Wednesday, July 26, 2006

WBS: The Doc Searls Weblog

What's Being Said Dept.

It's nice to be noticed--and extremely gratifying to be noticed by someone who "gets" what you're trying to do. Doc Searls is one of the "silverbacks" of the web: a veteran who regularly gets quoted with respect. So I was gratified to run across the following citation. Searls is discussing his take on net neutrality and opining that the broad range of more traditional economic and political power wielded by the incumbents are of greater concern than the topical net neutrality debate. (I'd tend to agree, with the caveat that the net neutrality debate is fueled by concern over one, if only one, form of economic power.) The quote:
The far greater danger is the carriers lobbying and litigating to death both backbone carriers and local competitors. The former are businesses that merely transport bits (the ultimate commodity business, and by far the most "neutral" out there) The latter include local and regional wifi and fiber deployment efforts. Some are initiated by local governments. Some are not. All are citizen workarounds of unhelpful cable and telco duopolies. The carriers literally want these efforts to be made illegal. To them only phone and cable companies should be allowed to carry the Net.

Or so it seems to me, after reading up on what's happening behind the scenes, mostly at the state level. It's not pretty. For a peek, check this and other pieces at the Lafayette pro fiber blog. These are not liberal wackos. They're local citizens fighting to get what they want, with or without help from the local telco/cableco duopoly.
I think this is exactly right and the approach is what has motivated Lafayette Pro Fiber. Absent a national policy that really encourages broadband -- replete with peering agreements that don't favor the giants and support for local communities to get into broadband on their own--the real fight is in the last mile where monopoly or duopoly control by the incumbents gives them the power they need to push stuff like packet prioritization as a business strategy. As things stand that last mile fight is necessarily local. Wresting that control away from the carriers gives local communities a fighting chance and having uncontrolled centers like Lafayette will serve to keep the incumbents honest, much as the Tenessse Valley Authority's publicly produced electricity at good rates kept the energy companies honest in our grandparents time when the last big network was being built.


On the other hand...

....Of course, things balance out. For every bright spot like Searls's comment there's got to be a dark cloud to balance things out. The infamous Stephen Titch disapprovingly links to Lafayette Pro Fiber. (You recall him--he's the fella who scammed the Advertiser, twice, no thrice, with his bought and paid "advertorials" and his "research" and issued under the color of the Heartless Institute during the fiber fight.) Titch objects to the recent Advertiser editorial and posts in LPF that point out that the will of the people is being stymied by incumbents afraid of a little competition. The post is a little lesson in how such folks reason: After some trite nonsense about legal rights (yes--and so?) he slides into a bit of (deliberate?) confusion that blurs the the difference between law, his ideology, and economics. The most transparent part of it is his attempt to play games with the definition of monopoly. Titch tries mightily to transform a straightforward economic definition into one that is somehow dependent on whether stockholders and potential stockholders approve of current management. Shareholder happiness has nothing to do with monopoly status as the lack of regard for railroads--as obvious a monopoly as we are likely to see--demonstrates. Monopolies, free of market discipline, are often abysmally run and shareholder dissatisfaction has been common.

But aside from the dubious reasoning it's more than a little repulsive to read a piece which celebrates and justifies the frustration of an overwhelming community vote and righteously announces that we'd be better off if we'd just stop with the six million in interest rates increases the that the incumbents have forced on us recently. Stunningly arrogant. If you ever wondered if these guys might have your interest at heart stuff like this should dissuade you. Welcome to the new corporate conservatism. It doesn't much resemble your daddy's conservativism.

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