Not So Free Press

Conn Carroll /

In their Business section front page puff piece on Free Press policy director Ben Scott, the Washington Post does reports that FP’s “critics” often note that FP “is not as boot-strapped as it may appear, with donors such as billionaire George Soros and singer Barbra Streisand.” WaPo then goes on to breathlessly report that:

Free Press has more than $5 million in funding, in part from major foundations such as the Soros Open Society Institute. Its annual lobbying budget is $250,000, compared with the $13.8 million spent by Verizon Communications, $17.1 million by AT&T and $8.9 million by Comcast last year.

The implication being that FP’s small $250,000 lobbying budget is dwarfed by the millions spent by Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast. The truth, however, is a little more complicated. Besides the fact that the Verizons of the world have many other issues on their Washington office plates other than net neutrality, WaPo conveniently forgot to mention that net neutrality has plenty of its own corporate deep pocket supporters as well.

Google, Ebay, Yahoo, Sony, and Microsoft all spend millions on lobbyists too and they all support net neutrality. Free Press is not nearly as out gunned as the Washington Post would have us believe.

The Washington Post article is largely free on the merits of the net neutrality issue, but Brett Swanson and George Gilder did a fine job of boiling down the issue recently in the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. Internet will thus be 50 times larger by 2015, equal to 50 million Libraries of Congress. This will require some $100 billion in new Internet infrastructure in the U.S. over the next five years. … We need a dramatic expansion in raw capacity, or bandwidth, and also fine-grained traffic management capabilities to ensure robust service for increasingly demanding consumers. But none of this can happen if we regulate complex network traffic engineering and experimental business plans.

All networks use some form of traffic management, whether crude or complex. As our colleague Ken Ferree notes, every industry, from grocery store “express lines” to “singles” ski-lift lines, attempts to shape and manage demand. Today’s communications networks buffer, label, parse, schedule, prioritize, route, switch, modify, replicate, police and meter the bits flowing through their links and nodes. New pricing schemes that charge per byte consumed might also help to manage supply and demand on the Internet.

The petitions under consideration at the FCC and in the Markey net neutrality bill would set an entirely new course for U.S. broadband policy, marking every network bit and byte for inspection, regulation and possible litigation. Every price, partnership, advertisement and experimental business plan on the Net would have to look to Washington for permission. Many would be banned. Wall Street will not deploy the needed $100 billion in risk capital if Mr. Markey, digital traffic cop, insists on policing every intersection of the Internet.