Time for FCC chair to man up

Net neutrality doesn't have a middle path and Genachowski needs to "man up".

It's time for the chairman of the FCC to stand up and do the right thing on net neutrality -- to do the thing he set out to do --  even as Big Comms increase the political pressure and their spending to block it.

Indeed, it has become glaringly obvious Big Comms (i.e. Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) are putting a huge amount of pressure on those who animate the U.S. political machine by funneling tons of cash into lobbying.

How the FCC can still move on net neutrality

By way of example, according to The Center for Public Integrity, "the single top career backer of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) was telecom giant AT&T.

This backing came in the form of contributions from companies such as BellSouth, Cingular and SBC that are now part of AT&T. AT&T's PACs contributed more than $525,000 in campaign cash to just these three. Of course, this kind of corporate underwriting doesn't come without some serious strings attached -- long, sticky strings -- which are obvious from the voting records and stated positions of all of these politicians.

I have to mention a message I just received from ColorOfChange.org, which asked for recipients to sign a petition asking the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to stand in favor of net neutrality. ColorOfChange argues that "The Internet has created huge opportunities for Black people and all Americans. But some Black members of Congress are helping big phone and cable companies attack the open Internet."

ColorOfChange's message cited two CBC members who are against net neutrality: Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY) whose biggest donors include AT&T and Verizon and who, according to the organization, sponsored "an industry-backed letter -- written after consulting [with] AT&T -- designed to weaken support for Internet freedom"; and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) who has counted AT&T as one of his largest donors and who has a track record of being opposed to net neutrality.

As ColorOfChange argues, "Some cynical voices may say that this appearance of quid pro quo is unremarkable because it's just the way Washington works. But we must demand more of our elected representatives, especially those who claim to represent the interests of Black communities as the legacy of the civil rights movement and the ‘conscience of the Congress.'" I urge you to sign the ColorOfChange's petition.

One of the problems with the whole net neutrality brouhaha is that it involves sophisticated technology which, as Arthur C. Clarke noted, "is indistinguishable from magic." This means that once the arguments get framed in technical terms countless opportunities for spin and disinformation become available because only a handful of people really take the time to understand the issues.

Just consider the recent press release from Free Pres, a very vocal proponent of net neutrality whose work I greatly admire, discussing an FCC filing by AT&T.

The AT&T filing argues "paid prioritization is expressly contemplated by the Internet Engineering Task Force2474 and 2475] by creating the 'differentiated service code point' field, generally referred to as 'DSCP' or DiffServ."

(IETF)" because 30 years ago the IETF "included a 'type of service' field within the Internet Protocol to enable prioritization of real-time and other performance-sensitive applications. It updated that capability in 1998 [RFCs

Free Press countered with a complex, and essentially wrong, argument that DiffServ "relies on end-users setting the flags". According to a friend who co-authored the IETF DiffServ RFCs, "the crucial technical matter at issue, namely whether setting DiffServ Code Points (DSCP values) in IP packets is restricted to network endpoints (end-users as Free Press contends) vs. allowed to nodes within the network (as AT&T contents), AT&T is right and Free Press is wrong."

My friend suggested that "the Free Press folks should begin their enlightenment on this matter by rereading Section 2 of RFC 2475 on the concepts of DiffServ domains and regions."

All the same, AT&T was obviously and disingenuously putting spin on the issue with its statement that "paid prioritization is expressly contemplated by the IETF". My friend pointed out that, "as a technical organization, the IETF tends not to specify what protocol functionality is OK vs. not OK to charge money for, but it is certainly not 'Expressly Forbidden' to charge additional money for a service based on DiffServ."

AT&T also sunk to new lows (or maybe they are the same old lows) when the company's vice president - federal regulatory, Hank Hultquist, made a blog posting titled "The Danger of Dogma".

Hultquist began this snarky, spin-drenched missive with "One of the central dogmas of the Church of Extreme Net Neutrality (CoENN) is that quality of service on the Internet, or using the preferred nomenclature of the CoENN, 'paid prioritization,' is the equivalent of a deadly sin."

He then goes on to conflate paid prioritization with quality of service as if the former was the same thing as the latter and as if arguing against the former meant that you were against the concept of QoS! This is obviously a weak argument, but you have to admire the sheer deviousness of the argument's construction. Hultquist must have worked in advertising.

I am surprised that AT&T's CEO, Randall Stephenson, would permit such nonsense to be published as it does little to boost or even support AT&T's public image. In fact, it confirms that AT&T's agenda is just as hostile and self-serving as we have presumed it to be.

Then again, Stephenson is the guy who allowed his dogs of law to threaten a customer who e-mailed the CEO a complaint, so I might be expecting more than is possible. Frankly, I'd fire them both. But I digress …

It is obvious this wrangling over technology just confuses the issues, particularly for those who think they have better things to do than read RFCs. The bottom line is that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the power to resolve the mess.

Now, let us not forget that the FCC's chairman, Julius Genachowski, was previously in favor of net neutrality writing as he did in his blog back in 2008, "Open Government. Open Networks. Open Markets."

This was a great start, and then after he became the FCC chair in 2009, he proposed two new rules for broadband providers: Non-discrimination ("broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications"), and Transparency ("broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices").

Of course, since those heady times of hope for federally mandated net neutrality, it's all gone south. The big money from Big Comms has worked its magic and in April this year the machineries of justice concluded that the FCC couldn't regulate broadband providers as they weren't categorized as "common carriers" which the FCC has authority over.

So, you would have thought it would be simple enough to do a re-categorization, but this, my friend, is not the real world and the entire process got caught up in high-stakes politicking.

At the heart of the issue is the problem that public servants, if they've played the game right, can leave public service and find lots of nice jobs working as consultants and lobbyists for the very companies they used to regulate. Go against the grain and they could find themselves politically marginalized and running something like the bureau of carrot grading.

Thus it is that Genachowski and company are damned if they enforce a net neutrality policy and damned if they don't. So, what are they doing? Looking for a middle path.

Yep, and looking for a middle path means doing as little as possible, deferring decision making for as long as they can, and looking for a way to make everyone as happy as possible or rather, given that both sides will loose something, equally unhappy.

That appears to be what they are doing right now even though, in the end, that won't work either. Damned if they do, damned if they don't, and damned if they punt. There's no doubt politics is not a game for the thin-skinned or the faint of heart.

Here's what Chairman Genachowski needs to do: Rather than side with Big Comms or try to find some wimpy middle road, go for broke!

Man up, Jules. Make the decision to do what you said you were going to do. Be the tough guy and stand up for what you originally believed in and be so ferocious about it, so unrelenting, that you "own" the result. You'll be a hero to scores of people and feared by Big Comms.

Now that's a real man's career.

Gibbs toughs it out in Ventura, Calif. Your tribulations to backspin@gibbs.com.

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