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Dana Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for over 25 years and has covered the online world professionally since 1985. He founded the "Interactive Age Daily" for CMP Media, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and dozens of other publications over the years.
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February 22, 2006

The Internet As A Political Issue

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Posted by Dana Blankenhorn

moveon%20logo.gifGenerally, political issues involving the Internet are handled by elites.

Voters don't understand things like the "Brand X" decision, or the ICANN mess. All they care about is that the resource is there when they want it, at some price they can afford.

The practical result for the last decade is that a handful of large corporations have determined Internet policy. This is no longer working, because many of those corporations are engaged in a greed-fest aimed at making temporary advantages (often gained through government lobbying) into permanent taxes on Internet users.

The first hint we got that people were starting to pay attention was a few weeks ago, after BellSouth and AT&T said they should be able to charge those with data available, who were paying ISP charges, for access to "their" customers, who were also paying ISP charges. They wanted to hold you hostage, because your customer relationship to them made you "theirs." They actually said those things.

That fight is far from over, and the latest news should tell every Internet user why they need to get involved in the political side of the resource.. After paying a lot of lip service to the idea of network neutrality, a House subcommittee has passed a bill that says nothing about it, and in so doing endorses the Bells' position.

The ironic thing here is that, on Internet issues, activists on the left and right are in wholehearted agreement, as are activists in the center. The only "people" on the other side are giant corporations, which should not be people at all. It's the corporate control of America's government which makes this kind of nonsense possible, and everyone involved in online politics, no matter their views on the issues (or each other) needs to be up in arms about this.

Unfortunately, it turns out this is not what they're up in arms about.

Today my inbox received an e-mail from, a major left-wing activist group. Moveon was founded on the Internet, and uses the Internet extensively in its organizing.

What was this e-mail about? Was it BellSouth? Was it Verisign? Was it about censorship or Internet snooping?

Nope. It was about AOL's deal with a marketing firm to give e-mail preferences to those marketers who paid it a fee. See, they've got a petition you can sign to urge AOL to back down.

Now on the merits I agree with them. But AOL is vulnerable to a far more direct attack. Just tell Moveon members to boycott AOL and to get other e-mail addresses -- Google Mail addresses are free, and anyone with AOL can get them.. Take away their market share and they'll back off. It's an economic issue with an economic solution.

Moreover, imagine if Moveon got together with some of its right-and-center counterparts on a coordinated campaign against the Bells' hoarding of bandwidth, against the Bells' demands for tribute from big sites, and on behalf of better Internet roads for all?

Imagine the impact of that.

Instead, we get small actions on small issues.


Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Digital Divide | Economics | Futurism | Internet | Politics | law | personal


1. Brad Hutchings on February 23, 2006 02:33 PM writes...

So where do you stand on technologies like this?

Deployed by an ISP, it would have virtually the same effect as the ISP providing "toll lanes" for optional use by hi-bandwidth content providers. It would have to be paid for by the providers. Yet how could anyone argue that a system like this violates the concept of network neutrality? So that begs the question... what is so sacrosanct about network neutrality as a principle that two systems targeted at the same customers which effectively do the same thing where one violates network neutrality and one doesn't... grrrr.... run on sentence... you get the point. Why is this way OK, but the Bells' way not OK?

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2. Jesse Kopelman on February 23, 2006 04:54 PM writes...

Brad, why would the content provider have to pay for an ISP to use this caching technology? I don't believe people are paying to have their HTML cached, so why would they pay for this? The issue of net neutrality has nothing to do with technology. If it did, why would a video file bit be worth more than text file bit? Content providers pay to access the internet. Users pay to access the internet. Both sides of the connection are paid for. The Bells want to charge for preferential routing inbetween, but has anyone actually requested such service?

Back to the post; It is clear that corporate influence in government is the greatest current threat to national security and individual liberty. Dana, you have said it time and again, corporations are not people and they do not deserve the rights of people. Only when this is commonly accepted will the danger pass.

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3. Brad Hutchings on February 23, 2006 06:55 PM writes...

Jesse has a good point that I overlooked. Akamai provides a very similar service, but charges nobody, since their business model is to pull money out of their posteriors. Not. What kind of question is that anyway? Of course the content providers will have to pay the ISPs for local caching because the content providers will have to build local cache access into their application AND they will want to ensure their content is DRM protected. This is not passive, interpoint caching.

My point was that if this system turns out to be feasible and effectively puts a content depot within a few hops of everyone rather than at a central (or a few central points) on the Internet, the content providers would probably love that. In fact, their effective bandwidth costs might remain about the same (if metered) or long term, might spread from a few central hubs to a plethora of outlets. That is why Akamai has been a great deal for companies that have to push lots of bits from a library of content! You can either invest in tons of bandwidth at delivery power at the source -OR- you can invest little less at the source and more at distribution points closer to customers.

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4. Jesse Kopelman on February 27, 2006 07:33 PM writes...

What do you mean content providers will HAVE to pay for this caching. They will only pay if they want it and it will only have any effect on the world if lots of providers use it. You sound like those people back in the mid-nineties saying that no one should build any more towers because satellite based services were going to knock out all terestrial wireless. The issue of net neutrality is not whether or not you allow tiered service levels but whether pricing is based on raw bits or it is based on application. We have tiered pricing already: a DS3 costs more than a DS1, for example. What we want to avoid is a DS3 to a video streamer costing more than a DS3 to an e-mail provider. Why is that so hard to understand (not agree with, just understand)?

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