Net neutrality is quite a political hot potato at the moment. (Maybe you recently received an email "from" eBay's
Proponents of government regulation to foster net neutrality say that telecom companies that provide the infrastructure for the Internet shouldn't be allowed to form a two-tiered Internet, where network providers can charge fees to give some businesses and services priority over others. Meg Whitman's letter gave a nice and scary metaphor for how such a two-tiered Internet might play out: an information superhighway for those who pay the tolls, and a dirt road for the rest of the gang.
A Red Herring article described Google's Brin's late-coming, and some say "amateurish," lobbying effort in a week when legislators are looking at changes to an existing telecom bill. Brin admitted later that the meeting was not well planned, despite the fact that he got some political face time. However, the article highlighted the fact that many tech companies aren't pouring money into lobbying efforts in Washington like telecom companies are, and instead are using the Internet to persuade the public to contact their representatives. Indeed, there is an open letter to Google users from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, urging them to contact their representatives to support net neutrality.
And of course, Google and eBay are by no means the only tech companies that support net neutrality. Other companies that also have as much at stake include Amazon.com
I love the democratizing elements of the Internet, and can appreciate its power to, in effect, rally Internet users. At the same time, I find this debate complicated and confusing, especially given my own political point of view. I'm no fan of big, old-school telecom companies, which of course have decades of experience in cozying up to government, er, "government relations." Considering some of their missteps over the years, I've often thought they deserved what they got as they wrangled with subscriber defections and the rapid increase in services like voice over Internet protocol (and of course, Meg Whitman's email has everything to do with Skype, as Rick pointed out in a recent commentary).
However, tech companies dropping loaded phrases like "free markets" in the same breath that they pursue increased government regulation is, in my opinion, a joke (not to mention there are sometimes unintended consequences to regulation with the best intentions -- including negative effects to the "creativity, innovation, and a free and open marketplace" that Schmidt speaks of in his letter). Grassroots jeans and sneakers attire aside, is this really about making sure none of us are traveling Internet roads with potholes? Or is it about these large companies' abilities to provide their services in the most profitable way possible? They can't really be blamed for their stance, but let's take freedom out of the equation.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.