Net Profits

The issue of network neutrality, or protecting the web from an
all-roads-lead-to-McDonalds.com landscape, often seems overwhelming
and difficult to pin down. But the idea of keeping all websites
equally accessible is preserved — or degraded — in seemingly
routine government dealings. In just such a case, the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) is fielding a recent proposal to
merge AT&T and BellSouth. The deal would create the largest
telecom company in the world and, because of a lack of permanent
regulations, would likely pave the way to dismantling net
neutrality, reports John Nichols in his Nation blog, the
Online Beat.

The FCC is supposed to be what Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey (D)
calls an ‘independent, impartial regulatory agency,’ writes
Nichols. But with the vote on the AT&T-BellSouth merger split 2
to 2, and the tiebreaking commissioner Robert McDowell having
recused himself because of a conflict of interest, FCC chair (and
former telecom lobbyist) Kevin Martin hatched a suspect plan to
break the tie — and ensure the merger’s approval. Martin asked the
FCC general counsel to allow McDowell to ‘unrecuse’ himself,
betting that McDowell (another Republican with roots in the
telecommunications industry) would vote to approve the merger.
Martin’s request was granted, reports Ron Orol for
The Deal, though McDowell did not say
whether he would accept it and actually vote. (McDowell’s conflict
of interest dates back to when he argued against the merger, not
for the principles of net neutrality, but on behalf of competing
telecom companies’ interests.)

Those casting a positive eye on the merger argue that if the FCC
approves the deal at its Dec. 20 meeting, there will still be some
net neutrality safeguards. Writing for
Forbes, Tim Doyle notes that AT&T
has agreed to keep the net neutral — meaning it won’t charge
websites premiums for faster service — for 2 1/2 years if the
merger goes through. (Those holding out against the deal are
simply pushing for 4 years of net neutrality in the agreement.)
What’s more, Doyle argues, ‘even if AT&T gets its way at the
FCC, Congress could still mandate net neutrality… if that’s
what they and the public really want.’

Of course, the public may have thoughts on the merger that
they’d like to share with their representatives before the deal
goes through. To that end, the media advocacy group Free Press has
set up an
interactive website for its ‘Stop the AT&T
giveaway’ campaign. The effort’s director Timothy Karr, writing for
Monthly Review,  invites people to
use the site to alert representatives to both Martin’s ‘abuse of
power’ and the issue of net neutrality in general.

Go there >>
FCC Chair Schemes to Undermine Net
Neutrality

Go there too >>
Recused FCC Commissioner OK’d to Vote on
AT&T-BellSouth Merger, Could Break Stalemate

And there >>
FCC And Mergers: ”Can You Hold?”

And there >>
Act Now to Save Net Neutrality

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