The last few days, a petition asking people to take a pledge against genocide has been floating around Twitter. I'll admit to thinking, "I wonder how many signatures a pro-genocide push would get?"

Tweeting against mass extermination feels good and rallies emotions. But there's no real cost or sacrifice. There's something similar going on with net neutrality. For all but the national politicians who get considerable telecom dollars, staking out a position against online content discrimination isn't particularly dangerous -- especially considering that even the cable companies and network owners aren't arguing that they should be able to stop customers from connecting freely to the websites of their choice. Being pro-digital neutrality isn't a neutral position, but it hasn't been a particularly politically costly one.

That's probably about to change. Enter Comcast's proposed purchase of a majority stake of NBC Universal, and the coming debate over government approval.
Now, the idea of the largest cable and broadband provider in the country laying down $14 billion for a controlling stake
in one of world's remaining content behemoths is far more perilous a threat to a future where information flows freely across open networks than
the isolated cases we've seen so far where ISPs pick favorites amongst web content. (Though, it's probably worth noting, the marquee anti-neutrality case is where Comcast strangled BitTorrent traffic.)
But with Congress taking a sudden interest in the survival of news and content, it seems like GE has a pretty strong hand right at the moment.

Sure, Julius Genachowski's FCC has made loud noises both for digital neutrality and against
the current trend towards media consolidation. But GE can argue that they simply haven't been able to figure out how to sustain its content wing. If you want TV, the argument might go, then you have to be willing to entertain the idea that the lines between content and its delivery networks has to be blurred. Or do you have a better idea for saving American TV? There are worse hands of cards for GE, Comcast, and NBCU to be holding, no? Or am I being too cynical? The bright side, though, is that there's a chance we'll get a very funny Jack Donaghy joke out of this.

--Nancy Scola

(Photo of GE CEO Jeff Immelt by k-ideas)

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