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|Comments on news posted 2008-06-26 14:43:21: An eclectic and disjointed mix of businesses, consumer advocacy organizations, politicians and technologists this week banded together under the "Internet For Everyone" banner to promote, well, Internet for everyone. .. |
Yes, it's all about the money - for the lobbyists Whenever you see an effort like this, it is helpful to know who's behind it and what their motivation is.
The lobbyists and lawyers behind this (lawyers Wu, Lessig, and Ammori and and Free Press, their inside-the-Beltway lobbying organization; the other groups that have signed on are just riding along) have large staffs and need lots of money to pay them. (The group's site, at »www.freepress.net, lists a staff of 35 people!)
When these lobbyists run out of meaningful causes to pursue, they don't want to cut those staffs or their salaries (it's expensive to live in DC). So, they attempt to invent crises that they can take to contributors and ask for more money. This group's previous straw man was "network neutrality" -- an attempt to regulate the Internet in a way that was not actually "neutral" at all but rather favored them and their contributors at the expense of consumers.
Now that it's clear that the regulation Free Press was pushing (which actually would have hurt consumer choice and broadband deployment) would be harmful to consumers and will not go anywhere in this session of Congress, they've launched another "feel good" campaign: "Internet for Everyone." Like a chicken in every pot, it's something that on the surface no one would claim was undesirable.
But at what cost? Are we going to be taxed to pay for mediocre, always-overloaded, unreliable public Wi-Fi, which would congest the airwaves and prevent commercial wireless providers from offering higher quality access over the same radio spectrum?
And how? As with their previous campaign, the Devil's in the details. The group is likely to push for free public Wi-Fi (even though all efforts in this realm to date have been low quality and financially unsustainable); buildout requirements for telephone and cable companies; and -- this time buried within the larger agenda -- the same regulation of the Internet that they wanted before.
And, as Karl mentioned, the organization won't tackle the most pressing problem: corruption. (In fact, it's part of the self serving inside-the-Beltway political machine itself; that's why it's launching this slick but almost content-free campaign.) The real reason that we don't have competitive Internet everywhere is that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has been scrapped by the FCC and the courts (e.g. Brand X). Until Congress has the moxie to revisit the issue and ensure that the Bell System blob doesn't re-assemble itself (it's only two mergers away from it now and already acts as if it has re-assembled), we're in trouble. Until the airwaves are available to small, local competitors (the terms of the recent auctions have been slanted so as to let the huge companies snatch it up), ubiquitous, quality wireless broadband will barely be feasible. We need to start there -- not by supporting "feel good" groups with hidden agendas.
Lessig and Wu absolutely are lobbyists. I watched, two months ago, as Lessig held forth in front of the FCC, lobbying it to regulate the Internet. Wu has appeared before Congress, doing the same thing. And they're both on the Board of Directors of Free Press, the lobbying group that has launched the campaign referenced in the article above. So, yes, they are both lawyers and lobbyists.
While it is true that Lessig has talked about a campaign to fight corruption, he's backed down on it. And he recently scrapped plans to run for office himself. Instead, he's gone back to being a sort of "ambulance chasing" lawyer -- except that in his case, rather than chasing ambulances, he chases fads. What he does is sort of like the old saying, "To be a leader, find a parade and jump in front of it." It's all PR and little or no substance, just like his speech to the FCC (in which he cast a few stones at Comcast but made no substantive points and presented no evidence).