April 27th, 2006

Politics of Net Neutrality


Just read this commentary

The Chicago Sun Times reports that AT&T has donated $1 million to a community center founded by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). Rush is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is writing telecom law that would give AT&T everything telcos want, from killing net neutrality, to letting telcos establish municipal video franchises without government oversight.

Two days ago, I went to the Digital Expo City where Vint was giving the keynote. He was surprised to see me sitting at the back. Anyway, I caught up with him after the event and we chat a little about Net Neutrality.

One thing he mentioned is 2006 Senate election. Given the stakes on the outcome of the Net Neturality debate is very high for both Bells and Net companies, it is logical the politicans will drag the Net Neutrality debate at least till the election (or even after) so that they would get as much campaign contributions as possible from both side.

Thus, it isnt surprising that AT&T donated to the charity associated with Representative Bobby Rush since Rep. Rush is one of the key member of the committee overseeing the overhaul of the Telecommunication Act. In fact, I would be surprised if Net companies don’t play a similar game…they would be silly not to.

Some may feel that all these “money politics” are wrong. First, it is naive to think politicians can run their election campaigns without donations. No one has pocket deep enough that they will turn down (corporate) donations. Second, campaign contributions are perfectly legal so long it confirm to FECA and BCRA. What is not allowed (in BCRA) is “soft money”.

So the question is AT&T donation to the charity considered “soft money”? Many people think it is. I am no lawyer and certainly no expert on BCRA but I do know that the spirit of the law does not always align with the letter of the law. Not withstanding testing in court or at least an informed legal opinion, it is really difficult to say.

However, I don’t think AT&T would make such a simple mistake without covering their bases. They are afterall the master of the game.

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