Bill Moyers and the Mythology of the Internet

Bill Moyers is the ordained Baptist minister who was LBJ’s Chief Propagandist during America’s descent into the Viet Nam quagmire. He made a name for himself by pushing Joseph Campbell’s loopy theories about the alleged universality of mythology on PBS and giving a megaphone to voices on the lunatic fringe of American politics such as Noam Chomsky. He’s jumped into the Net Neutrality fray with both horns, airing a 90 minute ad for Bob McChesney’s Save the Internet campaign that trails off into odd conspiracy theories toward the end. PBS has set up a web page to promote it, where you’ll find this gem:

The future of the Internet is up for grabs. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) effectively eliminated net neutrality rules, which ensured that every content creator on the Internet-from big-time media concerns to backroom bloggers-had equal opportunity to make their voice heard. Now, large and powerful corporations are lobbying Washington to turn the World Wide Web into what critics call a “toll road,” threatening the equitability that has come to define global democracy’s newest forum. Yet the public knows little about what’s happening behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.

Some activists describe the ongoing debate this way: A small number of mega-media giants owns much of the content and controls the delivery of content on radio and television and in the press; if we let them take control of the Internet as well, immune from government regulation, who will pay the price? Their opponents say that the best way to encourage Internet innovation and technological advances is to let the market-not the federal government-determine the shape of the system.

Kindly note that this goes beyond the usual refrain of “Big Telco is stealing the Internet and our Democracy will soon be lost” to assert a conspiracy of Big Telco and Big Media. In fact, the last 30 minutes of the show isn’t about the Internet at all, it’s about media consolidation, McChesney’s favorite hobby horse.

Is net neutrality a legitimate part of the media ownership debate, or simply a fear and smear campaign devised to enhance the influence of self-promoters like McChesney and his ilk?

You can probably guess what I think about that.

4 thoughts on “Bill Moyers and the Mythology of the Internet”

  1. Oddly enough, the case can be made that there is collusion between big media and big carriers, as Matt Stoller points out.

    My position’s evolved a bit on this issue, especially after being reminded of the implicit agreements from the 1996 Telecom act: Give us our ubiquitous fiber to the curb, as promised, as the rest of the civilized world is getting, and then we can talk about QoS.

    Simple enough, isn’t it?

  2. I don’t see Stoller making a case for collusion, like most Kossacks he just shrieks and attacks. His knowledge of the Internet is short of your average cucumber’s.

    This charge about an “implicit promise” for universal fiber keeps popping up on the liberal blogs, so I have to ask: is there one shred of evidence that there was such a promise, dating to 1996 and in the words of the telcos? Clearly, the architects of the Act sold is as stimulus for competition, but that’s a bit short of the claims we’re now seeing from the Left.

    It wouldn’t exactly be the first time Stoller and McChesney and that crowd exaggerated, would it?

  3. Richard:

    Yeah, there was a pretty explicit promise: all the schools would b e broadband. I remember that firsthand.

    Also, Stoller brought out – rightly- that a guy who sits on the Times BoD was also a Verizon guy. (Verizon provides our POTS here -they’re not just a cell phone company.) The case is made for collusion between content providers and carriers.

    Finally, one point that the Moyers program made which ought to be considered: every other carrier of information or goods has to be “coinduit neutral” – including, for chrissakes, the post office (I curse the advertising I get and would gladly pay 3 X as much for postage just to get rid of the advertising).

    It’s a point well-taken. Like you, I think QoS will be necessary, but first, why the hell have we fallen from almost behind Slovenia, for crhissakes, in broadband access?

    That’s the big scandal.

    OK, that and the fact that the “terrorists” don’t mean squat when the threat of the next influenza pandemic is considered.

  4. Cast your mind back to 1996 and ask yourself who’s talking about the broadband Internet. As you know well, the answer is essentially nobody because the public is just starting to use the dial-up Internet through AOL. The policy issue in telecom in those days was fiber as a second choice to cable for bringing 300 TV channels into the home, and there were hopes and dreams about such things as VoD and interactivity. Trials were conducted in places like Orlando, FL and Orange County, CA, but the results were not encouraging. I was involved in creating video servers for these guys and I remember it vividly.

    When the Telcos started tearing up the streets in places like Milipitas, CA for fiber, they had to negotiate with the local governments for franchises to compete with the cable company, and they were held up at gunpoint for lavish extras that weren’t even required of cable, such as free phone service for the government and the schools, dozens of community access channels, crews to broadcast city council meetings, and you name it. This is why the US is behind Korea in broadband: our system of government allows local governments to hold up progress. But I digress.

    Meanwhile, DBS came along with the ability to offer TV programming nationwide with no franchise encumbrances and the financial basis for the telcos’ 300 channels with VoD and interactivity went down the drain. DBS could provide TV and lot cheaper, and the dial-up Internet was better for interactivity (which is essentially just on-line shopping.)

    So the Telcos are back in Washington, DC, asking for national franchising so they can compete with DBS and cable on an equitable footing, and these slimy liars like Matt Stoller are getting the rabble all fired up over the fear that the Telcos want to silence their blogs. It’s a fucking disgrace.

    It’s not the case that telco is a “common carrier”, that status has never applied to regulated monopolies. The government sets their rates and defines the services. Many of our carriers of goods are not “common carrier” either, BTW. Freight haulers are, but FedEx and UPS are not, and neither is the USPS. It’s a government service that’s free to deny service to anyone the Congress deems unfit, such as Kiddy Porn merchants and terrorists. Your lefty blog buddies are either ignorant of history or desperately re-writing it.

    Meanwhile, California and New York have passed laws allowing statewide video franchising with no neutrality regulations, so the battle is being won by the telcos anyway, and Stoller, Moyers, Markos, and the rest of the drooling slime can go suck toads.

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