When Did Network Neutrality Become A Partisan Issue?

from the this-is-unfortunate dept

One of the interesting things about the debates that we have here about legal issues concerning innovation is that they tend not to be partisan. It's never been easy to line up a specific intellectual property agenda with one party or another -- which tends to mean that any debate on the subject at least focuses a bit more on the issues, rather than stereotypes of Democrats or Republicans. However, it looks like the network neutrality debate is suddenly becoming partisan -- which is a worrisome trend. Lots of folks have covered the fact that an amendment today to include network neutrality language in a telecom reform bill was voted down. However, it's telling that everyone is now covering it as a partisan issue, whether the headline is "GOP Gets It Way on Net Neutrality" or "Democrats lose House vote on Net neutrality". This is an important issue to discuss, without there needing to be partisan bickering about it. Network neutrality is quite a complex topic, and unfortunately, it seems like both sides of the debate are simplifying it down to slogans which risk confusing, rather than enlightening, people. The efforts to write network neutrality into the law are a very tricky subject, with the obvious fear being that any regulations will inadvertently excessively penalize future developments. On the other side of the coin, those preaching a complete "hands off" position seem to ignore the fact that it's way too late for that. The only reasons the telcos are in the position to violate network neutrality are because they've pretty much been granted subsidies and monopoly rights of way -- and part of that bargain was that to increase competition, there needed to be open and fair access. To suddenly claim that we need a hands off approach is ignoring the fact that there's never been a hands off approach and the companies involved were granted special rights. Balancing these two sides is an important issue -- and simply lining it up as a Democratic vs. Republican issue is only likely to cloud it with pointless bickering and misleading statements on both sides.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Extreme, Apr 26th, 2006 @ 9:05pm

    First Post?

    Whatever happened to the promises of fiber to every home? Aren't we supposed to have it by now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    J, Apr 26th, 2006 @ 9:06pm

    since it became a partisan issue

    The media doesn't "make" anything a partisan issue - it became a partisan issue when every Democrat except the members of the CBC vote for a substantial network neutrality proposal and every Republican but one voted with the telephone companies. After the drug companies the telecoms are the biggest movers of money in Washington. To both sides. In this case, one side has chosen to stand up to them, and the other has chosen to stick with them (and consequently increase their share of that very large pie) You don't get party line voting like this unless the leadership has made a choice and whipped the vote on down the line.

    All the "free market" techies and libertarians here that give the Republicans a pass on this issue are the ones to blame when the tiered/tolled internet kicks in - they are the ones who are undermining the fight to keep the internet open and unblocked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Jeremy, Apr 26th, 2006 @ 10:21pm

    "Net neutrality"=more government influence

    From :

    Tim Wu argues the following on ‘net neutrality:

    I believe that thinking libertarians fear two types of centralized power: that exercised by government, and that exercised by government-supported monopolistic incumbents, like AT&T.

    The Network Neutrality debate is really a debate about what are, in effect, crown corporations, AT&T and Verizon, whose plans would distort private competition among internet service providers. Companies like AT&T are infrastructure providers, almost like the roads — and their plans are very much simple tollbooths placed on a utility necessary for the operation of the private market. That’s why I think even libertarians have reason to resist the incursions of a company like AT&T on the internet and its design.

    I am not an advocate of any particular corporation, but his assertion that AT&T and others are essentially part of the government is quite a leap. AT&T (and Verizon and Qwest and Comcast and Cox...) have no monopoly, are indeed quite competitive, and are not gov’t sponsored. He blithely equates the ‘net with roads and other utilities.

    That may have been the case 20+ years ago, but more to the point, do we really wish our Internet to be run like a utility? Look at the health and performance of the highly regulated utilities in this country. The Internet can, and should, be so much more.

    Also, Dale Franks (in the comments on his QandO story) seems to be realizing that a libertarian position really can’t countenance more regulation over less. Not that we should make these decisions strictly out of orthodoxy, of course, but his instinct is right.

