Laying Down on the Job

Laying Down on the Job
The Santa Monica Easy

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What's all the Fuss About the F.C.C.?

Today's headlines: U.S. Courts Curbs F.C.C.'s Authority on Web Traffic

So, what's the big deal? Isn't this just big government trying to intervene with the "free market". Why should we be concerned? What's "net neutrality" got to do with me?

First -- what Comcast and the others want to do is block or discriminate against user's access to the web. If you like to visit You-Tube or Google news, your access will be limited or you'll be charged an extra fee when you do visit those web sites. These national ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are considering blocking those big bandwidth web sites when their customers reach an arbitrary amount of download for the month. So, you not only pay for the physical "pipe" and internet service provider that allows access, you also would pay for how much and what web sites you chose to visit. How long a "walk" is it to assume that, given the freedom to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, these broadband providers will block access to political blog sites, political action organizations or government web sites? It's a cheap way to control information and free speech. I know -- I am heavily influenced by George Orwell's "1984" -- I admit it. But this seems like a disaster waiting to happen gradually. This issue isn't dead. The F.C.C. may appeal the U.S. Court's decision. I hope they do -- and the F.C.C. needs to hear what tax payers think and want.

My position is, the tax payers "own" the internet.  In the same way Ford did not build the roads upon which his cars drove, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, et al. did not build, create or otherwise make the internet possible. Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, etc. were created as free market businesses that made the internet commercially viable. They created a commodity: internet access. Nothing wrong with that -- it's entrepreneurship at its best. However, the American tax payers paid for the original infrastructure via the Defense Department and many academic entities made it usable for the public via standardized protocols for internetworking, software and hardware. When the general public originally got access there were no ISPs (internet service providers). ISPs were born out of a need for easy access that didn't require the knowledge of unix. As access to the internet became more popular many local ISPs were born. As browsers and portals were developed along with a way to find web pages that only required a domain name instead of an IP address, national ISPs like AOL and Earthlink quickly became ubiquitous. Eventually the companies that marketed the physical medium (cables and phone lines) saw the dollar signs and dove into the internet by offering their own in-house ISPs to their consumers who had to have a phone line or cable connection in order to have internet access. I acknowledge that corporations made the internet commercial but without the F.C.C. as a watchdog on behalf of the tax payer, for-profit corporations will do what they want to make more money, not to make the internet more accessible, faster, less expensive, etc. As we all know public corporations have repeatedly proven they cannot be trusted or expected to regulate themselves to benefit the consumer or do what's in the public's best interest. They only regulate themselves to benefit their shareholders -- which, of course, is their job. The internet access is now as vital a communication link as phone service (the infrastructure for which was also originally paid for by tax payers) was until the internet.
If you still defend the corporations, look at history. Back when AT&T was broken up and the phone system turned over to 7 regional Baby Bells, the F.C.C. required, among other things, that each Baby Bell maintain, repair and build out the phone system infrastructure in their trust. Today there are still huge rural areas with growing populations in this country where the phone system has not improved since the 1950's. You need look no further than Victorville and Twenty-nine Palms, CA, where some residents have been told they will have to pay thousands of dollars to have Verizon bring a phone line from the nearest pole to their home so they can have a working phone. There are portions of Playa del Rey, CA, that cannot get DSL because Verizon add or install the equipment required for DSL. They've had 10 years to install the equipment but they haven't because it'll be too expensive. Yet, Verizon is decommissioning DSL equipment in areas where fiber optics has been deployed. It's hard to see Verizon's side of the argument when they make such stupid choices about the service they provide -- or won't provide. They benefit from our tax dollars (take a look at the tax breaks and federal grants these telecommunication corporations get) but, like the banks, won't ever consider the public's best interest. That would be like expecting a crocodile to be vegan. Where once hundreds of millions of Americans paid pennies in taxes to deploy phone service across the entire country, the telcos' version of "building out" is to demand a few under-served people pay thousands to have the same phone access as the vast majority in this country. Unfortunately, the "free market" can never see beyond the next fiscal quarter. It doesn't take much thought to understand it's in the best interest of everyone to have access to both phone and the internet without being charged unaffordable infrastructure or access costs.  

Had a company like Comcast or Verizon been given the contract to create a phone system across the U.S. back in the early part of the 20th Century, you can bet your last dollar only the richest individuals and corporations would have phone or internet service today. Net neutrality is not about government controlled internet access. It's about regulating what corporations do to those who pay for access. If the corporations are not regulated on behalf of the consumers, we may become like today's Italy where all the TV, newspapers and radio outlets are owned by one person -- who happens also to be the head of the country. Glenn Beck's got it exactly backwards. Net neutrality promotes and preserves free speech.

It's clear I'm not on the side of the broadband providers. I don't own stock in any public company and I work for a local privately held, family-run ISP so I'm both informed and biased in my viewpoint. If net neutrality is thwarted, my company will most likely benefit because those dissatisfied with VerizonOnLine, Comcast, TimeWarner etc. will switch to us or other local ISPs. My view is from a tax paying consumer's point of view.
We need the F.C.C to regulate the internet on behalf of the tax payers who -- knowingly or not -- paid for the internet infrastructure. There are other organizations whose view is more expansive and erudite than mine and well worth reading: (part of and are two. Here's a link to the F.C.C.
To be more informed, here's a site that lists arguments for and against net neutrality: Take a read and make up your own mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment