Post

It’s Getting Nasty In Annapolis

February 27, 2007 ,

The Economic Matters Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates holds its hearing at 1 p.m. today on the broadband legislation introduced by Del. Herman Taylor.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised that the other side is pulling out all sorts of disinformation, misinformation and just plain sleazy tactics to stop it.

The bill is very simple. It requires the Public Service Commission to collect data on broadband deployment around the state, so we can actually see who has the benefits of real broadband and who doesn't. Second, it suggests that the carriers like Verizon and Comcast follow a Net Neutrality policy. It's only a suggestion because, after all, the Federal government has jurisdiction over high-speed broadband services — to the extent it chooses to exercise it.

That little bill has raised quite a ruckus. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) circulated this flyer just chock full of the same misinformation that the Bell companies are spreading in Washington. If you follow the issue, you will recognize some of the canards. (And when you see these canards, duck).

The hoary old favorites are that companies like Google and Amazon are using the telephone networks for free and don't want the poor companies like Verizon won't be able to afford to build out networks; that Net Neutrality will keep Verizon and others from recouping their investments, etc.

They are all demonstrably not true. On the philosophical level, not allowing the network operators to play favorites make a network more valuable to consumers, not less, and increases usage. But, as we said, this is only a recommendation.

The Verizon lobbyists have also been helpful to delegates. Thanks to our friends at Free Press and Moveon.org, residents of Maryland are being informed about this bill and asked to call in their support. Verizon has helpfully supplied delegates' office with a check list of questions to ask those interested people — questions like “how did you hear about this bill?”

The intent, we suppose, is to portray those calls as illegitimate because we used standard means to let people know what is going on. The irony that it's Verizon challenging the motives and means seems to be lost. We hope our delegates won't take Verizon's tactics seriously.

Other lobbyists are scaring local businesses, like a popular coffee shop in Annapolis, by saying the store won't be able to offer wi-fi. Of course, that's nonsense on any number of levels. But the real problem is that either the industry lobbyists misunderstand the bill to a great degree, or they understand it and are purposefully misleading businesses. Either conclusion is not flattering.

There's no dispute that big companies carry a lot of weight in Annapolis. But one would think that after the last time when big utilities and their minions put this full-court press on the legislature, and the result was electricity deregulation, that the legislators might be a bit more wary this time. It doesn't appear that way so far.

My full written statement for the hearing is here