Net neutrality - by the numbers

Net Neutrality By the Numbers
By Art Brodsky, TPM Cafe

That leads us to the first number today, 60. That’s how many votes Stevens needs to round up before he can bring his bill to the floor. Senate rules require 60 votes to cut off debate on legislation. Otherwise, practically speaking, the bill is dead. So, the Senate leadership has told Stevens he must have the votes in hand to cut off debate before the bill will be brought up for debate.

Goodness knows, the troops are on the march to achieve the 60-vote objective. The telephone companies and their allies are flooding Capitol Hill, all seeking meetings with legislative staffers. Those allies include any industries that have something favorable to them in the bill. It’s telephone companies large and small. It’s cellular companies, and cable companies. It’s the content companies which want government-mandated technology to stop fair use of TV broadcasts (the “broadcast flag” and advanced recording of music (the “audio flag). That’s a lot of firepower.

Stevens and his staff cut deals to help those people and Stevens and his staff want help in forcing the bill through. Every week, there are meetings around Washington in which the telephone companies and their lobbyists are going through check lists and planning as many meetings as they can with the sole goal of making sure a Senator will vote to cut off debate.

The flip side of the issue is our second number, 41 (corrected from the earlier mathematically challenged version.) That’s how many Senators are needed to keep the bill off of the floor. The objective of those favoring Net Neutrality is not to kill the bill. Rather, we want to fix it and make it better, but the chances of that happening are better if negotiations take place and agreements are reached before the bill gets to the floor than after it gets to the floor.

The massive coalition favoring Net Neutrality, encompassing consumer groups, non-profits and issue-oriented organizations from Public Knowledge (my day job employer) to and the Christian coalition, as well as major Internet companies, is pushing back. The pro-Net Neutrality forces aren’t as numerous or as powerful as the telephone companies, despite what some say. (More on that later.) At least there are only 100 Senators, as opposed to 435 House members. Pro Net Neutrality forces may get to each member once, but the telephone and cable companies and their allies will get to each Senator’s office multiple times.

Of course, this is a large and complex bill, and there are many different interest groups not involved with Net Neutrality that would like to see some fixes made. The groups representing cities, for example, don’t like the portion of the bill extending the moratorium on Internet taxation, and states and localities don’t like the Federal government assuming control over some traditional functions, such as keeping authority over cable TV franchising and complaints on cellular phones. There’s a lot here for everyone to fight over.

Our next number gives you the sense of the scale of lobbying involved, $42 million. That’s the amount a study by the pro-net Neutrality coalition estimated the opponents of Net Neutrality spent in the first six months of this year. That total includes TV and print ads from AT&T, Verizon, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, U.S. Telecom Association, Hands Off the Internet, TV4US (the campaign for streamlined entry for telephone companies to get into the cable business) and MyWireless, a cellular campaign.

The total includes $18 million in broadcast ads, $14 million in print ads in Washington, D.C. publications from the Washington Post to publications like Roll Call, The Hill and Congress Daily. These circulate on Capitol Hill and environs in Washington, so the audience is a select one.

All of that money goes to sending out a message that is, from time to time, just factually wrong. The opponents of Net Neutrality, for example, try to set up the debate as one between the big telephone companies and the equally big Google and Yahoo!. That’s nonsense on the face of it, first because the telephone companies have been much bigger, much longer, and are getting bigger.

Our next number is $1.8 billion. The new AT&T reported a $1.8 billion profit for the second quarter – it’s first combining the old AT&T and SBC. That makes the number of parts left over from the 1984 divestiture a simple three – AT&T, Verizon and Qwest, down from the original eight. As an astute observer from Business Week found, the telephone companies these days are more intent on blocking competition and jacking up charges to consumers than really advancing their technology.

The real debate is over the future of the next Google’s and Yahoo!s. Google and Yahoo! and others are fighting to protect the future of the Internet, so that the economic and regulatory conditions that fostered the original Yahoo! and the original Google will still be around, and so that entrepreneurs won’t have their business plans depend on the kindness, or lack thereof, of strangers in the telephone and cable companies.

No one is talking about heavy-handed regulation of the Internet, as some of the anti-Net Neutrality ads claim.

For our next-to-last number, we can’t even estimate the number of companies that either won’t start or would be shut down before they get off the ground unless solid non-discrimination rules are put in place – the kind that were in place until last September and the kind that allowed the Internet to grow and to flourish.

But for our final number, we do know the number of companies that would benefit from being allowed to pick winners and losers. Here’s a hint – it’ smaller than the number of legislative days left in this session of the Senate, which is about 21.

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