Bye-bye, mobile Internet: Verizon, AT&T, others hold secret net neutrality talks

Last Updated Aug 20, 2010 6:33 PM EDT

If you thought that the Internet broadband plan -- which should have been called the net DMZ plan -- from Google (GOOG) and Verizon (VZ) was bad news, it looks like things are about to get worse. Telecom lobbyists are reportedly holding secret meetings in Washington, D.C. right now to discuss the Internet, broadband, and net neutrality.

No good will come of this, because it's an inside group that excludes not only consumer advocates, but also the Federal Communications Commission. Given that the Supreme Court recently stripped any limitations on corporate contributions to political campaigns and that we face a hot election year, we have the recipe for a communications coup de take-what-we-give-you. But this is far bigger than what consumers may or may not have to pay. It comes down to whether the carriers will be able to control wireless data traffic, no matter who pays them for the transmission, and reduce competition in the most rapidly growing area of high tech expansion.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the meetings are taking place at the Information Technology Industry Council, a high tech industry lobbying group. Some of the companies in attendance include Cisco (CSCO), Microsoft (MSFT), Verizon, AT&T (T), and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Google is not at the meetings. Nor are any consumer groups. Nor, I would bet, are Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, Netflix, or other leaders in information-based services.

Those not invited to the parley should immediately pull together their own lobbying efforts if they hope to preserve their own business strategies and opportunities. Right now, the telecoms and cable companies that provide connectivity vacuum out much of the discretionary spending that consumers are willing to do for access to online information and entertainment. After paying $50 to $70 for a cable bill and maybe another $50 to $100 for a cell phone and however much for a land line, people simply don't have a lot of money left to pay for subscriptions or services.

The close control of connectivity has led to an imbalance in the economics of the Internet. The telecoms and cable companies have fattened their own bank accounts by taking as much monetary value as they can get from consumers. It may make for short term profits, but this is a dangerous practice. Any time you try to further your own fortunes at the expense of an entire ecosystem, you're courting disaster for all, including, eventually, yourself.

At one point, I suggested that a back room deal was necessary to iron out the complex tangle of issues that could reasonably come up. But that would only work if all those involved were represented at a meeting. That's simply not happening here. It's an ill omen for what is probably the industry's single most important issue.


Image: Edmund Blair Leighton, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.