Saturday, April 22, 2006

Talking Points Memo gets it completely wrong on COPE Act

Josh Marshall writes:
The grand ole daddy of special interest giveaways -- Congress to give away the Internet. This is serious. Find out more here.
Sounds like he's saying that Congress is transferring the authority the Department of Commerce currently has over ICANN somewhere, doesn't it? But he links to Art Brodsky on TPM's "Special Guests Blog," who writes:

Congress is going to hand the operation of the Internet over to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. Democrats are helping. It's a shame.

Don’t look now, but the House Commerce Committee next Wednesday is likely to vote to turn control of the Internet over to AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner and what’s left of the telecommunications industry. It will be one of those stories the MSM writes about as “little noticed” because they haven’t covered it.

What's he talking about? He's talking about the COPE Act, the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006, which just passed the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, and its failure to include provisions mandating "net neutrality."

This doesn't "give away the Internet"--we have no laws mandating "net neutrality" today. This bill doesn't change the ownership or regulation of the Internet. It does make changes to how cable companies operate (permitting national franchising in addition to local franchising), it mandates that VOIP providers must supply E911 service, and it guarantees the right of municipalities to offer wireless broadband access.

Brodsky and Marshall have grossly misrepresented the effect of this bill in claiming that it "gives away the Internet." What it does do with respect to the FCC's policy statement (PDF) on "net neutrality" is give the FCC the ability to enforce that policy statement with fines of up to $500,000, while denying the FCC the authority to "adopt or implement rules or regulations regarding enforcement of the broadband policy statement and the principles incorporated therein, with the sole exception of the authority to adopt procedures for the adjudication of complaints."

Common Cause, an advocate of codifying specific "net neutrality" rules, opposes the bill (see their reasons and analysis here). But the problem with Common Cause's position is that there are no well-defined notions for how "net neutrality" should operate that would ensure that the result isn't just to freeze the Internet in its current state and stifle new innovations and developments. (Common Cause apparently doesn't understand the Internet well enough to know that spam is bad.)

Common Cause overestimates the ability of the telcos to use their existing networks to control how the Internet will work, and is, I believe, mistaken in its fears of classes of service. The existing broadband policy statement is sufficient to prevent telcos from blocking Google, or (more realistically) blocking access to competing VOIP providers without getting FCC fines. Further, it doesn't make the slightest bit of business sense for a DSL or cable modem provider to block access to services like the most popular search engine in the world.

For more on the subject of net neutrality, the single best analysis to date is the Stifel/Nicolaus report, "Value Chain Tug of War" (PDF). Also see my previous posts on this blog here (for my thoughts), and here (for a good analysis by Martin Geddes of the Telepocalypse blog), along with Geddes' speech at Freedom to Connect here, and Paul Kouroupas of Global Crossing's posts here, here, and here. (Disclosure: Global Crossing is my employer; I manage its network security. Global Crossing would be at risk if the RBOCs and cable companies were able to use their control of last-mile networks within the U.S. in an anti-competitive manner, so my position on this issue isn't based on any loyalty or bias towards those companies--I'd like to see more competition in broadband, but I don't think giving the FCC greater regulatory power over the Internet would have any beneficial effects in that regard.)

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