Coffee Talk #646: Net Neutrality is Screwed

President Barack Obama recently made a bold statement on the issue of net neutrality. He urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to keep the Internet “free and open.” The President believes that “free and open” should apply to both wired and wireless Internet connectivity, and millions of American consumers agree with him.

Unfortunately, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler doesn’t appear to be playing ball, despite being an Obama appointee. Prior to chairing the FCC, Wheeler served as a lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries. The Washington Post reported Wheeler as saying, “What I’ve got to figure out is how to split the baby.” It doesn’t work that way. You can’t have a version of net neutrality that serves both consumer and telecom interests. Similar to how a woman can’t be “almost” pregnant, you can’t almost have net neutrality. The FCC is either going to keep the Internet free and open or allow Internet providers to prioritize content.

For those of you unfamiliar with the issue, telecom companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, etc. want the right to throttle Internet connections and grant priority access to certain content providers. This would destroy the Internet as we know it, heavily favoring companies that can afford to pay off Internet providers for priority access and making things prohibitive for startups with limited budgets. For the most entertaining explanation of the issue ever, check out the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver clip below.

On related a note, senator Ted Cruz idiotically tweeted that net neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet. That’s just moronic. Meanwhile, AT&T has announced that it will halt the deployment of fiber-based high-speed Internet until the net neutrality issues is resolved, which is the telecom equivalent of a bratty kid taking his ball and going home because he’s losing the game.

Personally, I have zero faith in net neutrality being upheld — zero. Even though net neutrality is being backed by heavy hitters like Google and Yahoo!, the telecom companies have better lobbyists. AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, etc. have been crooking the government better and longer than their relatively young opponents in technology. I’m pretty disillusioned with the government; I don’t expect it to get important issues right and fully expect most politicians to serve businesses over consumers. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but I can’t imagine a positive outcome for this issue.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the recent net neutrality developments. Do you think the Internet will remain free and open? Or will it become a walled garden controlled by your ISP? Share your thoughts in the comments section (please!)

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Author: RPadTV

3 thoughts on “Coffee Talk #646: Net Neutrality is Screwed”

  1. This is just a dog and pony show. If Obama was serious about this then he wouldn’t have appointed a shill to head the FCC.

    Paid prioritization will also erode innovation. Network providers (shareholders) will fall into even more complacency and not invest in the networks since the popular stuff has priority due to their gatekeeper status. So either way I feel that innovation will be stifled. Att declaring that they will halt the fiber buildout is just funny. I don’t know if they have even put enough in service to be material. I can only think of Austin deployment as a “us too” to google fiber but at laughable rates and speeds in comparison.

    The U.S. telecom infrastructure is screwed.

    1. It’s difficult for me to believe that these Internet service providers can get any more complacent than they already are. It’s like you’re saying that fish can get wetter as they swim deeper into the ocean.


  2. Great video. I may have to start watching “Last Week Tonight.”

    Also, there is a typo in your article. In your second-to-last paragraph, it should read; “…fully expect most politicians to serve businesses over other businesses.” or “…fully expect most politicians to serve one group of people over another group of people.” I don’t appreciate when people refer to “businesses” as a perpetually evil entity simply because they are looking out for their interests, because everybody does that. In this case companies like Google, Netflix and Facebook are fighting against Verizon, Comcast and AT&T. Us “little people” and other small businesses are siding with the former in this fight. In this instance, it would be more accurate to say “service providers” vs. “service consumers.” And, yes, it looks like the service providers are winning and will be getting their way. Let me see if I can try to break this down in a more objective way…

    Playing devils’ advocate here, the ISPs do have a point. After all, they created these networks and pay to maintain and expand them. They take all the risk, so therefore, they should reap the rewards. If you go out and try to physically lay down cable lines, set up the network code and lobby with the local governments to start an ISP from the ground up, don’t you deserve whatever it is you charge customers as long as they are willing to pay it? We may not like what the ISPs are doing, but we are fools to think that it is not within their rights to do so. After all, any business can change or alter their product or service as they see fit. It’s up to the consumer to either stop buying from them (which eventually leads to the company going out of business) or continue to buying from them.

