Did the Internet, a Series of Tubes, Kill Ted Stevens in Vengeance?

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08/10/2010 12:12 PM |


Overnight, a small plane crashed in southern Alaska with eight people aboard, at least five of whom are believed dead. Former longtime Republican senator Ted Stevens, 86, was among those aboard the plane, the Associated Press has learned. Federal investigators are en route to the crash site as of this writing.

UPDATE: It’s been reported that Ted Stevens has died; our condolences to his family, colleagues and constituents.

Stevens, 86, was the longest-serving Republican in the history of the Senate, having been appointed in 1968 and serving continuously until losing his reelection bid in 2008, under the shadow of a federal corruption trial. “Uncle Ted,” who steered billions in federal money to Alaska, benefited enormously from investments with contractors who received government contracts; his trial stemmed from a massive home remodeling (among other gifts), which was paid for by an oil company with government business.

The other thing Ted Stevens is most famous for, at least on the internet, is a 2006 Senate speech in which he referred to an email as “an internet” and the internet itself as “a series of tubes.”

The speech was made in the context of net neutrality; in 2006, shortly after the series of tubes speech, a wire service report explained the issue: Stevens, angry at the tubes being clogged by lots of streaming movies, was against any provisions that would have prohibited profit-motivated service providers from creating a system of tiered internet access.

On the other side stood Stevens; coincidentally, his views, poorly expressed as they were, aligned with the interests of telecom companies:

Take GCI, a phone and Internet provider in Stevens’ home state. Company executives say they’ve been talking to Web-based businesses that require high-speed connections to work properly. Some of GCI’s customers choose to buy the cheapest, slowest connection available. A site that sells streaming video may want to treat that customer to a higher speed whenever he or she visits, the GCI execs say.

“Instead of the customers having to buy the top speeds, the providers buy the top speeds and give it to the lower-speed customers for free,” said Dana Tindall, GCI’s senior vice president for governmental affairs.

A net neutrality law would make arrangements such as that impossible, Tindall said. And, she said, neutrality legislation could make it impossible to prioritize among uses.

“It would make it very difficult to manage capacity such that everyone had a good Internet experience,” she said, “because it would enable applications that come in and just take all the capacity (to do so), without being able to do anything about it.”

In light of his position on net neutrality, and record of corporate coziness, it’d be interesting to see some reporting on Stevens’s ties to the telecom industry.

And wouldn’t you know? The plane that Ted Stevens was on, reports the AP, was in fact owned by the Alaskan telecom company GCI, as was the private lodge to which he was headed.

If indeed Ted Stevens is dead, then he died as he lived: thanks to the generosity of Alaskan corporations. That the corporation in question here happens to be the one whose interests he served with his most infamous speech, is perhaps moderately ironic.