian legislative route (which would probably be too obviously unconstitutional anyway). They’ll simply enforce it through the TOS “contracts”* they force you to sign to get online in the first place. This is a clear and present danger.
[* Since this issue, that abridgement of online free expression rights via “contract enforcement” is valid and not a restriction of freedom, comes up even among otherwise reasonable people, let’s be clear.
We the people have a right to free expression on the Internet. We built it, we paid for it, “private” infrastructure investment was always heavily subsidized and by now is barely a dribble anyway. It’s public property. It belongs to us.
So if a provider monopoly can rig the system so that a citizen can gain online access only by signing away his constitutional rights, that’s not a valid “contract”, but imposed tyranny.]
In the aftermath of the court case the FCC squirmed before Congress, at first lamely saying it thought the decision hadn’t changed anything while Republicans beat them with sticks saying Yes It Did. Eventually the FCC came around to this way of thinking. So the question was: If they wanted to forge ahead with these policy initiatives, how would they go about it in light of this court case?  
This month of May started out not so merry, with the FCC signaling that it was going to cave in on net neutrality and anything beyond a vestigial NBP. It looked like the status quo, with help from the courts, had won. But on May 5 Senator Jay Rockefeller and Rep Henry Waxman sent the FCC a letter demanding that it reaffirm the policy imperative, while they worked toward the same goal in the Congress. This seemed to somewhat bolster the agency’s spine. Commissioner Genachowski soon declared that the FCC would look into a kind of reclassification after all: He’d seek ” a ‘third way’ between a weak Title I and a needlessly burdensome Title II approach.”
To refresh, under Title I of the Communications Act “information services” have broad freedom as far as charges and treatment of content (at least in pricing), while Title II “common carriers” like telephone companies must adhere to strict anti-discrimination policy. They can’t engage in access discrimination or charge users extra for the same service based on magnitude of usage.
So according to some interpretations Genachowski’s statement sounds like he might want to keep the Title I classification for Internet providers while adding non-discrimination obligations, perhaps under the “enhanced services” classification according to the 1996 Telecom Act.
This sounds dubious. For a regulator, you should go at least as far in principle as you intend to go in practice. If there’s to be any mismatch, practice should be more lenient than principle, not the other way around. With a regulator you have to assume a weak principle means even weaker practice. (For that matter the Rockefeller-Waxman letter was also underwhelming, calling for a “light regulatory touch”.)
In this case, it would be better to establish the Title II principle as the basis going forward, and if it’s really necessary carve out exemptions (which I doubt it would be, and I feel weird sounding like a liberal messing around with the intricacies of “regulation”, but I’m not sure that the Internet, relying as it does upon this massed technical infrastructure, might not be an exception to my general view of regulation, though I’ll get to a more robust anti-monopoly idea in a moment; my ideas on this are still forming). That would be better than to stick with the principle, “these are information services, not communications carriers”, and then try to add some “enhanced” regulations to conserve the integrity of the carrier aspect of the bundle.
The rackets, of course, in a version of their standard Status Quo Lie, claim that switching from Title I to Title II would be some radical change. In fact the Bush declaration under Title I was conceptually radical, since these providers are obviously more like common carriers than information services. So to formally classify them as Title II communication services, let alone use Genachowski’s weaker “third way”, would be a step away from radicalism and toward moderation.
I can think of a simpler way to deal with the vertical monopolies involved here. Either break them up, or at least impose separate formal classifications on the separate aspects of an ISP. The transmission aspect is obviously Title II by right. This should apply to all modes of transmission, wired or wireless, or any other kind. Needless to say, antitrust policy applications aren’t “on the table”, either in the administration or Congress.
Finally, Rockefeller and Waxman have announced their intention to hold “meetings” with “stakeholders” in June, toward eventual legislation. We can only imagine the gruesome lobbying which will ensue.
So what’s the best path forward, given the political possibilities? Since I have zero confidence in Congress, on the contrary I predict there will never be another significant piece of constructive legislation for as long as the kleptocracy exists (not to mention the vagaries of the session calendar and the election), it follows that our best bet is agency reclassification. But will this be done either? It’s hard to believe it will be.
But somehow it has to be if our Internet democracy, the last large-scale democratic space we have left under the kleptocracy, is to be preserved. Right now I can’t think of anything better to say, but I’ll keep thinking and writing about it and see what comes up.