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Network Neutrality and “Blogs in the Balance?”

Tim Lee posted Blogs in the Balance? over at the Technology Liberation Front. He opens with “Perhaps the most important misleading claim made in Bill Moyers’s informercial for Internet regulation is the notion that we’re in imminent danger of telcos using their control over the “last mile” to influence the direction of political debates.” Tim then critiques Benkler’s discussion of the issue, suggesting that Benkler’s analysis is too abstract and insufficiently attentive to the “real world,” and concludes that “blog manipulation or censorship isn’t a serious policy concern, it’s a talking point designed to scare people who haven’t given any serious thought to how the Internet works.”

I think Tim may be right that the short term risk of blog manipulation or censorship is small. But that misses the larger point. As I posted in a comment:

I agree with you that context matters and that abstracting too much from the context may be misleading. But focusing in on the existing set of blog offerings and what would happen if one suddenly disappeared also misleads. Yes, some users would switch ISPs if their chosen blog is not available. (We could open up a debate on the effectiveness of switching as a means for disciplining ISPs, but let’s not for now.) The point Benkler and others make is a dynamic one about how the information-cultural environment is shaped. Pricing infrastructure access on the basis of identity, use, or application will shape the availablity and diversity of different users, applications and content. (That is one of the main reasons advanced for opposing net neutrality regulation, right?) It seems to me that Benkler is on solid ground in arguing that infrastructure owners have both the ability and incentive to shape the environment is a manner that makes it look more “push” than “pull.” To my knowledge, Internet technology is not inherently “pull” rather than “push.” It is is malleable