Ok, net neutrality... but where's my open access?

By Joshua Breitbart, Civil Defense

I’ve gotten a lot of comments, most of them off-line and in-person, about my recent blog post, “Snarky won’t save the Internet.”

Most recently, someone pointed to an editorial in today’s LA Times, “Weighing High-Tech Bills in Analog,” that seems to be inspired by the snarkfest. It takes as its starting point Congress’s ignorance when it comes to media technology, so one could imagine the “series of tubes” meme giving the editors the idea.

This editorial is actually evidence of exactly the problem I was talking about. The reason we are getting bad policy from Congress is not because Senators and Representatives are stupid are old, but because they are pushing legislation on behalf of the phone companies. (It’s like saying, as the article does, that the purpose of the 1996 Telecommunications Act was to spur competition but, shockingly, wound up leading to consolidation.)

The proper response to the problem with tech legislation isn’t a comic book explaining the Internet to members of Congress, it’s lobbying reform and grassroots pressure.

I didn’t write the original anti-snark piece because I am opposed to funny. I am in favor of humor as a weapon against a more-powerful enemy or to get someone’s attention before following up with more information. So I drew back my anti-snarkism a bit when The Daily Show followed up it’s anti-Stevens segment that misinformed people about the dangers to the open internet with one that more clearly explained the issue.

I’ll also give a big shout to Prometheus Radio Project for their “Series of Fallopian Tubes” because they (a) put “Senator Stevens: Don’t Tie Our Tubes!” on the back so it wasn’t just an inside joke, (b) debuted them at the male-dominated HOPE conference where feminism is more radical than net neutrality, and (c) are using the shirts as a fundraiser for digital expansion.

But to the people who scoff at the stupidity of their enemies and chuckle at their own brillance while doing nothing to actually shift the balance of power, I say bah. Pooh on you. (Maybe I should have labeled my enemy the smugfest rathert than the snarkfest.)

While we’re on the subject of net neutrality, can someone tell me when we start pushing for the regulatory scheme we really want for this series of tubes?

Net neutrality is actually a retreat from “open access,” which is what we had before the Supreme Court’s Brand X decision. Open access applied to the Internet when we were using dial-up over and it was classified as a “telecommunications service” like the telephone. With the telephone, that means owners of the lines can’t prioritize their customers’ calls over those of their competitors’ (net neutrality or, as it’s known in the phone world, “common carrier”), but it also means they have to lease their lines to other phone service providers (open access). Open access is how you can have real competition without having a dozen different wires running under your street, through your backyard, and into your house.

As Internet users moved from dial-up to broadband, there was a period where this same sort of leased access seemed to apply. Brand X was an independent Internet Service Provider to whom the cable companies would not provide access to their lines, citing the FCC’s classification of their broadband Internet over cable lines as an “information service” and thus not subject to the regulations of phone lines. The Supreme Court upheld that classification.

Soon the phone companies petitioned the FCC to provide the same classification to their DSL broadband service, even though they were still using the same phone lines, and the FCC agreed.

As I understand it, the common carrier provisions were given a sunset of this September to allow for some period of transition before all of the independent ISPs get wiped out and all of our Internet traffic falls into the hands of the phone companies. So we are in the weird position of needing a new law to preserve the status quo.

In a Congressional climate like today’s, we’ll take net neutrality, but what we really want is open access. That would get us out from under the broadband duopoly and allow competition to address problems like bad customer service, high prices, or an internet taking five days to get to your inbox. (The other thing that could accomplish this is a community or municipal broadband infrastructure to rival the corporate infrastructure. More on this later in the week.)

article originally published at http://breitbart.wordpress.com/2006/08/07/more-anti-snark/.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey