Monday, June 19, 2006

Net Neutrality: safeguarding our democratic internet

As a blogger, web user, and internet-enabled business person, I champion the cause of Net Neutrality.

Listen to what is being said by smart internet defenders.

Net Neutrality on Center Stage

By Marjorie Heins


(May 30, 2006) - Washington DC-watchers last week saw a remarkable change of the weather on a profoundly important issue - "network neutrality." Energized by one of the most diverse coalitions in our recent political history, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would bar the telephone and cable companies that control broadband Internet access from discriminating in the provision of services.

Allowing the few companies that now dominate broadband to discriminate would end the Internet as we know it. If the companies that own the pipes - the high-speed cable and DSL lines that are increasingly essential to online communication - can block sites that they dislike, or that don't pay them for fast connections to our computer screens - then the Internet will be transformed from a dynamic, interactive forum into just another medium delivering shopping and entertainment to consumers.

Nonprofit educational, religious, and advocacy groups of every political and cultural variety, unable to pay for the fast lane, would be relegated to the bumpy dirt road under this system - if they showed up on our screens at all. Information about health, the environment, politics - you name it - would be delivered at slower speeds while commercial sites would zoom into view.

Yet despite these high stakes for culture and democracy, new telecom legislation was headed for passage without serious net neutrality protection until just a few weeks ago.

On April 26, the House Energy & Commerce Committee had rejected a strong neutrality mandate proposed by Congressmen Rick Boucher and Ed Markey.

Thus, the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement," or "COPE," Act (watch out for those seductively misleading titles), was sent to the House floor with only the weakest of net neutrality language, and essentially no enforcement mechanism.

A columnist from the Blue Meme blogsite opined:

Six weeks ago, the takeover of the Internet was so close to fait accompli that Big Telco was comfortable pulling off its heist in broad daylight. There was no real opposition, and AT&T and Verizon appeared to be on the verge of success.

And then the blogosphere lived up to its potential. Tim Karr [of Free Press] put up, and gathered ¾ of a million signatures supporting neutrality. People wrote emails and faxes to their representatives and Senators. In short, we raised the profile of the issue so high that the crime became (for the moment) too risky.

In addition to those 750,000-plus signatures, rapidly became a coalition of nearly 800 wildly diverse organizations, ranging from Consumers Union and Common Cause to the Christian Coalition and the Parents' Television Council.

Rock stars like R.E.M. and Moby began to lobby Congress; and last week, "National Day of Outrage" rallies were held in major cities.

Yet it wasn't only the public outcry that accounted for the Judiciary Committee vote: as several observers pointed out, there was also the matter of turf competition between the Energy & Commerce Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

The Judiciary Committee bill, authored by Reps. James Sensenbrenner and John Conyers, makes net discrimination an antitrust violation, which gives enforcement authority to the Department of Justice as well as private litigants.

Other pending bills, if they mention net neutrality at all, give the FCC (the Federal Communications Commission) the power to enforce, or in the case of COPE, to respond to complaints. The FCC administrative process is notoriously slow, and vulnerable to political pressures. Cases can take many years to get to court - if they ever do.

There are currently six bills pending - three in the Senate and three in the House - that address net neutrality. The Sensenbrenner-Conyers bill has a long way to go, and the danger of a total loss, or of a compromise that allows some form of two-tiered Internet service, is still very real.

Why is Net Discrimination Suddenly a Threat?

How did we even get to the point where a few corporate access providers have the power to change the Internet so drastically? This medium, which exploded on the communications scene not much more than a decade ago, used to offer a multitude of online access choices. But advancing technology combined with appallingly bad decisions by the FCC and the Supreme Court have brought us to the current crossroads.

Telephone companies have long been "common carriers" under U.S. law. That is, they supply the wires that allow us to communicate, but they can't control what is said, censor what they don't like, speed things up for customers who are able to pay more, or refuse to allow other providers to use their lines for a reasonable fee. This last requirement proved crucial to the early Internet, when there were lots of competitors vying for our dial-up business.

Thus, you could sign on with mindspring, compuserve, or other names that are now distant memories, and your local phone company had to allow them to rent space on its dial-up wires.

Then along came cable broadband, which was great for speeding things up on what had quickly become a very crowded Internet, and for handling large files, including video and audio streams.

The cable companies, although supplying essentially the same service as dial-up - just faster - argued that they should not be treated as "telecommunications services" (that is, common carriers) for purposes of their new business of selling high-speed Internet access. Instead, they said - and the FCC agreed - that they should be viewed as "information services" for purposes of connectivity, just as they are for purposes of the actual content they deliver to your cable TV screen.

