First Coffee for 11 May 2006: The Barton-Rush COPE Bill? Come On, Party Everyone!

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David Sims
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First Coffee for 11 May 2006: The Barton-Rush COPE Bill? Come On, Party Everyone!

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, the morning of Blake Charles Sims’s 7th birthday, in honor of which the music is The Beatles’ “Birthday” from the White Album:

An op-ed piece by Michael Socolow, assistant professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine, printed in the Baltimore Sun talks about something First Coffee hasn’t seen discussed much on any other major media outlet, just Little Green Footballs, itself worth more than 90% of the MainStream Media.

Socolow starts off with the punch line: “Congress wants to change the Internet.”

According to Socolow, “both the House and Senate commerce committees are promoting new rules governing the manner by which most Americans receive the Web. Congressional passage of new rules is widely anticipated… once this happens, the Internet will change before your eyes.” And won’t that be fun!

Somebody else on the story is columnist Cari Hennessy, shaming the MSM by writing for the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily, who explains that currently, the Internet operates on the principle of “network neutrality,” which means that “service providers don’t discriminate when they transmit content to users. Because of network neutrality, and reach users with equal reliability and speed. You control the content that you see, not your service provider.”

Network neutrality isn’t mandated by law, it’s just been standard practice. And isn’t it just about time somebody did something about that? Thank God for the white hats riding to the rescue of poor consumers overwhelmed by free choice!

The meretriciously-named Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE) bill doesn’t protect network neutrality, a neutrality which, as Socolow says, “levels the playing field between the tiniest blog and the most popular Web site.”

AT&T and Verizon have at least been publicly honest, if underreported, in their plans to “divide the information superhighway into separate fast and slow lanes.” Socolow:

Web sites and services willing to pay a toll will be channeled through the fast lane, while all others will be bottled up in the slower lanes. COPE, and similar telecom legislation offered in the Senate, does nothing to protect the consumer from this.”

Nattering nabob of negativity city! Don’t you get it, dude-o-san? Some sites will go faster! Nothin’ but blue skies ahead far as this ol’ cowboy’s concerned. 

BellSouth is portraying the Barton-Rush Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act as “facilitating real competition in the video services market, bringing consumers new and better services as well as lower prices.”

Competition in voice communication through wireless and VoIP technologies has benefited consumers, as BellSouth correctly points out. They write that “The COPE Act removes barriers to entry for new competitors in the video services market by establishing clear federal standards to replace the outdated local franchise approval process, which is only delaying consumers the competition they deserve.”

Allowing head-to-head competition in video, as it exists today in voice and Internet services, will speed new choices and value to consumers and drive U.S. investment in advanced broadband infrastructure, BellSouth contends.

It might. It probably will. But what will be lost and is it worth it? That’s the question. First Coffee’s sure that everyone will be careful and fair in how they decide to rearrange the Internet, maintaining the standards of fairness, impartiality and openness which has made it so great. And that Charlie Brown will kick Lucy’s football.

“This scheme has been proposed publicly by William L. Smith, the chief technology officer of BellSouth Corp, who told The Washington Post that he wants a ‘pay-for-performance marketplace’ where his company can speed up the online services of companies that have paid, and slow down every other website,” Hennessy writes. “The CEO of Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg, has also acknowledged that he wants companies like Google to pay for fast transmission on the Verizon network.”

Makes sense – after all, owners of toll roads get to decide who drives on them and how fast they get to go, right? I mean, whose planet are we talking about here?

The telecoms don’t like the fact that commercial Web sites are profiting, while those wonderful telecoms who bring you aforesaid Web sites aren’t grabbing a piece of that, never mind the fact that they’re providing exactly the service they’re being paid the rates they demand to do so.

What the new regulations will allow the big telecom companies to do is prioritize the Web for you: “They will be free to decide which Web sites get to your computer faster and which ones may take longer – or may not even show up at all,” Socolow says.

And the best part is that you don’t have to go to all the bother of thinking and deciding what you would like to see, read or buy, they’ll take care of that for you.

What’s the nightmare scenario? “By giving the telecoms the ability to harness your Web surfing, the government will empower them to shake down the most profitable Web companies. These companies will sell access to you, to, and others,” Socolow explains. And if you don’t pay? “Then, when you type in “,” you might be redirected to, or your lightning-quick DSL Internet service might suddenly move at horse-and-buggy speed.”

Can they really do that? Now, no. After this bill passes? Sure. And won’t that be cool? The sites you’ll be able to hit will be based on their ability to pay the providers, much like how large food distributors rent shelf space at your local supermarket so smaller producers can’t offer their breakfast cereals or soft drinks to you. First Coffee’s looking forward to that! Who needs all that freedom of choice anyway?

“Universality is essential to the Web,” says its inventor, Al Gor… sorry, Tim Berners-Lee. “It loses its power if there are certain types of things to which you can’t link.”

What a worrywart! So you type in the name of a book or CD and you get directed to one site to buy it, saves you a lot of time, doesn’t it? And who wants both sides of political or social issues, that’s confusing! Just give First Coffee the side that can afford to pay more, they’ve probably got more on the ball than those other dodos anyway. Go Darwin!

The proposed law has strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. COPE has been promoted vigorously in the House by both Texas Republican Joe L. Barton and Illinois Democrat Bobby L. Rush, Socolow says, noting that Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and RINO Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine are opposing it.

“Most telecom laws are sold to the public as the ‘natural evolution’ of communications technology. Yet there is no truly natural evolution to our telecommunications laws, Socolow points out. “Only very rarely is regulation completely ordained by physics or technological limits. More commonly, it emerges from the political process. This is news to many Americans unaware of their own media history.”

Leave out “media” from that last sentence and you still have a true statement. Want to know how it’ll go down? Here’s a hint from SourceWatch:

“In favor of network neutrality are such content providers as Amazon, eBay, Google, IAC/Interactive, Intel, Microsoft and Yahoo. Against network neutrality are network operators such as AT&T (formerly SBC and AT&T), Comcast, TimeWarner and Verizon. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, AT&T, TimeWarner and Verizon are the 22nd, 27th and 32nd top campaign contributors, respectively, since 1989. Only one of the companies identified as being in favor of network neutrality, Microsoft, is in the top 100.” Hedge bets accordingly, campers.

Calling COPE the end of the Internet as we know it isn’t hyperbole, simply a fact. And as with any legislation there are tradeoffs. Your service to certain sites will be lickety-split, sure. Won’t that be great? Vive la Internet!

To… certain sites. But no doubt they’ll be the right ones!

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