Young San Jose resident Alex Polvi presented the least informed, but probably most typical argument for net neutrality in his public comment featured in this video clip from the rescheduled network neutrality hearings hosted by the FCC at Stanford today. But hey, even if he said "Internet" more than a dozen times, he didn't say "marketplace of ideas" or "fascism," like many of the other commenters. The people who should be most worried about the complex debate aren't free speech advocates or corporations, however, but big pharma. Listening to arguments for and against were a more powerful soporific than Ambien. Highlights from the seven hour session after the jump.
Readers voted that I should attend the hearings as a Comcast representative. In true Comcast spirit, I stayed home, just like the telcos, and watched it online at VON TV. (Besides, I don't have an appropriately ugly suit to play the role.) Only one actual network provider showed up — Lariat.net CEO Brett Glass from Laramie, Wyoming — but the anti-regulation argument was still well-represented on the panels, if not in the audience.
The main arguments against government regulation basically amounted to the typical accusation that regulation will restrain free market competition; if network operators aren't allowed to manage traffic and content, that will prevent them from policing the Internet for child pornography and copyright infringement; and that ten percent of users are using 75 percent of available bandwidth — presumably to trade child pornography and infringe on copyrights using file sharing protocols.
The man of the hour, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, gave one of his typical speeches accompanied by slides. He turned the free market arguments against the telcos, paraphrasing Adam Smith in observing that producers rarely meet but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public. But the most interesting perspective in favor of network neutrality came from the Christian Coalition's Michele Combs. She argued that the cable companies would be happy to let the porn industry pay for access to consumers, whereas "grassroots" organizations like her own would be silenced.
Of the public commenters, none came to the defense of ISPs. Most brought up free speech issues. An impassioned "Tiny" Lisa Gray Garcia from Poor Magazine brought up the issue of the digital divide and how a tilted Web playing field could potentially restrict access to Internet adoption among communities, such as immigrants, who are just starting to get online and access media. No wonder Comcast didn't show up — public opinion was stacked against them. Thankfully, they don't have to worry about the average American truly understanding the issues, and game knee-jerk politics to their advantage if necessary.