The ‘Satanic Flashbulbs’ of Net Neutrality

Posted by: Hank Hultquist on April 30, 2010 at 11:35 am

In 1925, a young Californian claimed to have been told by the angel Gabriel that the world would end at midnight on February 13th. A number of people believed this prophecy including a Long Island housepainter named Robert Reidt who assembled a hillside gathering of believers to meet their fate. When midnight came and went uneventfully, Reidt rationalized that the angel must have meant Pacific time, and he exhorted the crowd to wait for three more hours. Three hours later he chalked up the continued non-occurrence of the extraordinary events to the “Satanic flashbulbs” of the reporters who had shown up.

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what this strange story could possibly have to do with broadband policy. I had a bit of a déjà vu experience while reading some of the reply comments filed the other day in the open Internet proceeding, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on. Then, while listening to Wednesday’s Open Internet workshop in Seattle, I remembered Reidt and his ridiculous attempts to explain the failure of the apocalyptic prophecy.

In AT&T’s reply comments, we pointed out similar failures on the part of the Internet’s own doomsday prophets, such as Larry Lessig and Tim Wu

Here, I’d like to look more closely at just one of the predicted calamities that stubbornly refuses to occur – the imposition of “terminating access charges” on Internet application and content providers.

For years, advocates of extreme versions of net neutrality have been saying that without a complete ban on the sale of certain undefined service enhancements, ISPs will “someday just around the corner” impose the equivalent of “terminating access charges” on application and content providers. But as each day passes without any ISP perpetrating such a scheme, you might think these doomsday prophets would be forced to recant and accept the fact that ISPs have no unilateral power to impose uneconomic charges on non-customers. (Of course, this might change dramatically if the FCC classified Internet access under Title II with its long history of regulated interconnection, including mandatory termination charges.) Instead, they have taken a page from Reidt’s playbook.

Google points to recent “advances in router technology” as reasons why the end is nigh unless something is done. I guess this is the “Pacific time” approach to explaining how it is that billions of packets continue to be exchanged without the imposition of terminating access charges. Google’s as sure as ever that the apocalypse is almost upon us. It just has to wait for the next generation of routers. Yeah, right.

At Wednesday’s workshop, a Yahoo executive speculated that perhaps the reason why ISPs haven’t engaged in this kind of “holdup” is because of the threat of regulation by the FCC. Far be it from me to compare the FCC to “Satanic flashbulbs,” but as with Reidt’s explanation, I’m not sure how it works for all the hillsides around the world where the sun continues to rise without the threat of regulation of enhanced network services.

Comments (4)

One reason why there has been an increasing calls for the regulation of enhanced network services is because there have been too many providers of same deploying such services without full disclosure of exactly how the product works, and most importantly first vigorously testing such services and/or product to ensure that potential users/buyers personal privacy and security are adaquately protected. Google is a fine example of such business practices.

Jeffrey A. Williams May 2, 2010 at 4:37 pm

The advocates of onerous “network neutrality” regulation do, indeed, behave like millennialists. However, they are more like the Jehovah’s Witnesses than they are like the group that Hank describes above, because the Jehovah’s witnesses have moved the goal posts multiple times. They originally predicted that the world would end in 1914, then changed the date a few times more, then ultimately quit specifying a date certain. (They now claim that it will happen at some date that they cannot predict.)

Hank is 100% correct in that none of the dire events predicted by the “network neutrality” doomsayers have happened in the 26 year history of the Net — nor are they likely to happen.

One thing which should greatly concern the public about the Seattle workshop was the bias in selection of the panelists. All but two were proponents of regulation of the Internet and ISPs. And most were affiliated — in one way or another — with Google, the corporation which has been most heavily supporting and funding lobbying for such regulation. We all should be concerned when, rather than giving the issues a fair hearing, a government body which is supposed to be an apolitical expert agency appears to be selecting witnesses so as to produce a predetermined outcome.

The doomsaying at the Seattle workshop demonstrated that in fact these lobbyists are growing increasingly desperate in their attempts to justify the regulation that their corporate masters desire.

By the way, it’s worth noting that Washington Post reporter Cecilia Kang — whose reporting and blogging are heavily biased toward the corporate agenda of Google — just posted an article mocking the posting above. Perhaps Kang, a substantial portion of whose paycheck is provided by advertising revenue from Google, felt that the posting above, hit the nail too squarely on the head?

Brett Glass May 2, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Actually, Google is among the least responsible content providers. Witness its recent release of “Google Buzz,” in which it rifled GMail users’ electronic mailboxes and then PUBLISHED THE IDENTITIES OF THEIR CORRESPONDENTS FOR THE WORLD TO SEE. Ironically, this irresponsible disclosure of personal information happened to reveal that a Google lobbyist, who had been hired by the Obama administration despite its pledge not to hire lobbyists, was continuing to correspond regularly with the lobbying staff at Google as well as external groups that lobby for Google, including Free Press. See http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/corporateering/articles/?storyId=33552

Brett Glass May 3, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Summary, for those who don’t wish to read the entire article:

Here is a practice people are worried about, and guess what? We haven’t done it yet! This means they are just silly and we should not be regulated!

It’s pretty obvious that ISPs are being very careful not to do anything too offensive to customers until the whole net neutrality thing is decided in some final way. If that is the wrong way, I’m sure these and many other fine fees and tariffs will be coming our way with due haste.

Fred Fnord May 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

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