Net Neutrality and Enron

Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz from Texas tweeted the following:

It was in response to President Obama making a statement in support of Net Neutrality by wanting to classify broadband Internet as a utility. Despite the fact that it was about six years too late, I had to roll my eyes because I knew that if Obama came out in support of something, the Republicans would feel required to take the opposite stance.

Treating broadband as a utility is a no-brainer. It is basically an extension of the telephone system which has done very well as a utility, and it has become so important to most people and businesses that creating barriers to access would be a huge step backward. The OpenNMS Group would not have been able to survive in a world where we would have to pay to compete for access at levels that HP and IBM can afford, and there are thousands of other small businesses and entrepreneurs in the same boat.

But Senator Cruz and others have received a large amount of money from cable companies, especially Comcast, who stand to benefit the most if they can charge different rates to different content providers. This isn’t an new argument, Jon Stewart discussed it on his show back in 2006:

But now with Obama’s stance and the newly minted Republican-controlled Congress wanting to flex its muscles, expect it to become a hotter topic.

I was made aware of this through The Oatmeal, and while Matt Inman is dead on as usual, his language and analogies are, hmm, shall we say, not often for gentle ears. So while he makes his point he is basically preaching to the choir, and we need to frame the discussion in something that may actually shame the Republicans into doing the right thing.

Then I remembered Enron.

If broadband is not a utility, but seems like one, what could happen if we put control into private hands? That’s exactly what California did in 1996 by partially deregulating its energy market. This let to an energy crisis in 2000 and 2001, that according to Wikipedia was “caused by market manipulations, illegal shutdowns of pipelines by the Texas energy consortium Enron, and capped retail electricity prices”.

It’s eerie that Comcast’s shutdown of Netflix traffic is so similar to “illegal shutdowns of pipelines”. It’s already happening.

So, when faced with irrational statements like those from Senator Cruz, remain calm and just point out “so you think we need an Enron of the Internet?”. Keep saying it, over and over again.

Perhaps they’ll get the message.