Time to Rummmmmble for Net Neutrality!

Who’d a thunk it. The next big broadband flashpoint appears to be net neutrality. Incumbents and their lobbyists have gone ballistic, with rhetoric that went from 0 to High Moral Outrage within a day. Friday the Republican Congressional leadership went directly to the President’s doorstep to complain about net neut, so that means some hum dinger political fireworks are likely in the offing.     

I threw in my first commentary on the topic in the mix last week.

Hearing all the bluster from big incumbents about how unfair net neutrality rules are and how much they contribute to the demise of innovation, methinks “The lady doth protest too much.” Underneath their pushback is the underlying threat that, without incumbents’ support, these rules are DOA.

The giants put a similar fine whine out on the table when they didn’t apply for broadband stimulus grants. But alas, they were “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as 2,200 applications poured in from others stepping into the breach. There are plenty of local governments and smaller service providers that can profitably build networks and offer Internet services that consumers and businesses want, and without being tripped up by net neutrality.

If you look at history, it’s often been small, initially anonymous companies that drove technology innovation, creativity and competition. The biggest companies were often the slowest to innovate but the fastest to obstruct, if not outright kill innovation. (You can read the rest of this Fierce Broadband column here)

You’re going to read a lot about net neut in the upcoming weeks. One of my contacts at the Benton Foundation mentioned how surprised he was at all the media coverage, saying you don’t usually see this much until after the FCC has made rules, not when they’ve just proposed some.

My main take on things is that those of us who support community broadband need to get on the stick and pushback on all this incumbent noise. If they are allowed to discriminately throttle content on the Internet based on their financial self-interests, broadband advancement in the U.S. is hosed. 

As David Isenberg says on his blog

Network Neutrality has never been about the idea of too much bandwidth on a limited network. That’s dinosaur feces. It’s always been about whether the telcos and cablecos could leverage ties between their network and certain apps to make discriminatory, anti-competitive profits.

The strength of the Internet is that it accepts all traffic without a “will it make money” test. That’s why a Pez dispenser collector could grow a hobbyist site into eBay. It’s how two Stanford students could grow their thesis into Google. It’s how an Israeli apps company that wanted to reduce its phone bill invented Internet telephony….the reality is that if we ever say “Goodbye Net Neutrality” we’ll also be saying, “Goodbye Internet.”

Check out David’s blog. Be sure to scroll down to “Making Network Neutrality Sustainable, Revisited” This post isn’t as long as it seems and it’s very good.

At every opportunity, we have to call the incumbents on their silly allegations, fear mongering and distortions of reality. Here’s a good write-up on debunking industry talking points.

Needless to say, the road to net neut is going to be a rough one, long and definitely winding. As one of my more cynical media contacts Karl Bode stated, “At this point, I’ll believe any real, tough consumer-friendly rules coming from Uncle Sam when I actually see them. Just too many lobbyists, too few consumer advocates.” Luckily, Karl gets past (or harnesses, depending on your take) his cynicism occasionally to write some real scathing push-back pieces – and doesn’t mind if you quote him.

Tying all this back to the broadband stimulus program, this month NTIA/RUS have opened the doors via an RFI soliciting feedback on the NOFA rules. Get over there and put your two-cents in. Be sure that top of your list is “keep net neut in the NOFA!!” If incumbents won’t play in the stimulus sandbox, tell them to get out of our way! We’ve got business to attend to.

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