As the fight over Net Neutrality or "Internet Freedom" heats up, Web sites and spin by industry front groups and high-priced consultants are popping up daily, as cable and phone companies spend millions to to mislead and misinform the American public.
Their latest attempt to hoodwink Internet users is a cutesy cartoon at www.dontregulate.org -- a clever piece of industry propaganda that is riddled with half-truths and outright lies. The telco giants cloak their real interests behind a populist message that sounds plausible, while undermining the work of genuine public and consumer advocates.
Here's a quick guide to help you cut through the industry spin.
The big telecom companies say: "Is the Internet in Danger? Does the Internet need saving? It keeps getting faster. We keep getting more choices."
The truth: Right now AT&T and others want to take away your choices and control what you can do and watch online. They're on their best behavior while trying to convince Congress to hand over the Internet. But if their high-priced lobbyists get their way in Washington, the Internet as we know it will be gone. Network Neutrality has always curbed the control of the network owners, invited competition and encouraged innovators. It's what made it possible for entrepreneurs and creative thinkers to prosper online. None of the big ideas that made the Internet the innovative engine it is today came from the cable or telephone companies.
The big telecom companies say: "Building the next generation of the Internet is going to take a lot of work and cost a lot of money. And some big corporations can't wait to use it.... They're going to make billions. But they don't want to pay anything. Instead they want to stick consumers with the whole bill."
The truth: Nobody is getting a free ride on the Internet. Any Web site or service you use on the Internet has already paid these providers to reach you -- just like you pay to send e-mail and download files. In fact, total expenses from major content and service providers to expand network capacity totaled about $10 billion last year. But the cable and phone companies want even more -- forcing content providers to pay protection money to get a spot in the fast lane. Who do you think will pay that bill? You will ... big time. The costs will be passed directly to consumers. If Net Neutrality is so bad for consumers, why do ALL the major consumer groups support it and ALL the major phone companies oppose it? Who do you trust more to defend your Internet rights? Without meaningful protections of Net Neutrality, there will be less choice on the Internet and higher prices, at a time we're already falling far behind the rest of the world.
The big telecom companies say: "These corporations are asking Congress to create volumes of new regulations to control how content is delivered over the Internet. Should politicians and bureaucrats replace network administrators? It will be the first major government regulation of the Internet and it will fundamentally change how the Internet works. These big corporations and the SavetheInternet campaign want the government to take control of the Internet."
The truth: There's nothing new about Net Neutrality. It has been a fundamental part of the Internet since its inception. As a tenet of communications policy, it goes back some 70 years. Only last year did the Supreme Court uphold a bad decision by the Federal Communications Commission to do away with the rules that forced cable and phone companies to open up their networks to competitors. Those rules protected Internet freedom by ensuring lots of competition (think of all the choices you've had for long distance service or dial-up Web access). In fact, these rules still protect the Internet under a temporary FCC ruling. All a Net Neutrality law would do is maintain the even playing field we've always enjoyed -- by preventing big cable and telephone corporations from taking over as gatekeepers.
The big telecom companies say: "The net neutrality issue is a fundamental question about who should control the Internet: The people or the government? And it's a fight about who's going to pay: multi-billion dollar corporations or you?"
The truth: Who should control the Internet? Now that's a good question. But the real choice we face is whether we're going to keep the good government policy that has protected Internet freedom, created a truly free market in content and services, and encouraged free speech to flourish online -- or let predatory companies like AT&T and Comcast rewrite our telecommunications law and place their chokehold on online content and services. For the entire history of the Internet, Web sites and online ideas have succeeded or failed on their own merit based on decisions now made collectively by millions of users. Getting rid of Net Neutrality will hand these decisions over to a cartel of broadband barons. Do we really want Ma Bell and the Cable Guy picking the next generation of winners and losers on the Internet?
For now, Rep. Joe Barton's legislation lacks crucial Internet Freedom provisions, and will likely be go to the House floor after Memorial Day. Senator Ted Stevens has introduced his version -- also with no Net Neutrality -- and hearings are set for later this month. Go to www.savetheinternet.com to follow the issue, and stay tuned to the Post for the next Big Lie.