Thursday, May 18, 2006

Today's Concall from Save the Internet and Moby

Yesterday I posted about this concall, which took place earlier today. I listened in, and just wanted to share some thoughts.

The concall was a well orchestrated effort to keep pace with the telco lobby in their efforts to influence the Net Neutrality debate. On the call was Tim Carr, who coordinates the STI coalition, recording artist Moby, and Congressman Ed Markey (D, MA), who has been championing this issue.

I'm not a regulatory expert, so I won't go too deep here. The speakers on the call all took turns to state their case, which is basically that the Internet should remain free and open, and we should not let big business take ownership and become the gatekeepers. It's a familiar story for those following Net Neutrality, and there are plenty of blogs that get into this in great detail.

Tim set the stage, talking about the importance of preserving Net Freedoms, and how over 700,000 Americans have signed the petition (myself included), making this a bona fide grass roots effort to get our voices heard. He explained this is a necessary response to counter the "disinformation" being put forward by the big telcos to strengthen their case to defend a dual-tiered Internet. As such, he's urging Americans to "learn the facts" and don't let big biz hijack the Internet. Setting up for Moby, he added that the Internet has become the "medium of choice" for independent artists, and they risk losing this if the telcos get their way.

Moby added his piece, saying that "Internet freedom is under attack", and named some recording artists who have just joined this coalition, such as Trent Reznor, and yes, the Dixie Chicks! He noted the importance of mobilizing citizen support since midterm elections are coming, and this is worth making an issue over. Moby also pointed out this is not just an issue for artists - it was mentioned that both the Christian Coalition and gun owners were onside here as well. When you can get all these people to agree on something, there must be something to it! He ended by making an appeal to support Representative's Markey's proposed Net Neutrality amendment and keep the Internet free.

Representative Markey was the last speaker, and he talked about the issues and challenges around getting his amendment heard. Interestingly, he dropped off the call just when we needed him most! Bizarre. The cynics out there have to wonder if the concall was being hosted by a big telco, and someone decided to mess with the call just to make it interesting. Who knows???

As mentioned, this was a well-orchestrated event, and you can pick up all the pieces from the various posts that followed the call:

Press release about today's call

Text of Moby's statement


Text of Representative Markey's statement



I just wanted to add my overall take on this call. I'm all for Net Neutrality, and nobody really wants to see an "Internet tax" that would ulitmately stifle innovation, creativity and choice (well, hopefully nobody!). And Congressman Markey's efforts need to be supported. I should also add you won't find a more fervant advocate from the IP world than Jeff Pulver, and he's as active in this space as anyone.

My concern is the black and white, good guy/bad guy scenario this call was painting. It's very easy to make the honest efforts of artists and creative people looked oppressed by big business. To some extent that's true, but the scenario being painted is just as fear mongering and self-serving as the telcos. The telcos are entitled to make a fair return on their investment, so there is some basis to their take on Net Neutrality. The bleak world portrayed on this call is not good for anybody, and I don't think the public will tolerate paying twice for Internet access - once to get the basic broadband we get today, then the second charge to ensure QoS for high bandwidth content. I guess I'm not convinced the telcos are that evil and will go so far as to make life impossible for artists who depend on the Internet for their livelihood.

I guess what I'm getting at is a need for clarity and a framing of the issue in a context that is not about winners and losers. We should - and can - all come out winners if this is done right. As Moby noted, the Internet today works pretty well, and as it continues to get better, and as more people continue to use it and benefit from it. it's really our game to lose and screw up.

The tenor of the call suggested an all or nothing outcome, and I'm just not so sure that's what will happen. I tried really hard to ask a question on the call, but couldn't get through. They also didn't leave much time for Q&A, and seemed in a hurry to end the call. Basically I wanted to ask if they could see a middle ground, where there's a distinction made between charging a premium to ensure premium quality access, and the telcos hijacking the Internet to suit their own ends. Or, as Tim Carr called it "economic censorship".

I'd like to think a middle ground can be struck. It's fair to say that nobody should "own" the Internet, but I also think it's a bit idealistic to expect it to be totally open and free to the point where those who have invested in the networks are reduced to being providers of fat, dumb pipes. I didn't get a sense there was much distinction made here on the call about this, and I came a way with the feeling that this call was every bit as orchestrated as anything the telcos would do. I guess that's just the way it is on Capitol Hill, but it didn't leave me with the impression that this coalition has all the answers either.



1 comment:

ipcom said...

Posted by: Jim Courtney

They should have done the conference call via Skypecasts -- better quality audio and no reliance on one telco. Also reinforces the argument on the need for Net Neutrality.