The COPE Gloat


WASHINGTON — I wish I had written this: “Leave it to Rep. Charlie Gonzalez,
who represents AT&T’s hometown, to leave the horse head on the bed.”


Alas, I did not and credit should go to Art Brodsky of the Internet advocacy
group Public Knowledge.


Brodsky’s comments follow Columbia Law University’s Tim Wu’s comments on
Tuesday that the broadband business plans of AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time
Warner, et al., represent the “Tony Soprano model of networking.”


At that same hearing, the Bells’ Tom Hagen — Walter McCormick of the U.S.
Telecom Association — told a House Judiciary panel it shouldn’t have any
antitrust concerns about two industries, telcos and cable, controlling
virtually every broadband connection in the country.


Instead, McCormick insisted, the panel should really be looking into the
possible antitrust activities of the search-industry business. It was
classic misdirection.


As evidenced by the soaring rhetoric and mob references, the misdirection
and the spinning, the charges and countercharges, net neutrality became
thoroughly politicized this week on Capitol Hill.


Nothing represented that more than Gonzalez’s Fredo Corleone act on Wednesday
evening. Or, perhaps in a more modernized version, his Christopher Moltisanti
impression.


Breaking ranks with fellow Democrats attempting to put the concept of net
neutrality into law, Gonzalez delivered the water for AT&T: The House
Commerce Committee easily rejected Democratic attempts to put net neutrality
principles into law.


Then he delivered a message to Big Tech.


At the end of a grueling eight-hour day with victory already
in hand, Gonzalez threw in one last proposed amendment to the Communications
Opportunity, Promotion and Efficiency Act of 2006 (COPE).


Following up on McCormick’s facile shuffling of reality, he proposed
mandating that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study the
antitrust relationship between search engines and their customers.


Perhaps the FCC should, but what, you might ask, does that have to do with network neutrality?


Nothing. But it has a lot to do with the former Bells’ ham-handed attempts
to send a warning shot across the bow of Big Tech’s so-far feeble effort to
stop, or even slow, Verizon’s and AT&T’s attempts to make the 109th Congress
into their own personal bada bing club.


Essentially, Gonzalez said, Don’t mess with us, we’ll break your legs. Back
off or we’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.

Tony Soprano couldn’t be
prouder.


And the Bells couldn’t be happier although the amendment failed, as they
knew it would. After all, what’s the point of contributing all that money to
the hometown boy if you can’t use him to bully the opposition?


But why bully at all when you’ve got it all?


While an enormous amount of attention was focused on net neutrality
Wednesday, the centerpiece of COPE is national video franchising for the
Bells. This, it appears, is a lock in both the House and the Senate. Chalk
it up as a huge win for the Bells.


Net neutrality? The Bells got their way Wednesday and they are likely to
smote any opposition when COPE hits the full House for a vote, maybe even as
early as next week.


Over in the Senate, the prospects of a tough net neutrality provision are
equally dim because the Bells hold the hole card.


The Republican-drafted COPE defers any questions about broadband providers
discriminating against content and service providers to the FCC. The Senate
is leaning in the same direction.


The Bells’ advantage is that not only does the current
legislation favor them, so does the status quo.

Since being classified as
non-common carriers for broadband by the FCC, there is nothing to stop
Verizon and AT&T from enacting their business plan to charge content and
service providers extra fees for extra bandwidth.


And then there’s this: If the net neutrality proponents rally enough support
to get the attention of Congress, lawmakers’ likely response will be to drop
any net neutrality provisions in telecom reform legislation and leave
it all to the FCC.


With time desperately running out for the 109th Congress and elections
looming, politicians want to return to the stump and tout their efforts to
lower pay TV rates by clearing the way for the Bells to enter the cable
market.


That will play a lot better in Peoria than an esoteric discussion of an issue
that even net neutrality proponents admit is a hard one to explain.


“Who the hell knows what net neutrality really means?” California Democrat
Anna Eschoo said Wednesday. And Eschoo supports tougher net neutrality
provisions.


Like Luca Brasi, net neutrality may already be sleeping with the fishes.

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