Bandwidth 4 Us, Not 4 You

Along with Handsofftheinternet.com, there is another astroturf front group for the large Telcos that has just started up: TV4US. According to Savetheinternet.com, this organization is doing a telemarketing campaign in which they are calling consumers and trying to convince us that companies like Google and Microsoft are using up all the bandwidth and driving up the costs of television and internet services.

Here is Savetheinternet’s take on this organization:

What’s really costing consumers isn’t Net Neutrality but the phone companies’ multi-million-dollar campaign to kill it. Companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have spent tens of millions of dollars on canned phone calls, advertisements, DC lobbyists and phony front groups to squash our genuine grassroots effort.

Where do you think they get that money? That’s right. A portion of your phone bill goes towards creating campaigns that are designed to deceive consumers into acting against their best interests.

They also cite a joint report from the the Consumers Union (nonprofit publishers of Consumer Reports), which present these 12 facts about how the internet works:

FACT 1: Network Neutrality protections have existed for the entire history of the Internet. Opponents of Internet freedom pretend that Network Neutrality protections would mean new, onerous government regulations. But advocates of Network Neutrality are not promoting new regulations. We are preserving tried and tested consumer protections and network operating principles that have made the Internet the greatest engine of economic growth and democratic communication in modern memory.

FACT 2: Network discrimination through a “tiered Internet� will severely curtail consumer choice. Network owners say discrimination will benefit consumers with higher-quality services. But winners and losers in the content marketplace should be chosen based on the merits of a Web site or service, not the whims of the network owners. Without Network Neutrality, telephone and cable companies will have a strong financial incentive to distort the free market in favor of their own content and services.

FACT 3: Network discrimination will undermine innovation, investment and competition. The genius of the Internet is that it always has allowed “innovation without permission.� It has been a free marketplace of ideas where innovators and entrepreneurs rise and fall on their own merits. But on a “tiered Internet� without Network Neutrality, the upstarts and little guys will be at the mercy of the network owners to decide who can succeed or fail.

FACT 4: Network discrimination will fundamentally alter the consumer’s online experience by creating fast and slow lanes for Internet content. Up to this point, the consumer has been the ultimate decision-maker online; the network owners simply transmitted data over the wires, regardless of its content. The network owners claim they won’t harm or degrade anybody else’s content in a world without Network Neutrality. But network prioritization is a zero-sum game. The fact is that every time one Web site is sped up, another must be slowed down.

FACT 5: No one gets a “free ride� on the Internet. The network operators allege that if Network Neutrality is preserved, they won’t be able to build new, high-speed networks. This is a myth. With Network Neutrality, they’ll continue to generate revenues in the billions from monthly subscription fees, access rates from content producers (who already pay a fortune to get onto the network), and by competing in the free market with their own content and applications. Getting rid of Network Neutrality is just an attempt to extract monopoly rents from a new revenue stream.

FACT 6: Telephone companies have received billion of dollars in public subsidies and private incentives to support network build-out. The phone companies say they should be able to do as they like with “their pipes.� But they ignore the billions of dollars in public subsidies and incentives they’ve received over the years that allow them to dig up public rights-of-way, build rural networks, and write off the depreciation of their wires. If they gave back even a fraction of the public money they’ve received, we could build fiber to every home in America.

FACT 7: There is little competition in the broadband market. Network owners argue that Network Neutrality is unnecessary because there is plenty of competition for broadband access to deter bad behavior. But cable and DSL now dominate 98 percent of the broadband market (and a significant portion of the country has only a single broadband provider or none at all). If both the cable and phone companies are using their networks to discriminate, the consumer is trapped. There is nowhere else to go.

FACT 8: Consumers will bear the costs for network infrastructure regardless of whether there is Network Neutrality. The network owners claim consumers will save money without Network Neutrality, because content providers will bear more of the delivery costs. But those costs will simply be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for consumer goods and Internet services. And with less competition on a “tiered Internet,� the network owners will be able to raise their own prices with impunity. Higher prices, fewer choices and less competition are bad for consumers.

FACT 9: Investing in increased bandwidth is the most efficient way to solve network congestion problems. There is more traffic flowing over the Internet every day. To avoid “traffic jams,� network operators have two choices. They can increase the bandwidth to accommodate all content providers on an equal basis; or they can maintain scarcity and charge providers for the privilege of getting through the bottlenecks. Without Network Neutrality, phone and cable companies have an economic incentive not to relieve the congestion.

FACT 10: Network owners have explicitly stated their intent to build business models based on discrimination. The Astroturf groups set up by the industry repeatedly claim that Network Neutrality is a solution in search of a problem. But consumer advocates aren’t imagining a doomsday scenario. In fact, the top executives of nearly every major telephone company have stated clearly in the pages of Business Week, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post that they intend to discriminate or degrade the content and services of their competitors who don’t pay for a spot in the fast lane.

FACT 11: The COPE Act will not deter discrimination but will tie the hands of the FCC from preventing it. The COPE Act’s Network Neutrality provisions are inadequate to safeguard the Internet; deliberately impede clear enforcement mechanisms; and leave the network operators free to discriminate against consumers and content producers on the Internet. Legislation sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey in the House — and Sens. Olympia Snowe and Byron Dorgan in the Senate — offers clean and simple solutions to fix these problems.

FACT 12: Supporters of Network Neutrality represent a broad, nonpartisan coalition that joins right and left, commercial and noncommercial interests. The campaign to preserve Network Neutrality protections is perhaps the most diverse set of public and private interests backing any single issue in Washington today. Hundreds of groups and hundreds of thousands of individuals from across the political spectrum are joining together to save this cornerstone principle of consumer choice and Internet freedom.

The aggressive level with which AT&T and Verizon are trying to push their message on consumers is an indication of just how much they stand to gain, and how much consumers stand to lose, if their anti-net-neutrality legislation is passed in Congress.

I have asked our US Senate candidates in Rhode Island to provide their positions on net neutrality so that voters know where they stand and whether they will defend the internet for consumers. So far, I have heard only from Sheldon Whitehouse’s campaign, who has not yet provided a response, but at least acknowledged receiving my question. Hopefully with a little more prodding I can get answers for Rhode Islanders on this crucial question affecting our consumer choices and our ability to use the internet for free speech, community organizing, and civic participation.