    If the utility argument is not persuasive, consider this: ‘net neutrality legislation would probably end doing to the network what Sarbanes-Oxley has done for finance. It has not cleaned up any bad actors; rather, it has created a lot of expensive documentation and made our capital markets lethargic and risk-averse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Mike (profile), Apr 26th, 2006 @ 10:36pm

    Re: "Net neutrality"=more government influence

    Jeremy makes some interesting points on net neutrality, but I'm afraid he glides over a few points too simply.

    Claiming that AT&T doesn't have a monopoly isn't necessarily accurate. What new company can get right of way rights to run wires where AT&T has them? No one can. Why not? It's not because of a lack of money, but because they'd need to get those rights of way from the gov't -- and the gov't is not going to hand them out.

    Also, you completely ignore the fact that AT&T and the others are in the position they're in now *because* of gov't regulation and subsidies. Those subsidies came with important tradeoffs. Why should we simply absolve AT&T of those obligations?

    I'm with you that I worry about any legislative effort to mandate network neutrality, but the points you're making seem to ignore a few very important facts. I don't think anyone (or anyone serious, anyway) is talking about turning the telcos into "utilities" but that doesn't mean that those companies should necessarily be able to take the gov't granted positions they've been given and ignore the obligations that came along with those grants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    PopeRatzo, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 3:38am

    For the most part, it IS a partisan issue. It's nice to think that it might not be, but besides the 4 Dems who took telco money and bent over for them (my own Bobby Rush, (IL), included), the neutrality language was voted down by Republicans.

    Let's not soften it: The Republicans are owned by corporate interests and will always line up to serve their masters. 6 years of them running all three branches of government have proven that. Some days it's Exxon-Mobil and some days it's the telcos.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    dataguy, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 5:58am

    There isn't a dime's worth of difference between the Democratics and Republicans.

    Vote all incumbents out!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Mousky, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 6:03am

    Re: Re: "Net neutrality"=more government influence

    I totally understand your point-of-view (we gave AT&T money and they should follow through on those obligations), but I don't think that two wrongs make a right. Absolving AT&T of those obligations, while costly, may be the right thing in the long term. But it should also come with the stipulation that they will not see one dime from the government and that local or regional monopolies will no longer be protected by law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous of Course, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 6:51am


    It's partisan, but it's not evil corporate owned
    republicans vs the democrats. They're both

    It's republicans beholding to one group of
    corporations vs democrats beholding to another
    group of corporations. It's a battle over who
    gets a piece of the action. The so called network
    neutrality law would allow provide more opportunities
    to profit from the network.

    Yes, network neutrality is a good thing for Joe
    Schmoe but that's hardly a reason for a politician
    to work up a sweat.

    The only difference between the two parties is
    the pockets their mony grubbing hands are in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Patrick Mullen, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 7:32am

    OK, so the politicians are bought and sold, that isn't changing, so why can't consumers just vote with their pocketbook.

    I can post here via my mobile phone, via my cable connection at home or I could buy DSL and post here. That is 3 choices. Soon broadband over power may happen, WiFi/WiMax will mature and who knows what else?

    If you want to really see an explosion in broadband usage, forget about regulations, let anyone who wants to offer broadband offer it. Let loose with national franchises, open up the wireless spectrum bidding, make it easy to provide service. If you don't like what a wireline company be your provider. If you don't like that, let a wireless company be your provider. Competition is out there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Joe Smith, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 8:28am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Absolving AT&T of those obligations, while costly, may be the right thing in the long term.

    If they want to be absolved from obligations they have been paid to perform then the starting point of the discussion has to be when will they give the money back?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Esteben leach, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 8:33am

    Re: Patrick Mullen

    I am glad for you PAtrick Mullen, having so many choices. Up until this last year I had 2 choices 350 up front fee with 70/month for satellite or a 48K landline. Now I have an additional choice i can choose to pay $70/month for DSL. This is on top of the 50$/month for dish or DirectTv I am very happy that lots of you city dwellers have so many choices. Us farming folk have little or no choice, but since we are sucha small segment of the population I expect it to remain that way. So my children will have computer experience but n o broadband, they will have plenty of Linux, but no Mcintosh or Windows. Since we can't get updates to squeeze through the landline, we have no way to update Windows and prevent infection or malware, so our only choice is to use LINUX or McIntosh that requires no constant updating. HAve i mentioned how jealous I am that you have so many choices?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Jonathon, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 8:53am

    Agree and Disagree

    There is truth in that, but there are also some flaws.

