March 15th, 2011
By: Mike Zapler
Sen. Al Franken claimed Monday that big corporations are “hoping to destroy” the Internet and issued a call to arms to several hundred tech-savvy South by Southwest attendees to preserve net neutrality.
“I came here to warn you, the party may be over,” Franken said. “They’re coming after the Internet hoping to destroy the very thing that makes it such an important [medium] for independent artists and entrepreneurs: its openness and freedom.”
Net neutrality, he added, is “the First Amendment issue of our time.”
Receiving a hero’s welcome from the liberal crowd, Franken took repeated shots at big telecoms, singling out Comcast.
He said Comcast is looking to change the basic architecture of the Web by implementing a pricing scheme that allows moneyed interests to pay for faster speeds, leaving everyone else behind. That would be a particularly bad development for the independent musicians and artists gathered here, he said.
“The real end for Comcast is to put Netflix out of business entirely,” Franken said, because of the threat that Netflix’s streaming video business could pose to Comcast’s cable franchise. “In the end, the American people will end up paying a lot more for worse service.”
Comcast is now embroiled in a dispute with Level 3, a networking company that carries online video feeds for Netflix, over fees Comcast wants to charge to carry the high-bandwidth content.
In response to Franken’s comments, a Comcast spokeswoman said Monday that the dispute with Level 3 isn’t about net neutrality but is “a peering issue.” “Under the FCC order for the Comcast NBCU transaction, Comcast is required to comply with the FCC’s recent open Internet rules even if they are overturned in court. Our customers can access all Netflix content,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president of government communications.
Franken, who was an aggressive opponent of the Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal, implored SXSW attendees to fight the political influence of the big telecom firms.
“Unfortunately one thing these big corporations have that we don’t is the ability to purchase favorable political outcomes,” he said. “Big telecoms have lots of [lobbyists], and good ones, too. … The end of net neutrality would benefit no one but these corporate giants.”
Franken said talk of a “government takeover” of the Internet by net neutrality critics has as much credibility as claims of “death panels” in the health care legislation and claims that “Obama’s a Muslim,” calling them a “pantheon of lies.”
Franken finished up his half-hour speech by imploring the crowd to preserve net neutrality to avoid a future in which they’re “stuck listening to the Black Eyed Peas and reminiscing about the days before you had to sell out to make it.”
“Let’s not let the government sell us out,” he said. “Let’s fight for net neutrality. Let’s keep Austin weird. Let’s keep the Internet weird. Let’s keep the Internet free.”
June 21, 2010
By: Dennis Kneale
For almost two decades the U.S. government has kept its meddlesome mudhooks off the Internet, freeing it to spread its kudzu-like tendrils into the global economy. And it worked.
The FCC took a big step this week to end all of that. For the first time, the Federal Communications Commission proposes using a set of 75-year-old phone regulations to oversee the Net of the 21st century and have a say in the prices that companies like AT&T and Comcast can charge. And set rules for what traffic they must carry. (Comcast is acquiring a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal’ CNBC’s parent company. The deal is awaiting regulatory approval.)
Some telecom execs say the FCC’s agenda is downright radical. It could thwart high hopes for the wireless Internet, centerstage of the next digital revolution. The agency assault could restack the pecking order of winners and losers and reshape their stock prices, affecting the portfolios of millions of retirees and investors. It would impose new burdens on big carriers, while granting new power to content purveyors like Google and Yahoo .
At stake is billions of dollars that carriers like Verizon and AT&T spend each year to spruce up their networks to carry more digital bits. They will slash their spending if the feds restrain their upside; that could hurts jobs growth in high-tech, which employs well over two million people in the U.S.
If the FCC foray is imminent, “We have to re-evaluate whether we put shovels in the ground,” is how AT&T’s chief executive, Randall Stephenson, put it this week.
The last time the FCC tried such a major incursion, in the mid-1990s, Stephenson, then the company’s chief financial officer, cut annual capital spending by more than half, from $12 billion to $5 billion dollars a year. That cut lasted for four years, until the courts threw out the FCC overreach.
This time around, the agency’s push is in direct contradiction to a ruling in April from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. The backstory: In 2008 the FCC had chastised Comcast for slowing traffic from one particular website—BitTorrent, used for massive video downloads of movies and TV shows. Comcast sued, arguing the FCC had legal standing to dictate how the company handles its Internet traffic.
