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Verizon Conference Call On Net Neutrality

Net NeutralityBloggers have been doing a good job beating the hell out of the telcos and cable companies on net neutrality, so it was about time for opponents of net neutrality to try and persuade them regarding the error of their ways. To that end, they held a conference call on the topic this afternoon. Honestly, I was surprised that they would do this, given that the telcos really launched this debate through their offhand comments about “their networks”. But they wanted to take it on, so I wanted to listen in.

Link Hoewing, VP for Internet Technology Policy and Business Support Planning at Verizon, led the discussion. John Czwartacki, who I think was a former Bush appointee and former Lott press secretary, introduced Link and jumped into the debate.

They first took the opportunity to point out their business model has changed and they’re focusing on competing with cable, wi-fi, etc. Including news that they’re moving from 15mbps at $49.95 to 20mbps at the same price. It took them far too long to get to the issue of net neutrality. I thought I had jumped on a sales call at first (I may be biased because I didn’t want to listen to their repetitive consumer choice drivel). Of course, they did say the call was meant as a Net Neutrality 101 primer so a background on their business plans may have been useful for some.

They stated support for the FCC principles relating to net neutrality and raised the issue of Madison River (which the FCC quickly dealt with). Beyond that, they were pretty ineffective at making the case that they’re on the right side, unfortunately. Czwartacki seemed somewhat disconnected. He seemed to be rambling at some points. He seemed uncomfortable with the forum. Link was more effective.

Addressing the arguments, they did a mediocre job. With the claim that the little guy won’t be able to afford to pay ISPs for access, they fell back on the Mark Cuban telemedicine example. They did take on the “packet is a packet” approach and challenged the ridiculousness of that legislation.

Regarding the ‘they’ll slow down/block Google’ argument, they answered that they already have competing applications, and are not limiting the connection to their competitors. They argue that impeding traffic where they have a network would lead their competition to impede traffic where they don’t. That would effectively create skirmishes across the country.

A caller argued that there is evidence this happens, and cited the Telus case in Canada. Of course, the Canadians are not subject to the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. But that argument, for some reason, is lost on the proponents of Net Neutrality.

Another caller also pointed out that America is built on the premise that consumers vote with their wallet. That will outweigh the financial benefit of companies who want to play games with their customers connections.

Matt “Take Your Meds” Stoller called in and challenged the comments of other Verizon spokesmen regarding the rights of telcos to run their own networks (also known as the shots that launched this debate). Verizon didn’t do a great job of beating that challenge back.

The perfect opening for them was missed. A caller from Huffington/MoveOn asked about the dichotomy of Congress regulating the Internet versus the FCC regulations. Rather than making the argument that regulation of business practices is not the same as regulation of business models, they gave sort of a weak kneed response. The caller also raised the false argument that the Net had been regulated and suddenly isn’t. He was careful to say the Net was regulated only as it applied to the delivery of the net “over the phone lines”.

That’s the key phrase, as it was actually the phone line that was regulated, not the Internet. Rather than making that argument, however, they allowed the caller to manipulate the argument and actually agreed to something that was factually inaccurate.

All in all, it was a good idea, but the execution could have been better.

(Disclaimer: While I work for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, this post should in no way be construed as an official position of the Association. Thoughts in this space are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the views of my employer.)

Written by Michael Turk