Verizon Uses “Bed Intruder” to Make Its Case Against Regulation

Both sides of the broadband debate are lobbying heavily in Congress and in the court of public opinion.

By Jamilah King Aug 27, 2010

Verizon has invoked Antoine Dodson to make its case against regulating Internet service providers and how they control the flow of content on the Web. On Thursday, Verizon’s blog editor John Czwartacki wrote on the company’s Policy Blog

Removing obstacles to the Internet Ecosystem’s innovation should be the goal of policymakers – not erecting new impediments. We all know that bad actors in this space need to be watched and policed, but predicting its future is all but impossible and rife with the potential of unintended consequences.

After all, what salon of Internet wisdom and bastion of self-appointed broadband protectors could see something like the "Bed Intruder Song" juggernaut?

If you somehow don’t know, the "Bed Intruder Song" is a now-legendary Internet meme that took off once Antoine Dodson, a poor black man from Alabama, spoke to a local news station after a man broke into his home and tried to rape his sister. Everyone made fun of him, then some folks got creative, and now he’s really famous. The jury’s still out on whether or not that’s a good thing.

In Verizon’s view, if the FCC were to aggressively regulate telecom companies to keep them from interfering with their users’ online traffic, it would somehow stifle "innovative" moments like Dodsons’–and his ability to capitalize on that 15 minutes of fame. But neither the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nor net neutrality’s strongest supporters have called for any such action. Indeed, they’re calling for the exact opposite: The formal adoption of rules that have long guided the Internet and allowed users to go wherever they please. This includes everyone from radical lefties to the staunchest of Tea Party supporters, from Verizon’s Policy Blog to Dodsons’ video dairies. 

Czwartacki was echoing a Thursday Washington Post op-ed that endorses the proposal Verizon and Google have put forth, offering a commitment to limited FCC oversight to avoid clear regulations. The propsal, which was unveiled two weeks ago, is being touted by both companies as a major compromise by two Internet giants on opposite ends of the debate over net neutrality. And, certainly, that may be the case. Google’s been a longtime corporate supporter of regulations that keep service providers from interfering with user traffic. Verizon, not so much. 

Google’s already gotten its fair share of flack over its perceived sell out in the proposal, which would leave wireless domains free from regulation. That’s mostly because supporters expected the company to take a much stronger stance than it did. 

Until recently, net neutrality was one of the few unifying issues for people along the political spectrum. But earlier this week, conservative group Gun Owners of America (GOA) left the bipartisan coalition Save the Internet after the latter came under attack for being a "neo-Marxist think tank" with sinister ties to, SEIU, and ACORN. Last week, Tea Partiers announced their opposition to regulation and called it one of many "assaults on individual liberties."

Which is ironic, because so far the only ones to try to block users from visiting certain websites have been telecom companies themselves. It’s fair to say that this latest chapter of regulatory drama began in earnest around 2005, after Comcast tried to block its users from downloading BitTorrents, the popular file sharing programs. When the FCC stepped in and told Comcast that blocking users’ traffic was a no-no, Comcast took the FCC to court–and won. The victory was due in large part to Reagan and Bush-era anti-regulatory sentiment that had become conventional wisdom over the last two decades. Now the FCC and Congress are trying to decide who can–and will–make the next move and determine the future of the Internet. 

Both sides are lobbying heavily in Congress and in the court of public opinion. Some key politicians and D.C.-based civil rights groups have come out against net neutrality. Meanwhile, Verizon’s launched a new marketing campaign called "Rule the Air" that specifically targets young women and users of color with the misleading tagline that "air has no prejudice." 

Net neutrality supporters have also begun to make their case. Last week, over 600 people gathered at a Minneapolis high school for a town hall meeting with FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn. During the gathering, Commissioner Clyburn made a clear distinction between regulating content on the Internet versus the companies that deliver that content. Net neutrality, she told the audience, would mean barring those telecom companies from blocking or slowing users’ content to drive revenue.

No word yet on whether Dodson backs Verizon’s proposal.