Two months ago the DC appeals court unanimously agreed: the FCC had no such authority.
What to do? Make it up!
To do that, the FCC proposes a nifty little change in definitions. It wants to re-classify the Internet and say it no longer is an “information service”—which gets a light hand. Now the Net shall be called a “telecommunications service”—a phone service, basically, that gets subjected (and subjugated) to a lot more government oversight.
Four feet good. Two feet better!
Technically, the FCC wants to take Title II of the Communications Act—first adopted when the agency was formed 75 years ago to regulate phone service—and slap it on the Internet.
“It’s so archaic. It’s a regulation that was written for the old rotary dial telephone back in 1934,” AT&T’s Stephenson said on CNBC’s new show, “The Strategy Session,” earlier this week. (Watch video of the interview here.)
It is “a terrible idea,” Verizon’s regulatory chief, Tom Tauke, says in a company statement, predicting “severe . . . ramifications for decades. It is difficult to understand why the FCC continues to consider this option.”
Google played a key role in sparking this spat, under the well-crafted buzzwords “net neutrality.” The search behemoth basically wants the FCC to guarantee that a big carrier can’t refuse to deliver Google’s content on its network.
But wait a minute—why does Google, a preternaturally fearsome, multibillion-dollar profit machine, need special protection from a feeble and backward-looking government bureaucracy? If Comcast blocked access to a hotspot like Google, millions of customers could quit and force the company to cave in. Free-market enforcement, guys.
The FCC, prodded by Google, wants to ban giant carriers from differentiating the way they handle various kinds of traffic, requiring them to treat all content—whether it’s a fat video downloaded from YouTube or a slender little photo zapped from your cell phone—”in a nondiscriminatory manner.” Some telecom execs fear this would lead to de facto price controls.
Wouldn’t Hugo Chavez in Venezuela be proud? The shareholders of AT&T and Verizon and Comcast and
Time Warner Cable
paid to build those fat pipes—not government. And the carriers made that investment without monopoly protection, unlike the phone networks erected over a century ago.
Some telecom execs privately have signaled to the FCC that they may accept some new FCC rules on wireline service into homes, if the FCC would back off and let the mobile Internet remain unfettered and footloose.
Don’t bet on it. The Obama Adminstration’s FCC, backing off an opportunity to expand its regulatory hegemony over a trillion-dollar industry? Why would we ever believe this FCC is capable of doing a wise thing like that?
October 19, 2009
The Hollywood Reporter
By Paul Bond
No knock on his “good friend” Jeff Bewkes — or on Superman — but Ted Turner wishes that he were running Time Warner so that he could make some changes at Cartoon Network and CNN, the cable news channel he founded 29 years ago.
At CNN, he wants “less fluffy news and more international news,” especially about China, Turner says in an interview set to run on Bloomberg TV on Friday. “Less talk, more news,” he says.
As for Cartoon Network, Turner tells anchor Betty Liu, “If I had control of it, I’d put ‘Captain Planet’ on at a top time period so that kids would see the environmental superhero instead of just Superman.”
The environment, along with population control and nuclear disarmament, have been pet projects of Turner’s for decades, and he has been spending more time with those issues since retiring from media a decade ago.
But he clearly misses his former occupation. When Liu asks him if there are any media mergers he’d like to see happen, Turner responds: “I’d like to see me running Time Warner.” He says later, “I’d like CNN to report to me, and the Cartoon Network.”
He did, though, give the thumbs up to the notion of Comcast acquiring a part of NBC Universal. “Go for it,” he said. “You’ve got to do something. They’ve got a real good cable system. And they don’t have that much programming.”
Then again, Turner was also a proponent of AOL’s purchase of Time Warner, which, nine years later, is generally regarded as the worst merger in corporate history.
Turner also says that Viacom-CBS mogul Sumner Redstone was correct when he said at a conference that selling Turner Broadcasting to Time Warner was Turner’s downfall.
“He’s right. I made a mistake. I was tired,” Turner tells Liu.
Turner also says he “buried the hatchet,” as Liu put it, with News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch about 18 months ago. He dropped him a note the other day telling him he was doing a good job with the Wall Street Journal.
“He didn’t write me back. He might not have gotten the letter,” he says.
Not that he’s a fan of print newspapers: “You’re chopping all these trees down and making paper out of them and trying to deal with all the waste paper. It’s the biggest solid waste problem that we have.”