Watch Me and My Public Interest Buddies Beat the Odds At FTC Network Neutrality Smackdown!

Back in the summer the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decided to get in on the Network Neutrality game. As I observed at the time, I’m skeptical the network neutrality will get a fair shake under FTC Chairman Majoris.

But, like the gambler who comes to the crooked poker den because “it’s the only game in town,” you gotta show up to play even if you think the odds are stacked. So I and a number of other public interest folks and sympathetic academics will face off against a less-than-level playing field at the FTC’s Broadband Task Force’s Competition Policy Workshop on February 13 & 14.

Why I consider this playing field “less than level,” and why we will still kick butt, below . . .

You can see a copy of the agenda here. What makes this “less than level,” rather than rigged, is the number of voices some players get and the way the panels are structured. Consider: the “consumer protection” panel, has only one representative from an actual consumer organization: Jeannine Kenny from CU. She has to share the podium with an industry representative (Dan Brenner), Timothy Muris — who gets billed as an academic but whose majore claim to fame is that he was Majoris’ predecessor as Bush’s FTC chair, Phil Weiser (a good guy, but an anti-trust lawyer not a consumer protection advocate — no offense to Phil, but anit-trust is not the be all and end all of consumer protection), and Ron Yokubaitis of Data Foundry. Again, I got nothing against Data Foundry, but why does industry get to talk about consumer protection? And get two representatives on the “consumer” panel?

Before you answer, consider that in addition to this “consumer protection panel,” there is a seperate panel on “What Framework Best Promotes Competition and Consumer Welfare, Industry Perpsective” and “What Framework Best Promotes Competiton and Consumer Welfare, Academic Perspective.” So the pro and con industry reps and pro and con academics each have their own panel, but the “consumers” (i.e., us regular folks actually using broadband) have to share “our” panel with two industry reps and two academics.

Yeah, Jeannine Kenny can kick butt with the best of them. But when she only gets one-fifth of the air time on her panel, while the other perspectives get an entire panel all to themselves, I think it’s fair to say the “consumer perspective” has been seriously shortchanged. At best, consumers need to rely on sympathetic industry reps and academics to speak for them. Meanwhile, the FTC Broadband Task Force can say that yeah, they covered consumer issues and gave consumer organizations a chance to make their case.

It’s not all bleak, of course. Any event that will include Joseph Farrell, Tim Wu, William Lehr, Jon Peha, the aforementioned Jeannine Kenny, and Gig Sohn (and, if I may make so bold, yr hmbl obdnt) can’t be a total bust. I, for one, am looking forward to discussing the question of broadband competition with the good folks from CTIA, Progress and Freedom Foundation, and Verizon. “If both sides survive the Lirpa, we will proceed to the Ahn-Woon.

Happily, like Gideon v. the Midianites, we have truth, righteousness, and God on our side (at least his cheering squad in the form of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Christian Coalition, the National Religious Broadcaster, and the United Church of Christ). And, as I repeatedly say, being right is not enough, but it helps. So I have every confidence that we will emerge as the advocates with the greatest evidence on our side and the most persuasive arguments — for those that approach the issue as a policy exercise rather than as a religious devotion to the Gods of the Market Place.

As I said above, in light of all that has come before, it’s not like it comes as a huge surprise. Indeed, I’l bet if I asked the FTC about it, they would genuinely think they apportioned things fairly, did a bang-up job representing all perspectives, and that we public interest folks are just never satisifed. Based on past experience, I imagine the dialog going somewhat like this:

Me: Why are there so many industry reps and academics on the “consumer panel.”
FTC: Because it is important for us to get all perspectives on consumer issues. Industry has a lot to say about consumer issues and protecting their customers. And we need to consider things like cost and impact on competition. It’s only fair to let the industry have a say.
Me: O.K., so why aren’t there consumer advocates on the industry perspectives panel?
FTC: (blank look) But that’s the industry panel, not the consumer panel. Don’t you think industry should get a chance to present its views? We have a consumer panel for you guys. How much more do you think you’re entitled to?

Welcome to Washington.

stay tuned . . . .


  1. Harold,
    You did indeed “prod buttock” at the FTC workshop. I was sitting in my kitchen listening for hours to the webcast in the background, when suddenly I hear this very powerful argument that we need to consider balancing economic interests with other values. “Other values?” (blank look on faces of other panelists) “What other value is there?” Harold, you are my new hero!

  2. I agree. I was there and Harold and Jeannine kicked big time butt. Way to go, both of you!

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