Last week, left-wing blog site ThinkProgress announced it had allegedly uncovered a “secret plan” by telecoms companies in the US to lobby against net neutrality regulations by hiring fake grassroots organizations to promote radical and misleading tactics normally associated with the right-wing Tea Party movement.
CNET later reported that the PowerPoint deck and web site at the center of the story (NoNetBrutality.com) actually didn’t originate from the telecoms sector at all, but was actually created as a class project for a competition in Florida as an assignment for a "think tank MBA" program.
ThinkProgress isn’t backing off its claims, though it has yet to offer any concrete evidence that any telecoms company had anything directly to do with the No Net Brutality campaign plan, apart from supposedly funding a couple of the activist groups involved (and the evidence for that is weak, judging from the links in their story that I clicked).
Regardless of who’s right or wrong, for my money the most interesting and mind-bending part of the row is just how downright weird the net neutrality debate is becoming in the US.
When net neutrality first reared its head several years ago, it was strictly a business issue. Telcos wanted Web 2.0 companies – especially heavy IP traffic generators like Google – to pay more for guaranteed traffic delivery because they ate up more network capacity and were getting a free ride. Google and other web companies objected, claiming the Internet was designed to provide fair and neutral access for everyone, and without a neutrality provision in place, telcos could engage in anti-competitive practices like throttling the traffic of web services that compete with them (like Skype, say).
Now, the issue has somehow morphed into this strange conspiracy theory in which FCC rules enforcing neutrality will result in a Socialist government takeover of the Internet that will target and shut down every web site in America that criticizes President Barack Obama.