The implications of this decision - the censorship power it would potentially give to cable companies supplying broadband service - was apparent. Seeking to avoid this unappetizing result, a federal court of appeals in 2003 disagreed with the FCC and said that for purposes of providing the pipes, cable companies are no different from other telecommunications providers. They must be treated as common carriers.

Alas, the Supreme Court reversed this decision in 2005 (the case is called National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet Services), and ruled that the appeals court should have deferred to the FCC's judgment that cable companies providing broadband access are "information," and not "telecommunications," services. Barely two months later, the agency gave phone companies, now also in the business of providing high-speed, or DSL Internet access, a similar exemption from common carrier rules.

Today, if you want high-speed Internet service - which is increasingly essential for business, for education, and for old-fashioned web surfing - your choices are generally two: either cable broadband or DSL through the phone company. If you live in a rural area, you are lucky to have even one, usually high-priced, broadband provider.

This "duopoly" - or in some areas, monopoly - situation set the stage for the net neutrality fight. In a competitive market, Internet service providers would probably not even consider proposing a two-tiered (or three-, or four-tiered) Internet - few consumers would sign up. But with the combination of high-speed technology plus capital that only cable and phone companies have, and the power to deprive competitors of access to that technology, these communications giants are now in a position to control the Internet.

It didn't take long for the phone companies to make their intentions known. Just a few weeks after the FCC relieved them of common carrier requirements for DSL, the chairman of then-SBC Communications told Business Week magazine that "there's going to have to be some mechanism" to get companies like Google and Yahoo to pay for Internet traffic to their sites. BellSouth and Verizon executives soon made similar statements.

Focusing on big sites like Google that are heftily supported by advertising is smart public relations for the telecoms, but it didn't take long for web democracy advocates to point out that subscribers are already footing the bill for Internet access, and that millions if not billions of nonprofit sites will not be able to pay the broadband providers for favored treatment.

The telecom industry's other favorite rhetorical phrase - "don't regulate the Internet" - is only slightly less misleading. Since all aspects of our economy are governed by laws, regulations, and government policies, it is not a question of whether to "regulate the Internet," but how. The FCC's decision to allow phone companies to monopolize DSL wires is one type of regulation. A decision by Congress that would require net neutrality, thereby restoring the common carrier principle, is another type of regulation - and one far more likely to secure the democratic potential of the Internet for generations to come.

• • • • •

Update: On June 8, the House of Representatives voted down net neutrality legislation; see for a full report, and continuing updates.

For more background on net neutrality, go to FreePress. For information on advocacy, see savetheinternet and

For background on the Brand X case and the breakdown of the common carrier principle, see "Two Defeats and a Silver Lining," "Supreme Court Will Consider Cable Broadband Access," and "Brennan Center and ACLU Amicus Brief in Brand X Case Urges the Court Not to Let Cable Companies Monopolize the Internet."

For background on media democracy generally, including net neutrality, see the Media Democracy Fact Sheeets.


It's easy to take a Free Expression, Non-hierarchical Internet for granted. Yet, wouldn't you know it, there are diabolical forces trying to radically change the democratic, even playing field of the internet.

Some people just insist on elites, domination systems, hierarchy, privileged classes, and favored groups. They, to put it bluntly, suck.

Let's make them fail.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Seth Godin on blog comments

Why I don't have comments

by Seth Godin


Judging from the response to my last post, some of my readers are itching to find a comment field on my posts from now on. I can't do that for you, alas, and I thought I'd tell you why.

I think comments are terrific, and they are the key attraction for some blogs and some bloggers. Not for me, though.

First, I feel compelled to clarify or to answer every objection or to point out every flaw in reasoning.

Second, it takes way too much of my time to even think about them, never mind curate them.

And finally, and most important for you, it permanently changes the way I write. Instead of writing for everyone, I find myself writing in anticipation of the commenters. I'm already itching to rewrite my traffic post below.

So, given a choice between a blog with comments or no blog at all, I think I'd have to choose the latter.

So, bloggers who like comments, blog on. Commenters, feel free. But not here. Sorry.


I still don't get it.

Why would any blogger think they have to "answer every objection" or "point out every flaw in reasoning" that they get in comments?

I never write "in anticipation of the commenters".

While I like Seth, and consider him to be a smart marketing writer, I just don't get his avoidance of candid conversations with his readers.

But many good bloggers do not allow comments: Doc Searls, Evan Williams, Chris Locke, etc.

What do you think? Do blogs absolutely need to allow comments? Are the objections to comments valid?

I think it's mandatory to have comments enabled, but then again, I can see how a blogger might want to just post his thoughts, like footnotes to a book, which is how I think of Seth's Blog.

