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Follow The Net Neutrality Money Trail

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Today, the House of Representatives will be debating and voting on proposed Net Neutrality amendments to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006, a bill that will grant sweeping powers to telecommunications and cable companies to set up a tollbooth Internet.

Net Neutrality Up For Vote; Follow the Money
Do You Side With The Money Or The Little Guy?

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who chairs the Committee on Energy and Commerce, has pushed to pass the bill as-is, without any type of legislative guarantee to bar telco and cable giants from charging fees to the highest bidder for faster delivery of content. Rep. Barton has repeatedly tried to block Net Neutrality legislation and has vowed to continue to do so, arguing from the pockets of his contributors.

Net Neutrality advocates charge this policy would be discriminatory, effectively blocking small businesses and individual content providers from providing services on the same level as large corporations. In addition, the COPE Act sets up a situation where network operators would be able to block, restrict, or slow consumer access to unapproved sites.

Verizon has publicly vowed to uphold Net Neutrality principles in tact as it continues to lobby against legislation (and to ensure that agreed-to principles required as conditions set by the FCC during its merger with MCI would sunset after 30 months). Verizon, though, isn’t the only one that seems to be employing slick (but thin) public rhetoric to gain sympathy for its cause.

All of them have similar methods of misinformation: one involves incorporating messages on green federal paper for distribution in Congress; and the other involves finding those who’ve never heard the phrase “Net Neutrality” to make them aware of the big corporation and government conspiracy to raise access fees and end the Internet as we know it.

Before AT&T set up a questionable grassroots organization to “inform” the unaware public of Microsoft’s and Google’s so-called freeloading attempt to use up all of AT&T’s customers’ bandwidth, Bell South Corp. made its intentions very clear.

From the Washington Post:

William L. Smith, chief technology officer for Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp., told reporters and analysts that an Internet service provider such as his firm should be able, for example, to charge Yahoo Inc. for the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc.

Or, Smith said, his company should be allowed to charge a rival voice-over-Internet firm so that its service can operate with the same quality as BellSouth’s offering.

The general public and Congress being unaware of the concept of Net Neutrality was the largest weapon in the telco arsenal, a weapon that recently has lost its power due to awareness efforts set in motion by SaveTheInternet.com, a coalition that has garnered support from 700+ organizations across the political spectrum, Google (ItsOurNet.org), Microsoft, the architects of the Internet and the World Wide Web itself, celebrities, and most recently high profile politicians like senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, and 2008 presidential hopeful Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.

And that is perhaps the most telling portion of the issue. In favor of Net Neutrality: almost everybody. Opposed: the ones who stand to profit the most.

The main arguments against Net Neutrality have worn thin in the public’s eye. The cable and telecommunications industry has claimed that fiber-optic upgrades to the network to handle the weight of IPTV require the tiered system. But some charge that the network was already paid for through government incentives and tax breaks given to the telecommunications industry ten years ago.

Beyond that, the measures to keep Net Neutrality off of lawmakers agendas is a temporary profit grab until a truer monopoly can be formed 15 or 20 years down the road. Cable companies and telcos are racing to get fiber-to-the-premises, a last mile effort to control these pipes into as many homes as possible.

They’ve argued that Net Neutrality legislation is anticompetitive, but if, decades down the road, they can control the last mile, competitors providing access through power lines, over copper, via wireless networks, will not be able to compete with the speeds fiber networks provide, already installed and controlled by the companies who, up until recent technological innovations provided by the openness of the Net, have provided only two options for connectivity and have overcharged for it.

The recent requirement that the telcos open up their networks to competition is set to end next year, and the FCC has already said they will not be required have open fiber networks.

This is a survival game for the telcos and cable companies as they use excessive rhetoric for misdirection.

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