Net Neutrality is a good thing as long as it screws with copyrights

When it comes to the Web and the Internet as a whole nothing polarizes people, companies and organization quicker that the subject of Net Neutrality. As the FTC progresses through developing its proposals for regulations meant to guarantee some sort of Net Neutrality in the U.S. everyone is trying to exert whatever influence they might have on those proposals.

Yesterday the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) issued a call to arms for people to let the FTC know that any messing with potential regulations by financial impacted companies – especially when it comes to copyrights – isn’t acceptable.

What has the EFF up in arms specifically is what they see as a loophole in the proposed regulations that would require ISPs to become copyright cops. From the email sent out by the EFF:

Tell the FCC: Don’t let Hollywood hijack the Internet

Last fall, the Federal Communications Commission proposed rules for “Net Neutrality” – a set of regulations intended to help innovation and free speech continue to thrive on the Internet.

Buried in the FCC’s rules is a deeply problematic loophole. Open Internet principles, the FCC writes, “do not … apply to activities such as the unlawful distribution of copyrighted works.”

For years, the entertainment industry has used that innocent-sounding phrase – “unlawful distribution of copyrighted works” – to pressure Internet service providers around the world to act as copyright cops – to surveil the Internet for supposed copyright violations, and then censor or punish the accused users.

From the beginning, a central goal of the Net Neutrality movement has been to prevent corporations from interfering with the Internet in this way – so why does the FCC’s version of Net Neutrality specifically allow them to do so?

Source: Network World

There is no doubt that the issue has made for some strange bedfellows and also the requisite backroom dealings and threats. Even companies like Google and Verizon who issued a joint statement on the matter don’t always agree when it comes to the meat of the matter.

They ticked through a variety of things they agree on, such as “encouraging investment and innovation of broadband network” and “providing users with information.”

Sadly, the lawyers who’ve been racking up sizeable billable hours while crafting missives to the FCC couldn’t find common ground on everything. “We continue to disagree on some of these matters,” the companies acknowledged.

That’s a bit of an understatement, judging from the voluminous filings each company made with the agency yesterday.(Google = 98 pages; Verizon = 139 pages)
Noting that the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rules would apply to Internet providers, not companies that offer services over the Internet, Verizon wrote that “it is no mystery, after all, why dominant Internet incumbents such as Google are among the strongest proponents of net neutrality rules – their incentive is to lock in place through regulation advantages they have established for themselves based on today’s predominant business models.”

Google, meanwhile, didn’t slam Verizon by name in its FCC filing, although it noted it believes (unlike Verizon) that wireless networks should be covered by net neutrality rules and that broadband providers should be subject to more oversight.

“At their core, today’s broadband networks are the result of government-sanctioned
monopolies, the grant of public benefits and their attendant enormous market advantages and economies of scale, scope and ubiquity. The government should have a role to ensure that all of these public contributions are put toward serving the public interest,” Google wrote.

Source: Wall Street Journal

It should come as no surprise either that supposedly autonomous agencies are also coming out on both sides of the issues but what is more than interesting as the team at Ars Technica found out is when you start looking at the funding of these agencies and which side of the issue they line up with.

One just has to look to AT&T and their arguing against the FTC involvement with Net Neutrality and then examine some rather unlikely submissions to the FTC hearings to see the match up.

  • Kankakee County Farm Bureau
    • but reps from the Farm Bureau, AT&T, and Comcast sit together on the local Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee
  • Erie Neighborhood House
    • It also received $10,000-$25,000 from Comcast in 2009, along with $5,000-$10,000 from AT&T Illinois, according to its annual report.
  • Downtown Springfield Inc
    • AT&T is a member of the group.
  • Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties
    • The Big Brothers/Big Sisters, especially at the local level, aren’t known for having opinions of the innovation effects of government policies in the telecommunications sector… but they do take money from AT&T
  • Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide
  • Schaumberg Business Association
  • Mayor of Chicago

Now while tech companies in of themselves might not seem to have much of a stake in this process the fact is that for many of them Net Neutrality is an important issue. Google has come out obviously on the side of the users in the issue even though net neutrality would benefit them as well (see video at the end of the post for more on this).

The Internet was designed to empower users. Its open, “end-to-end” architecture means that users – not network providers or anyone else – decide what succeeds or fails online. It’s a formula that has worked incredibly well, resulting in mind blowing innovation, incredible investment, and more consumer choice than ever.

Source: Google’s Official Public Policy Blog

Then thrre are tech companies that could be impacted by any decisions made by the FTC. One such company is Skype:

Evidence suggests that carriers have the incentive and ability to harm innovation in the real-time communications application market, such as that made possible by Skype, either by outright blocking or more subtle forms of discrimination. Because these applications offer consumers additional choice and savings, they should not be delayed, obstructed or throttled by broadband access providers.

Source: GigaOM

Of course this is all happening during the time when the entertainment industry and their many trade groups are pushing hard, on a global level, for the adoption of ACTA. It has even gotten to the level where the US is using trade threats to force other countries to accept trade agreements that either include ACTA or mimic it.

Costa Rica is discovering this type of negotiating when it comes to trying to get final approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement pushed through Congress

Reports from Costa Rica indicate that final approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States is languishing in the Legislative Assembly due to concerns over the copyright provisions. The CAFTA copyright provisions are similar to those found in the other major U.S. trade agreements concluded in recent years: DMCA-style protections, ISP liability, and copyright term extension are all part of the package.

In this case, it is the responses that are most noteworthy. Within Costa Rica, the article reports that the copyright provisions in the trade treaty have set off a wave of student protests over what it means for education. Meanwhile, health officials are concerned that the provisions on pharmaceutical products “would bankrupt the public health system.” The response from the U.S. is important as well. It is delaying market access to sugar from the developing country until the copyright reforms are in place. Until that time, Costa Rican sugar producers will not be able to sell their product in the U.S.

Source: Professor Michael Geist

At the root of all these discussions going on, whether it be US centric Net Neutrality regulations to trade negotiations with the US, the wholesale gutting of existing copyright laws; both in the US and sovereign countries, in order to benefit the US entertainment industry.

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