JOHN DUNBAR

In some circles I’m considered to quotable when it comes to communications policy issues. This should be disturbing news for those who know me. But I got an interesting call from a reporter who was apparently ordered to write a story saying voters in the midterm election sent a message by rejecting proponents of network neutrality.

This had to be a plant from some telco.

That’s a really silly theory, on several levels. First, a typical voter has no idea what network neutrality even means. Actually I’m not so sure myself any more. It is, I think, the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equal. No fast lanes for high-paying customers. No blocking of content based on what software is being used or what kind of political message is being sent.

Network neutrality is basically crumbling as a concept as it is. Sign up for Internet service these days and you get the option of paying extra for faster service. Companies are setting limits on how much data you can download. And as for wireless, forget it. Then there was that sort of creepy agreement between new best buddies Verizon and Google. It pays lip service to non-discrimination principles, then says ISPs can provide a separate connection for special services. That sounds a lot like that fast-lane for fat cats everyone has been objecting to for the past several years.

Back to the point – voters were angry and scared and out of a job, and that’s a bad mix if you are an incumbent. And since there were more Democratic incumbents than Republican, they got hammered pretty good. Democrats generally support network neutrality while Republicans oppose it, by the way. So there, now it’s an election issue. Except that it wasn’t. Even though it could have been.

The corporate cronies that hitched a ride to the tea party movement successfully jammed anti-network neutrality rhetoric into their list of positions. But once again, seriously, nobody really cared. Or noticed, for that matter.

The real story here is that the Dems have had two years to pass a strong anti-discrimination law for the Internet. The president himself was a sponsor of a network neutrality bill when he was a senator. And the Federal Communications Commission has a three-vote majority RIGHT NOW if it wants to do something substantive about making sure the Internet remains uncorrupted. And it has done nothing.

UPDATE: But wait, there’s more… The FCC is going to vote on a network neutrality proposal tomorrow (Dec. 21,2010). Chances are all we will see is a press release. The agency tends to hang on to major orders for weeks after they vote on them for “editorial privileges.” (Don’t get me started.) NN proponents dont’ like it. The industry doesn’t seem to either. Which, I suppose, is the definition of a compromise.

Regardless of how this move turns out, this is an issue that can’t be resolved without congressional action. And after the first of the year, with the Rs in charge of the House, you can forget seeing any kind of network neutrality legislation getting anywhere. Not that it did under the Democrats, either.

Somebody should probably write a story about that…

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