Lessig on Net Neutrality

by Bruce Stewart

Lawrence Lessig has an interesting post about the "dark other side" of the Net Neutrality debate, centering on a suit that Gary Reback has been advocating for to challenge the legality of some of the recent mega telecom mergers. You may remember Reback as one of the antitrust attornies who took on Microsoft, and Lessig notes his respect for Reback and thinks that his odds are good in this case. Reback is alleging that SBC and Verizon forced their deals through the Dept. of Justice when an important appointee for the head of antitrust was on Senatorial hold, and then ignored the amended Tunney Act that prescribed a judicial review.

This is sleazy stuff, and it forms the real basis for being concerned about the games the network owners would play if free to play games. The really striking part of this (to me, a constitutionalist) is how the legislative branch keeps passing laws that the executive branch just ignores. And why ignore the laws? Corporate influence. That's what this case reeks of.

As Lessig points out, these are exactly the kind of things that are motivating the pro-Network Neutrality movement.

TechDirt also picked up the story and again highlighted their position that the real problem at the root of Net Neutrality issues is the lack of competition at the network provider level, an opinion that TechDirt has been pushing for some time and now seems to be gaining some traction.

Again, it's a bit early to know whether or not this case is going to get anywhere, but Reback is someone who doesn't tend to give up easily (even if his detour into the startup world didn't turn out to be hugely successful) -- and the telcos certainly have a history of this type of questionable behavior in making backroom deals with government officials (many of which they never live up to their side on). If, as we've been saying, the real problem is the lack of competition in the telco space, finding out that some of that lack of competition came about potentially through illegal means, raises an awful lot of questions.

On a more positive Lessig-related note, I was pleasantly surprised to read today about the Microsoft support of Creative Commons that has emerged as an Office plug-in for easily assigning a CC license to content created in MS Office. That's a nice move.