A fourth, David Cohen, Executive VP of Comcast, is a slipperier weasel. He is a the Washington bagman for Comcast, and one of the three biggest cable-industry lobbyists in Washington, according to Cablefax magazine. He hasn't been as well documented: the quote attributed to him by Common Cause actually seems to have come from Brian Dietz, a cable-industry association spokesperson who works for a lobbying group that has Comcast as one of its largest members.
And then there's Mark Cuban. He recently opined in his blog that what the Internet needs is "multiple tiers of service." At least he put himself out there, and he gets beaten up pretty badly by the commenters on his post. Many cite factual errors, but I particularly like a note from "bastion," who writes:
"between the telcos aggresively fighting municipal wifi and the proposal of tiered networking it appears the new american way in communication is to take the power from the people and to activiely attempt to curtail any furture potential inovation from small startups. The power of the internet has been the perceived equality. Mark if this tiered system existed when you first got in the game do you think you would have gotten to where you are now?"
Indeed. The big telco weasels have been careful to talk about "the network" rather than "the Internet" because they know they can't claim to own the Internet. But their goal is clearly to turn the Information Superhighway into a toll road.
Network neutrality needs all the support we can give it. The Common Cause Web site includes a suggested email message for you to send to the telco weasels. It's worth reading:
Subject: Hands Off My Internet!
Dear (recipient name),
I support network neutrality, and I am dismayed by comments made by your executives recently indicating they want to dramatically change the way the Internet operates.
Net neutrality is the reason this democratic medium has grown exponentially, fueled innovation and altered how we communicate. For-profit interests should not be allowed to destroy the democratic culture of the web.
I strongly urge you not to block, impede or interfere with any lawful Internet traffic on your network, now or in the future.
Other grassroots organizations are working to save network neutrality as well. Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group, says, "If we want to ruin the Internet, we'll turn it into a cable TV system" that carries programming from only those who pay the cable operators for transmission."
David Isenberg sums it up like this: "The battle is bigger than Google versus the telcos. It is about whether Internet access is a freedom, like freedom of the press, or a privilege that may be granted or withheld."
This week's stories about Internet censorship in China remind us that censorship is always censorship, whether it's ideological or economic. Messrs. Whitacre, Smith, Cohen, and Seidenberg would probably object to the idea that they have more in common with the Chinese Communist ruling elite than they do with American citizens, but there it is. They want to abridge our freedom, and I think we should put them on notice that they only way they'll take control of the Internet is to pry it from our cold, dead hands.
How could it be that Mark Cuban, of all people, has changed sides in that fight?