    Yes, there is competition with different services (wired and wireless...powerlines still a huge maybe). But that is talking about personal use applications.

    I don't know for sure, but would doubt that there are many businesses that would run their services hosted via a wireless connection. So, small businesses (I guess large ones too) are pretty much tied to wired connections. In that respect this does have a big impact.

    I'm a republican (moderate though) and I don't agree with this proposal. However, I do see the argument. Yes, it costs money to build new infrastrucutre, so yes they should be able to charge for usage of that infrastrucure. Anything NEW that they are installing they should be able to control however they want tiered or not since they are the ones who footed the bill for it. However, for the pre-existing connections that had gov't funding they should be publically accessible and non-regulated.

    Ok, now to speak like a true Republican. Life isn't fair. I work hard for my money. Everyone isn't equal in the sense that not everyone is the same. We should all have the same opportunities and freedoms, but that doesn't mean that we should outlaw price descrimination. Creating services that are prohibitivly costful are just fine so long as they are available just the same to everyone. Now, why this is ok is that the service provider will want to maximize their profits. They will price it so that it does. If you can't afford it, then it isn't my fault and I shouldn't be punished for you not being able to make yourself useful enough to society to be able to demand enough compensation the services that you provide...so that you can afford that service.

    Enough rant. Out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Jonathon, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 8:56am

    Not jealous enough


    If you were jealous enough then you would move to the city. Again, life isn't fair. You will have to make choices. Don't like where your at, easy soution. Move.

    Don't give me excuses, you do have the ability to make choices...at least I hope you do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    n00b, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 9:35am

    Not surprised that it would be partisan

    Democrats generally want the government to regulate as much of our lives as possible. Republicans generally don't. Don't really care if either is doing it out of principle or concern for their pocketbook, but I'll side with the Republicans on this issue. Big WORD to whoever earlier brought up the Sarbanes-Oxley fiasco.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Art, Apr 27th, 2006 @ 11:23am


    There is no competition where I live, Patrick. I have dialup and a very expensive satellite connection. I'm not alone, either. There are a lot of rural customers in the same boat. I could do a LOT more business if I had a better Internet connection to work with. I already spend countless hours uploading and accessing pages now, and do most of my work between 12-5 a.m., when traffic is lower.

    It's nice to live in an area where choice exists. It doesn't exist for everyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2006 @ 7:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And remove their wires from the utility right of ways.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2006 @ 8:29am


    I can post here via my mobile phone, via my cable connection at home or I could buy DSL and post here. That is 3 choices.
    That is nowhere nearly enough choice. And they are all operated under government protection.

    If you want to really see an explosion in broadband usage, forget about regulations, let anyone who wants to offer broadband offer it.
    Exactly. But until hell freezes over and that happens, the protected operators need regulation.

    Let loose with national franchises, open up the wireless spectrum bidding, make it easy to provide service.
    Oops. You had me going there for a moment. Franchises are the problem now. We need to eliminate franchises and deregulate spectrum, not sell it off to the richest.

    Competition is out there.
    Kind of like voting in China.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2006 @ 8:46am

    Re: Not jealous enough

    Again, life isn't fair.
    No, it certainly isn't. Some people even celebrate that fact while unfairly profiting from other people's misfortune. Then on the other hand there are people who actually oppose evil.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Not_Jonathon, Apr 28th, 2006 @ 8:56am

    Re: Not jealous enough

    Don't give me excuses, you do have the ability to make choices
    You know, I've heard it argued that there was no such thing as human slavery in the U.S. old south either because the workers could choose whether to work or not: They could either work or suffer the consequences. So they had choice. Maybe they didn't like their choices, but hey, life isn't fair.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    tgulch, Jul 5th, 2006 @ 10:00pm


    yes,disabled folks who benefit the most from the internet, shouldn't
    have acesss, because we aren't 'useful enough to
    society', to pay whatever
    rates these monsters known as republicans,
    want to gouge out of us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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