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July 09, 2006

Good News – Maybe

We interrupt this series on Telecommunication Pricing to bring you an important message. According to a story in Saturday’s NY Times, Federal District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan is considering major modifications to the already accomplished SBC/AT&T and Verizon/MCI mergers.  We’re going to mash that up with a quote from Vint Cerf who is now at Google.

“Through the eyes of a layperson, the mergers, in and of themselves, appear to be against public interest given the apparent loss in competition," the Times reports Judge Sullivan wrote. "In layperson's terms, why isn't that the case?”

Net Neutrality would not be an issue in the United States if we had real communication competition.  In a competitive market, consumers can choose neutral providers – or biased providers if there is a good enough reason.  The result of competition is – in Great Britain, for example – free and open Internet service AND broader bandwidth at lower prices than we get from our domestic duopoly.

Although many of my friends online (Jeff Pulver, David Isenberg just to name a couple of smart people) are supporters of Net Neutrality legislation, I’m not.  I’m afraid that the cure will be worse than the disease; that the politically powerful duopoly will twist the enabling legislation to their advantage and to the disadvantage of smaller competitors; that bureaucratic enforcement of a legislative definition of neutrality could, itself, stifle innovation.  But we all agree that the underlying problem is lack of competition in the US marketplace.

So it would be nice to solve the real problem.

Gary Reback, famed for his role in the Microsoft antitrust case and attorney for a group of companies who are still protesting the megamergers, is quoted in the Times as writing: “At issue is judicial review of the successful efforts of the two largest local telephone monopolists, SBC and Verizon, aided and abetted by the current administration of the antitrust division of the Department of Justice, to reconstitute as a nationwide local and long-distance duopoly what was formally the Bell System monopoly.”

Now to the mashup: a Reuters story run by ZDNet reports that  Vint Cerf (he DID, as much as anyone, invent the Internet) was questioned about the current Net Neutrality debate over the telecommunications bill now in the US Congress at a news conference in Bulgaria.  He said:

“If the legislators...insist on neutrality, we will be happy. If they do not put it in, we will be less happy but then we will have to wait and see whether or not there actually is any abuse.

“If we are not successful in our arguments ... then we will simply have to wait until something bad happens and then we will make known our case to the Department of Justice's anti-trust division.”

Many of us have been pushing Google to lobby harder to protect the Internet from rampant and reconstituted Bells.  Since this really means more campaign contributions,  it’s advice one gives while holding one’s nose.

The idea of more litigation – not usually something I’d be in favor of – is actually less distasteful than a Net Neutrality PAC.  The real problem is antitrust.  Judge Sullivan seems to have created an opening to address it.

Probably Google has seen the NY Times story in whatever search engine they use.  A friend of the court brief might be a good investment.

Seems I write about Net Neutrality all the time but see this post and this one for more on the subject.

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[Source: Fractals of Change] quoted: Vint Cerf (he DID, as much as anyone, invent the Internet) was questioned about the current Net Neutrality debate over the telecommunications bill now in the US Congress at a news conference in Bulgaria. [Read More]

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