November 27, 2006
I guess it had to happen, but the big telephone companies and cable TV firms, which have a virtual monopoly on high-speed Internet access, have now brazenly played the race card (the race card!) in their fight against Network Neutrality. In a shamefully misleading editorial that appeared in today’s San Jose Mercury News, a seriously misguided fellow by the name of Brent Wilkes makes one false argument after another, a string of lies really, as what else can one call them, which completely misstate the issues at hand. Consider this whopper from the pen of Mr. Wilkes:
“Rather than expanding Internet opportunities, network neutrality could sharply curtail them. For instance, imagine a broadband-enabled education program targeted at working parents that could simultaneously stream live video lectures, course materials, and interactive discussion with students around the country. Giant Internet corporations would say that same massive bandwidth must be available without charge (note: emphasis mine) to every college and university in the country, or none at all.”
Who gets ANY Internet access services “without charge”? And of course the same bandwidth should be available to all customers, including schools, at the same prices! Can this man — who can’t get his facts right — be serious?
Mr. Wilkes, it is not just “giant Internet corporations” that want network neutrality! That is a complete and obvious straw man. What about the “giant corporations” that side with you, such as the phone and cable companies which provide high speed Internet access? Does it really make sense to give those “giant” companies, which are actually bigger than the supposed “Internet giants” you falsely vilify, the ability to dictate what can move across the Internet and at what prices? Mr. Wilkes, wouldn’t that make the phone and cable companies even more “giant” than they are today?
Wilkes is identified in the piece as the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, an organization I’ve personally never heard of before (I have worked with many other better-known Latino business and political groups and organizations over the years). His professional association is relevant because Wilkes claims that keeping the Internet network neutral as it is today would damage efforts to close the digital divide, including by “slowing the penetration of high speed Internet access to Hispanic and other underserved minority communities.” In essence, he’s saying that those of us who favor network neutrality are indifferent to the plight of minorities.
I wonder if Wilkes would say the same thing if he gets his wish, telcos can charge websites based on the content of their site, and they then decide to, say, charge Spanish language sites premium prices, simply because no law prevents them from doing so?
Remember here that when it comes to network neutrality what we are talking about is keeping things the way they are today, with consumers paying to get Internet access, at whatever prices and speed they want and website owners paying Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for the bandwidth they use, regardless of the content. What Mr. Wilkes and his team of dissemblers wants is to change that practice by making it possible for telcos and cable TV firms to charge website owners and ISPs not on the amount of bandwidth they use but instead on the type of data (one price for movies, one price for emails, a different price if you live in the sticks, etc.). Just like the good old days when the monopoly phone company, Ma Bell, could charge anyone just about anything for any reason.
The phone companies and the cable TV firms can’t argue this case on its merits. So they have resorted to hiding behind people who are willing, for whatever reasons, to use race-based scare tactics to mask the real issues.
Gee, just when you think public discourse could not sink to a new low, along comes the likes of Mr. Wilkes to bring it even deeper into the gutter.