Thursday, November 13, 2014


“Shirikiretombo”—a story cut short—leaves readers poorly informed about Obama’s net neutrality proposal

by Larry Geller

If net neutrality is an important issue for you, you may have read the November 11 story in the Star-Advertiser, Obama urges strict rules for open net (Star-Advertiser p. A3, 11/11/2014) with interest. By the end of the story you’d understand that the president is planning to protect broadband services against carriers that would create a “fast lane” for those providers who pay while slowing down others. His proposal would require the FCC to regulate the Internet as a utility.

The story also indicated that the FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, an Obama appointee, had his own plan.

Ok, so that’s where it is. At least there is a possible solution, if Obama can get the FCC (composed of three Democrats and two Republicans) to go along with his proposal. Let’s see how it goes.

The trouble is, that’s not the end of the story, and wasn’t the end of the original New York Times story that the Star-Advertiser edited to fit.

Theshirikiretombo Japanese word Shirikiretombo (尻切れトンボ) refers to a dragonfly with its tail cut short. Horrible thought! But it can be translated to mean premature termination, or “cut short,” as perhaps a story cut off before the ending, leaving the listener or reader in suspense.

(original photograph by R. A. Nonenmacher, used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)

I’ve always been fond of the expression because so many times we are fed only part of the story. Mostly, we don’t even know that we’re missing anything. Like cutting the tail off a dragonfly, that seems very wrong.

Regional newspapers often run stories sourced from the big nationals, since their resources are very limited. It’s not a bad thing to see a story from the Washington Post, LA Times, or the New York Times in our local Star-Advertiser, because most likely the reader would not have seen the story elsewhere.

But the only news you get is what fits. There is a blank space at the top of the third page where national news is routinely plugged in. Quite often, the original story is quite a bit longer than the space allows, and the Star-Advertiser editors then cut it. Editors everywhere have a habit of just cutting off the excess at the end. Sad. Like that poor dragonfly.

Particularly in the case of a New York Times story, sometimes the meat is towards the end. In fact, they have been known to “walk back” their splashy headline with material in the last few paragraphs. This we do not ever see if the story is cut short.

Since we don’t know what we are missing, we’re satisfied with what we have. Imagine that you had no idea what nachos were, and were only served the fried corn tortillas. Cool, they taste quite good. But the most important part you didn’t get, and you wouldn’t know it.

I like to check out the original when the story looks important, just in case. I’ve found stories that appeared in the S-A, say at the bottom of the page, that were only about half the original.

If net neutrality is something you are interested in, you might want to check out the  full story on the New York Times website here.

What did the Hawaii reader miss? Two key items. The first is that the president’s proposal would not, in fact, protect broadband services, because, according to the story, even if reclassified as a utility under Title II, rates can be regulated (implying that a provider could still be charged more for higher speed). And equally important, the “disappeared” text indicates that it would be difficult to implement Obama’s proposal. To wit:

Title II also carries with it the possibility of regulating rates, but Mr. Obama asked the F.C.C. to refrain “from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”

But forbearance from portions of the law are not always easy, because Title II has upward of 1,000 requirements, said Robert M. McDowell, a former F.C.C. commissioner.

“As a legal matter,” Mr. McDowell said, “it would be very difficult for the F.C.C. to subject the Internet to common-carrier regulation while at same time forbearing from the vast majority of Title II.”

[NY Times, Obama Asks F.C.C. to Adopt Tough Net Neutrality Rules, 11/10/2014]

So, if this bit is correct, the president’s proposal may not be practical, and in any case may not protect users from tiered pricing or speed throttling.

Even with this additional information, we have not been given the whole story.

For one thing, the Times has not mentioned that Wheeler came from the communications industry, and perhaps will go back there when he leaves the FCC. He has his own ideas about how to change the rules.

For another, the Times did not mention that the primary objectors to a Title II solution are the cable companies and their ilk. Those are Wheeler’s folks. The quoted paragraphs above could have come from any of the big carriers.

From Democracy Now headlines for November 11:

The FCC is an independent agency, meaning Obama cannot directly control its actions. Obama’s appointed chair of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cellphone and cable industries, says the agency will need more time to craft its new rules.

And this, also from Democracy Now:

Obama’s proposal comes as his appointed FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cellphone and cable industries, is considering breaking with the president on net neutrality. According to The Washington Post, Wheeler met with officials from Google, Yahoo and Etsy on Monday and told them he preferred a more nuanced solution. Wheeler reportedly said: "What you want is what everyone wants: an open Internet that doesn’t affect your business. What I’ve got to figure out is how to split the baby." On Monday, protesters called on Wheeler to favor net neutrality as they blockaded his driveway when he attempted to go to work. Protests also took place in a dozen cities last week after The Wall Street Journal reported the FCC is considering a "hybrid" approach to net neutrality. This would apply expanded protections only to the relationship between Internet providers and content firms, like Netflix, and not to the relationship between providers and users.

[Democracy Now, Obama Calls for Net Neutrality, But His Own Industry-Tied FCC Appointee Could Stand in the Way, 11/12/2014]

Without knowing Wheeler’s situation, a reader can’t properly evaluate the chances of the president’s proposal being implemented, or the obstacles it faces.

If you’d like to know more, check out the Democracy Now video and transcript at the link. Ok, here it is for you. Click on the thingy at the lower right for full screen.

Video: “The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


What people tend to forget or ignore is that SOLOMON DIDN'T SPLIT THE BABY. When corporate types say they want to decide how to split the baby remember- they are still going to KILL THE BABY.

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