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Critique of Wash Post's Sunday NN Article

After speaking with the Washington Post reporter for over a half hour on Friday to help with their Sunday Q&A article on NN, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/01/AR2006070100138_pf.html I was dismayed with the many inaccuracies and the lack of balance in the article. The reporter explained they wanted to present both sides; their attempt fell short. After getting back from the long Fourth of July weekend, I just had to set the record straight.

 

To be fair, on the positive side, their call-out-box explaining the opposing NN positions was generally accurate and useful. I also commend the Post for trying to share both sides and attempting to better explain this important issue. 

 

However, on the negative side: The biggest weakness in the article was the very imbalanced introduction that framed and skewed the article for everyone.

 

The third sentence bought hook line and sinker, one of the main incorrect premises of NN that I clearly rebutted when I talked to their reporter. “Whatever becomes of the concept could affect…the sites you’ll have access to…” Broadband companies have made clear that they have no intention or incentive to block access to legal sites or degrade peoples’ online access. As I told the reporter, these unsupported allegations were at the heart of the NN misinformation. If the article were fair, it should have at least explained on what basis the reporter believed the unsupported allegations to be true and why the companies’ statements to the contrary should be summarily dismissed without reference.

 

The fourth sentence then frames the core debate incorrectly on the facts. “Net neutrality is the push to prohibit a pay-for-speed Internet pricing structure that the cable and phone companies…have proposed.” This is not true. The cable and phone companies have long charged for speed, it’s called dial-up and broadband. With even the most cursory review of the market, (i.e. the massive TV, radio, print and Internet ads on broadband pricing for speed) one would know this framing sentence is inaccurate. Net neutrality proponents would also object to the framing sentence as inaccurate. They are not asking to “prohibit pay-for-speed” only that there be no differential pricing among similarly situated services. This factual distinction is huge as it is the essence of the debate.
The core conclusion of the intro is also very misleading, concerning the state of play of the political process, which is usually the Washington Post’s strength.  The assertion “The jury – in this case, Congress – is still out.” appears to be more the writers’ desire than an accurate reporting of the facts. The House recently voted down net neutrality 269-152, and the Bush Administration in its Statement of Administration position on that bill also opposed NN. Last week the Senate Commerce Committee rejected the Snowe-Dorgan NN amendment 11-11. (Before the House took this up, NN lost at the FCC, the DC Court of Appeals and in the Supreme Court.)

So for the jury to be considered still “out,” the full Senate will have to vote for NN, (which is unlikely given the Democrats do not have a majority in the Senate) then persuade BOTH the House and the Adminstration to reverse their firm positions, and then sign the net neutrality bill into law. What the article totally missed is the core understanding of legislative reality of this issue: if NN proponents cannot pass a NEW law, NN loses. The Washington Post is generally savvy enough to understand the facts and politics of an issue to accurately report on its prospects. NN proponents have obviously “spun” the Post that a near total defeat is a somehow a “win.”

 

There was also a very embarrassing factual error in the body of the Q&A which broadcasts that the Post, in this article at least, does not understand which side wants what. In the second Q, the Post simply got it backwards, “Opponents believe, however, that a government-regulated Internet would deter deep pocketed technology companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, from investing in more robust Internet infrastructure.” It’s the broadband companies, like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, and Sprint who provide and invest in the Internet infrastructure, not Google, Microsoft et al. Wrong companies, wrong position. Oops.

 

Lastly, in the second to last Q, the answer implies consumers don’t already have the choice to pay for the level of service they want. Most every consumer the Post could ask would know that they can get slow speed dial-up or various speeds of faster broadband.

 

Normally the Post writes well on these issues. This article was so inaccurate and unfair, I just had to blog to correct the record. Letters to the editor seldom get printed.    

 

Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths