Cirque du Absurd
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Sign-wielding voters demanding Congressional action on network neutrality took to the streets of America this week. They were as angry as the peasant villagers of Visaria storming Dr. Frankenstein's well-wired castle on the hill.
Action now, or heads will roll, the angry mob warned lawmakers nervous over not heeding the threat. "Vote yea on net neut or we'll send you home," was the message.
And with pundits and pollsters laying odds on whether Republicans will control the House and Senate after the midterm elections in November, lawmakers are particularly attentive.
Well, it sort of happened that way.
For elected officials, it was just another week back home in the stretch drive of a re-election campaign. For every member of the U.S. House, this happens every other August. For senators, it's every half a decade or so.
By the Labor Day holiday, the rituals are in full play.
You go home. Safe district or not, you campaign, if not just for the sake of appearances.
You're really glad to visit the locals, one and all.
Of course you'll take a briefing on brucellosis. Speak at the Armadillo Festival? Crown Miss Crustacean? Judge the tractor pull? No problem, baby.
Attend a "petition delivery event" on network neutrality at the district HQ? Sure, of course.
Here's how the event organizers put it: Supporters of Internet freedom took to the pavement in 25 cities nationwide on Wednesday and Thursday, delivering thousands of SavetheInternet.com petitions to their senators and urging them to oppose attempts by big phone and cable companies to eliminate net neutrality.
The New York eager beaver netroots work press gangs -- triple teaming every Starbucks and Whole Foods store in sight -- delivered 50,000 petitions to Sen. Charles Schumer's offices in New York City and Buffalo.
While irritated over not being able to simply e-mail the petition, Moby said it was the cool thing to sign. It was the hottest ticket on YouTube until the next hottest thing came along the next day, something, I believe, about Paris Hilton.
The petition crowd bearing boxes and boxes of dead trees showed up by the dozens with photogenic placards.
They were so hard up for August news in Des Moines, a local TV camera crew showed up to hear them Barkin' for Tom Harkins.
While the Iowa senator regrettably couldn't attend due to a prior engagement at the Cob County corn wheel competition.
Harkin was so moved by the outpouring, he issued a statement declaring his already known support for network neutrality protections in the pending telecom reform bill before the Senate.
Alas, net neut Michigan supporters weren't as warmly received by Senator Debbie Stabinow.
As Save the Internet has it, a PIRGer (Public Interest Research Group) held fort "outside" the senator's home office preaching the faith and ladling out the Kool-Aid.
This was still counted as a win, presumably because Stabinow didn't have them arrested for vagrancy. The senator, meanwhile, was pledging fealty to the Detroit Tigers and all things Michigan.
Similar events were held in Baltimore; Boston; Newark; Honolulu; Orlando; Seattle and Spokane; Milwaukee, Madison and Eau Claire; Fayetteville, Ark.; Portland, Maine; Providence, R.I.; Charleston, W.Va.; Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Ky.; and good ol' Montpelier, Vt.
In all, the coordinated, national street theater, publicity-seeking stunt yielded exactly three Democratic endorsements, although all three are previously on the record expressing at least some need for stronger language in the legislation.
Save the Internet even counted these remarks by Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords as an endorsement.
Befitting his status as the Senate's only Independent, Jeffords correctly pointed out, "While I am in support of net neutrality, it is important to remember that we do not yet know what a final telecommunications bill will look like, if and when it reaches the Senate floor."
It all sounded as good as preaching to the choir.
No one, though, was hyperventilating this week at Verizon, BellSouth or AT&T. At least not over network neutrality.
They stayed above that fray, which, rather sadly, was recently described as the "sexiest tech issue around."
The Valley really does need to get out more.
In all fairness, the telcos were busy with other, more pressing matters.
Verizon and BellSouth, for instance, were raising the price of DSL. Yes, deregulation is supposed to lower prices but apparently they didn't get the memo. Perhaps they're too busy counting up the gatekeepers' gold.
Several embarrassing days later, Verizon and BellSouth put those plans on hold, seemingly surprised that customers and the Federal Communications Commission alike might consider a new DSL charge dedicated wholly to the bottom line substituted in the place of a recently eliminated cut in federal telecom fees as gouging.
Who better, Congress seems to believe, to trust their good word they'll never discriminate in handling high-speed, last-mile traffic in a deregulated world?
AT&T, on the other hand, had its own problems.
Tuesday night, the newly deregulated broadband provider formerly known as the regulated SBC, fessed up to a hack of its systems exposing nearly 20,000 customers -- ironically all broadband customers -- to potential identity theft.
The incident proved, at the least, the private sector is no better at protecting your personal data than the federal government, which has a shameful track record.
Yet another issue Congress has so far ducked.
The big-top tech policy show shifts into high gear next week when the 109th Congress reconvenes for its final session. What Congress hasn't been able to accomplish over the past 20 months, it hopes to resolve in the next 24 days.
As Jeffords notes, no one knows what they'll actually be voting on, much less how they will be voting or even if they'll be voting at all when it comes to tech-related issues.
Not to worry, though. The 110th Congress will convene in January and the circus will be off for another two-year run.
And you thought sausage making was an unsightly process.