Surprise? Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Top 25 Censored Stories of 2007

#1 Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media
Sources:, July 18, 2005

Title: ³Web of Deceit: How Internet Freedom Got the Federal Ax, and Why 
Corporate News Censored the Story²

Author: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D.
Student Researchers: Lauren Powell, Brett Forest, and Zoe Huffman
Faculty Evaluator: Andrew Roth, Ph.D.

Throughout 2005 and 2006, a large underground debate raged regarding the future 
of the Internet. More recently referred to as ³network neutrality,² the issue 
has become a tug of war with cable companies on the one hand and consumers and 
Internet service providers on the other. Yet despite important legislative 
proposals and Supreme Court decisions throughout 2005, the issue was almost 
completely ignored in the headlines until 2006.1 And, except for occasional 
coverage on CNBC¹s Kudlow & Kramer, mainstream television remains hands-off to 
this day (June 2006).2

Most coverage of the issue framed it as an argument over regulation‹but the term
³regulation² in this case is somewhat misleading. Groups advocating for ³net 
neutrality² are not promoting regulation of internet content. What they want is 
a legal mandate forcing cable companies to allow internet service providers 
(ISPs) free access to their cable lines (called a ³common carriage² agreement). 
This was the model used for dial-up internet, and it is the way content 
providers want to keep it. They also want to make sure that cable companies 
cannot screen or interrupt internet content without a court order.

Those in favor of net neutrality say that lack of government regulation simply 
means that cable lines will be regulated by the cable companies themselves. ISPs
will have to pay a hefty service fee for the right to use cable lines (making 
internet services more expensive). Those who could pay more would get better 
access; those who could not pay would be left behind. Cable companies could also
decide to filter Internet content at will.

On the other side, cable company supporters say that a great deal of time and 
money was spent laying cable lines and expanding their speed and quality.3 They 
claim that allowing ISPs free access would deny cable companies the ability to 
recoup their investments, and maintain that cable providers should be allowed to
charge. Not doing so, they predict, would discourage competition and innovation 
within the cable industry.

Cable supporters like the AT&T-sponsored Hands Off the Internet website assert 
that common carriage legislation would lead to higher prices and months of legal
wrangling. They maintain that such legislation fixes a problem that doesn¹t 
exist and scoff at concerns that phone and cable companies will use their 
position to limit access based on fees as groundless. Though cable companies 
deny plans to block content providers without cause, there are a number of 
examples of cable-initiated discrimination.

In March 2005, the FCC settled a case against a North Carolina-based telephone 
company that was blocking the ability of its customers to use 
voice-over-Internet calling services instead of (the more expensive) phone 
lines.4 In August 2005, a Canadian cable company blocked access to a site that 
supported the cable union in a labor dispute.5 In February 2006, Cox 
Communications denied customers access to the Craig¹s List website. Though Cox 
claims that it was simply a security error, it was discovered that Cox ran a 
classified service that competes with Craig¹s List.6

court decisions

In June of 1999, the Ninth District Court ruled that AT&T would have to open its
cable network to ISPs (AT&T v. City of Portland). The court said that Internet 
transmissions, interactive, two-way exchanges, were telecommunication offerings,
not a cable information service (like CNN) that sends data one way. This 
decision was overturned on appeal a year later.

Recent court decisions have extended the cable company agenda further. On June 
27, 2005, The United States Supreme Court ruled that cable corporations like 
Comcast and Verizon were not required to share their lines with rival ISPs 
(National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet 
Services).7 Cable companies would not have to offer common carriage agreements 
for cable lines the way that telephone companies have for phone lines.

According to Dr. Elliot Cohen, the decision accepted the FCC assertion that 
cable modem service is not a two-way telecommunications offering, but a one-way 
information service, completely overturning the 1999 ruling. Meanwhile, 
telephone companies charge that such a decision gives an unfair advantage to 
cable companies and are requesting that they be released from their common 
carriage requirement as well.


On June 8, the House rejected legislation (HR 5273) that would have prevented 
phone and cable companies from selling preferential treatment on their networks 
for delivery of video and other data-heavy applications. It also passed the 
Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act (HR 5252), 
which supporters said would encourage innovation and the construction of more 
high-speed Internet lines. Internet neutrality advocates say it will allow phone
and cable companies to cherry-pick customers in wealthy neighborhoods while 
eliminating the current requirement demanded by most local governments that 
cable TV companies serve low-income and minority areas as well. 8

Comment: As of June 2006, the COPE Act is in the Senate. Supporters say the bill
supports innovation and freedom of choice. Interet neutrality advocates say that
its passage would forever compromise the Internet. Giant cable companies would 
attain a monopoly on high-speed, cable Internet. They would prevent poorer 
citizens from broadband access, while monitoring and controlling the content of 
information that can be accessed.

1. ³Keeping a Democratic Web,² The New York Times, May 2, 2006.

2. Jim Goldman, Larry Kudlow, and Phil Lebeau, ³Panelists Michael Powell, Mike 
Holland, Neil Weinberg, John Augustine and Pablo Perez-Fernandez discuss 
markets,² Kudlow & Company CNBC, March 6, 2006.


4. Michael Geist, ³Telus breaks Net Providers¹ cardinal rule: Telecom company 
blocks access to site supporting union in labour dispute,² Ottawa Citizen, 
August 4, 2005.

5. Jonathan Krim, ³Renewed Warning of Bandwidth Hoarding,² The Washington Post, 
November 24, 2005.

6. David A. Utter, ³Craigslist Blocked By Cox Interactive,², June 7, 2006.

7. Yuki Noguchi, ³Cable Firms Don¹t Have to Share Networks, Court Rules,² 
Washington Post, June 28, 2005.

8. ³Last week in Congress / How our representatives voted,² Buffalo News (New 
York), June 11, 2006.


Despite the fact that the Court¹s decision in Brand X marks the beginning of the
end for a robust, democratic Internet, there has been a virtual MSM blackout in 
covering it. As a result of this decision, the legal stage has been set for 
further corporate control. Currently pending in Congress is the ³Communications 
Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006²(HR 5252), fueled by strong 
telecom corporative lobbies and introduced by Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX). 
This Act, which fails to adequately protect an open and neutral Internet, 
includes a ³Title II‹Enforcement of Broadband Policy Statement² that gives the 
FCC ³exclusive authority to adjudicate any complaint alleging a violation of the
broadband policy statement or the principles incorporated therein.² With the 
passage of this provision, courts will have scant authority to challenge and 
overturn FCC decisions regarding broadband. Since under current FCC Chair Kevin 
Martin, the FCC is moving toward still further deregulation of telecom and media
companies, the likely consequence is the thickening of the plot to increase 
corporate control of the Internet. In particular, behemoth telecom corporations 
like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T want to set up toll booths on the Internet. If 
these companies get their way, content providers with deep pockets will be 
afforded optimum bandwidth while the rest of us will be left spinning in 
cyberspace. No longer will everyone enjoy an equal voice in the freest and most 
comprehensive democratic forum ever devised by humankind.

As might be expected, none of these new developments are being addressed by the 
MSM. Among media activist organizations attempting to stop the gutting of the 
free Internet is The Free Press (, which now has an 
aggressive ³Save the Internet² campaign.

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