Monday, June 12, 2006

why does your blog exist?

Why did you create your blog?

What purpose did you assign it? Have you ever thought seriously about how to measure the success of your blog? What goals do you have for it? How do you monitor the results?

If you say, "I don't care about results," are we to believe that you're an independent thinker who enjoys self-expression for exhibitionistic satisfaction, aloof from others, self-contained, not needing approval or affirmation, operating a blog for the pure art form of it, adrift like a dead angel on a toxic cloud.

If you say, "I want to achieve success, popularity, fame, riches, and admiration", you'll be cruelly disappointed, no matter how hard you try, no matter what you do. You must blog for the benefit of others, to entertain, inspire, or inform them, if you wish to succeed.

Altruism triumphs over Narcissism.

If your objective in blogging is to improve your writing and debating skills (marketable skills), help others understand something, teach others how to do something, you'll succeed if you persist and never quit.

I'm quite interested in the Farewell To Blogging posts that I stumble upon. Like this one from Michael Martine, "I'm Back".


GoogleTube Video of the Day wasn’t fun, anymore, so today I killed it. I killed my blog! I had always said that when it wasn’t fun anymore I’d quit while I was ahead, and that’s what it has come to.

I feel sad about it, but I’ll also feel relieved to not have to post there, anymore, or spend hours searching for videos for it.

So what am I doing here?

Other than pimping WordPress themes, I think I’ll just use this as a regular ol’ bloggy-blog. The occasional video will still be posted.

Basically, whatever the hell I feel like.

I have no desire to post every day, but when I do, it will be because I’ve got something good for you.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 8th, 2006 at 9:56 pm.


Companies that should NOT blog

Blogs are for ethical, enthusiastic, altruistic companies only. Businesses who provide a truly valuable, beneficial, non-harmful product or service. People with expertise in vital areas.

Arrogant, misanthropic, miserly, deceptive businesses have no interest in beginning a dialogue with consumers. why should they have to commit their callous lies and greed in writing on the web? they are not that stupid. no blog, thanks anyway.

Tech evangelism, and transparent pro-corporate PR, have been proven to be killer apps for blogs, as Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have proved, as documented to great effect in their book Naked Conversations.

There is "blog abuse".

As just another advertising, marketing, politicizing, or propaganda outlet, the blog falls flat. When you try to force the blog to be a super hyped vending machine, the intimacy of one-to-one personal communications suffers massively.

But the blog has an intrinsic character structure. And a blog has its own concerns to pursue, unknown to those who strive to overpower it.

A blog is made of glass, born transparent. Opaque objects stand out like a sore thumb in the blogosphere. Deceivers wither, shooting straight from the hip at a worthy target is prized in blogoland.

Ken Lay should delete his pathetic personal page.

Blogs and blogoid web objects are for those who wish to have a candid, spontaneous textual interaction with unknown others. Those who can handle flames, trolls, abuse, questions, suggestion, opposing opinions, and critique.

Only corporations and businesses, plus whoever else, who want a volatile communication exchange with the external web world need worry about blogs, RSS/Atom, podcasts, etc.

When any corporation acts stand-offish, reluctant, uncertain about blogs, and why they ought to have a voice in the blogosphere...'s a pretty sure bet what the Real Reason is.

You catch my drift, amigo?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

is your mind been blogified?

Is it? Your mind? Been blogified?

Then, if in doubt, check out this, from the Pearsonified blog:


Do You Think in Blog?

April 28, 2006

I have a confession to make. It seems like no matter where I go or what I do these days, I always find myself thinking in blog.

Do you know what I'm talking about? Does this plague you as well?

Let me give you an example.

Perhaps you're outside cutting the grass, or maybe you're in line at a restaurant. Instead of thinking about the task at hand, you're off in your own parallel universe, constructing paragraphs in the running blog entry in your head.

My MovableType stats tell me that I have 77 entries thus far, but I swear I wrote that many yesterday afternoon. Problem was, none of those ever hit the server.

Essentially, I have found myself going through my days, mentally "blogging" my thoughts at every turn.

So I wanna know...Do you think in blog?

We're gonna have to come up with a term for this and bust up Wikipedia.



Comment #11

v[[-a,S;p/+E>r)S t;H'e %G,,r+aT^e at 3:18 PM on 06.11.2006

I have also invented or coined over 30 specific blogology neologisms, that you can include in your mind-blog reveries.

To merge with one's blog, become one with it, so you can no longer tell what is post and what is thought, what is real and what is text...this is mental deconstruction in the digital effluvium of the super-bloatospherical zoomorphism.

It's not real until I blog about it.


I've already coined a word for it:

blog psychosis