The New York Times Takes Our Name in Vain

At least they spelled our name right. The Price of Broadband Politics is the title of a New York Times editorial on the lobbying that’s taking place around broadband Internet regulation that sounds the usual cliche themes about money in politics:

Comcast has spent more than $2 million on campaign donations; Verizon has given $1.2 million. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association — the industry’s collective lobbying group — has spent about $1 million more. And just in case that isn’t persuasive enough of the ills of government regulation, telephone and cable companies spent $20.6 million lobbying the government in the first quarter of the year.

Never mind that money spent on contributions is entirely different from money spent on lobbying, it’s the dollar signs that the Times sees, and only those on one side of the debate. So what happens if regulated industries are forbidden from lobbying? The industries who see a benefit from spinning the regulations a certain way will still lobby, and voices like that of the New York Times editorial page will be all the louder. The Times perceives its self-interest, rightly or wrongly, to depend on these regulations, and it’s spending its own money to advocate for its interests on its editorial page. God forbid its opponents who don’t own printing presses should do the same.

Free Speech for Me, But When it Comes to Thee I Need to Think About It

The FCC will hold an upcoming workshop on free speech and net neutrality regulations that features a really interesting array of speakers:

Michele Combs from the Christian Coalition; Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit; Jonathan Moore, Rowdy Orbit; Ruth Livier, YLSE; ; Garlin Gilchrist, Center for Community Change; Bob Corn-Revere, Davis Wright Tremaine; Jack Balkin, Yale Law School; and Andrew Schwartzman, Media Access Project.

“Interesting” in that most of* this group shares a common viewpoint to the effect that net neutrality regulations are necessary to protect free speech on the Internet. This is not the only viewpoint that exists on the subject, of course: there are many of us who believe that the proposed framework of regulations is at best neutral to free expression and under many plausible outcomes, positively harmful.

The reason for this is that the proposed anti-discrimination rule makes it illegal for ISPs to sell enhanced transport to publishers who require it to deliver high bandwidth, live interactive services to people on the Internet. A broad non-discrimination rule pretty well confines the future Internet to the range of applications it supports today, low-bandwidth interaction and static content, and even those are in doubt on wireless access networks with limited bandwidth.

The Genachowski FCC has been very good so far on putting panels together with diverse viewpoints, so the stark failure of the Commission to respect viewpoint diversity in this particular case is rather surprising. It is particularly ironic that on a panel devoted to viewpoint diversity, in essence, that the Commission has chosen viewpoints that represent unanimity rather than diversity.

UPDATE: One thing I have to say about the FCC is that it’s a very responsive agency. I sent an e-mail to the panel coordinator late Friday complaining about the panel’s lack of diversity, and despite the fact that it was sent after business hours on Friday, I got a response today in the form of a phone call from an FCC staffer. The explanation they offer is that this panel is simply meant to cover Internet openness, and there will be additional panels on the issues I’ve raised from January to March. So the issue of whether new rules are needed to protect free speech will be covered in these future panels, and doesn’t need any discussion right now, per the FCC’s viewpoint.

The scheduling is hard to fathom. Earlier this week, there was a technical panel in which academics, operators, and equipment vendors with different viewpoints on net neutrality regulations educated Commission staff on Internet organization and traffic. That panel had people who range all the way from strong supporters of the regulations to strong opponents, but they didn’t explore the policy space directly. The upcoming panel simply happens to be more uniform in its views, but their charter is to explain how they benefit from Internet openness.

In the overall scheme of things, the Internet is not actually more open than many other networks with which we’re familiar, of course; the telephone network permits anyone to communicate with anyone, as did the telegraph network and as does the US mail. And you can’t do anything you want on the Internet, you have to abide by the law.

To the extent that the Internet is not open, it’s chiefly government that closes off particular avenues of expression: The obvious examples are the DMCA’s anti-piracy provisions, the US ban on kiddie porn, Germany’s ban on Nazi organizing and Scientology, and China’s ban on access to native Google searches. Each government has decided on policy grounds to close the Internet in ways that suit its interests, so if the regulations simply focus on commercial restrictions and enablements of forms of Internet-based speech and don’t restrict the power of the FCC to issue ex post and ex ante regulations, we won’t have accomplished much in this process.

The area of controversy is in between the technical issues discussed in the first workshop and the openness issues that will be discussed Tuesday. And as we will see, the advocates of net neutrality don’t understand enough about the Internet’s operation and potential to have much insight into whether and how it’s going to be regulated going forward.

*UPDATE 2: At least one of the speakers will in fact caution the Commission about diving in with the new regulations without clear evidence of harm.

Opting-out of Adsense

Regular readers are aware that this blog used to feature Google ads. We never made serious money from Adsense, so it was easy to decide to drop it when the Terms and Conditions of Google’s new behavioral advertising campaign were relased. Here’s what Google suggests re: a privacy disclosure:

What should I put in my privacy policy?

Your posted privacy policy should include the following information about Google and the DoubleClick DART cookie:

* Google, as a third party vendor, uses cookies to serve ads on your site.
* Google’s use of the DART cookie enables it to serve ads to your users based on their visit to your sites and other sites on the Internet.
* Users may opt out of the use of the DART cookie by visiting the Google ad and content network privacy policy.

Because publisher sites and laws across countries vary, we’re unable to suggest specific privacy policy language. However, you may wish to review resources such as the Network Advertising Initiative, or NAI, which suggests the following language for data collection of non-personally identifying information:

We use third-party advertising companies to serve ads when you visit our website. These companies may use information (not including your name, address, email address, or telephone number) about your visits to this and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used by these companies, click here.

You can find additional information in Appendix A of the NAI Self-Regulatory principles for publishers (PDF). Please note that the NAI may change this sample language at any time.

People don’t come to this site to buy stuff, and they shouldn’t have to undergo a vexing decision-making process before visiting this blog, so we’ve dropped Google as an advertiser. Not because Google is Evil, but simply because this is one too many hoops for our readers to jump through. Plus, the commission rate sucks.

So please continue to read Broadband Politics without fear of being reported to Big Brother.

Free Press doesn’t want you to read this

Speaking of censorship, what are we to make of Free Press’ censorship of hostile opinions on its “Save the Internet” blog? Clearly, they have the right to remove any comment they want to remove, but it’s normal to leave behind some admission that a comment has been censored and why. Here are three comments Brett Glass left on the STI blog that were all silently erased:
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