Monday, March 06, 2006

Times' (slow) tech news: Another example

Today, another good example supporting last night's thesis: the Times has respectable tech and tech law coverage, as long as you don't mind being a bit behind the curve and missing some of the nuance. Their stuff is uninspiring, and if you're reading it there for the first time, you'd better not need to know it, but it'll do for most people.

This article is really about network neutrality, but they don't use the phrase or tip readers off to the online resources discussing the issue. In all fairness, they did urge net neutrality in an editorial several weeks ago. Still, this has been brewing for a couple years now and the Times is just getting hip to it as it's boiling over in Congress. Another serious drawback: they fail to note Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-OR) bill to preserve network neutrality.

This is the tech law crisis of the year. In the early days, right wing groups like the Progress & Freedom Foundation described net neutrality as a problem in search of a solution (pdf). (Less tech-hip neocon groups have adopted the language, too. Here's just one example.) Nobody would ever discriminate, broadband providers insisted, so why regulate?

In the last several months, this has changed radically. In November, SBC CEO Ed Whitacre said the following in a Business Week interview:
Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?
At the time, SBC PR people and the telecomm industry generally denied that this was their new business model. Now, they're being more honest about it. FreePress has noticed this pattern of telecomm execs admitting that charging content providers is their new business model. Add Verizon Sr. VP John Thorne to that list.

In this Times story, there's no history of industry obfuscation of their long-term goal to create tiered delivery of content based on content providers' payments. There's no sense of where the legislation is at. It's just a catfight between internet big wigs, stripped of its context, with less than a full sense of what's at stake.

Again: if you read the Times for your tech news, at least you won't be clueless. You will, however, come to debates long after they have been framed by corporate, government, and advocacy group spin doctors. That just seems like a low down dirty shame.


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