    This brings me to my second point. Any good business that has a good product or service is usually the result of competition. After all, competition makes products & services better and cheaper. The consumer always wins when there is abundant and healthy competition between many different companies offering the same things. Look at Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony when it comes to gaming consoles. When they fight, we win. This is not limited to the electronics industry, either. Herein lies the problem with the ISPs. They have no competition (as was clearly stated in the video). An executive of Comcast actually said on camera that they don’t compete with a rival business. If ever there was a case to be made for anti-trust lawyers, it’s that. ISPs are without a doubt an oligopoly. There are just a handful of players and it’s glaringly obvious that they are all on the same page “playing ball” with each other. In other words, there is really no true competition. When there is no competition, there is no innovation (that benefits consumers, anyway), prices increase, service worsens and consumers will always get screwed.

    The ONLY moral answer to net neutrality is to increase competition. If we allow anyone and their mother to create their own network to sell broadband or DSL to the general public, you will see how quickly service will improve and prices go down. Imagine if we had no less than ten ISP companies to choose from with varying levels of quality. That is the best answer. And before you people begin to roll your eyes at me (too late?) know that it is not as impractical as it sounds. Google Fiber is one such new competitor into the market. Granted, they are limited to a few test cities, but still, it’s a huge step in the right direction. Also, our local power company FPL (Florida Power & Light) is now getting into the fiber game as they see AT&T and Comcast stringing up their lines on FPL’s poles and they just thought to themselves: “Hey! What if we string up our own lines on our own poles and sell service directly to consumers along with electricity?” If FPL ends up building out their network in this manner, I may have another choice of who my ISP is in the near future. Another small, but powerful step in the right direction. After all, Comcast and Time-Warner got there start somewhere at one point in time, so it is entirely possible that other companies can start up an ISP business to challenge the status quo. Sure, it’s not easy and seems almost insurmountably impossible, but it can be done. This leads me to my next point:

    The government. Ah, yes, our wonderful and glorious elected officials, all of whom seem either incredibly stupid, corrupt or both. The role of the government (local, state and national) should be to help lower the barriers to entry for companies that want to get into the ISP market. As it stands right now, the barriers to entry for this industry is way too high and the regulations are too onerous. It takes both a mega-ton of money and political capital to even attempt to do this. Governments can influence this by making it easier for smaller businesses to set up small networks, locally across the country. Think of it in terms of beer. Sure there are huge players in the market on a national level like Anheuser-Busch and the Miller Brewing Company, but there are also hundreds of thousands of small, local breweries that cater to a smaller market. This is what can be done with ISPs. You can have your two or three huge, national players like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, but you can also have smaller, local ISPs that serve a specific area based on any number of factors. Hell, these smaller, nimbler companies may even carve out decent-sized niches of areas that the big ISPs won’t go into or think it’s not profitable enough. Broadband service would truly proliferate. Governments can (and should) help to facilitate this process. This is what will eventually lead to a healthy and prosperous ISP market in the long run.

    What will NOT lead to a healthy and prosperous ISP market is coercion. Consumers like us are trying to force a government agency to make Comcast keep their lines neutral just like we want them to against their will. If you owned that network, how would you feel if some government shill came knocking at your door and saying; “Hey, we’re going to make you keep your lines neutral because that’s what your customers want. Oh, and if you don’t do it, we’ll fine you until you bleed or we’ll shut you down.” You wouldn’t want anybody to force you to do something against your will, so I think it’s hypocritical for us to try to force (through the use of government) other people to do what we want because it will benefit us. This will lead to the ISPs resenting their customers (and worse, acting like it). It will also lead to customers resenting their ISPs. There is nothing worse in life than being married to something in which you were forced to against your will and the relationship is more toxic than a tub of acid thrown into a volcano full of lava. Forcing the FCC to do something the owners of the networks don’t want to do is morally wrong. This is why I cannot support net neutrality in the same way all of you other people do.

    That said, I am a consumer (and a cheap-ass one at that). Even if I’m considering the option of cutting the cord (like Smartguy) I would still be a paying customer because I need the Internet. That being said, I’d be willing to compromise and fight alongside my fellow coercers if the goal would be to classify the ISPs into the current definition of “common carrier” because all ISPs fit the legal definition of the phrase. While some of you keen observers may note that this would go against my moral argument, I will also point out that these standards (set decades ago before any of us were born) do, in fact, apply to ISPs and they should have been classified as common carriers since day one. Simply because they managed to slip from the grasps of the definition by crafty lobbying on their part doesn’t mean they can have an unfair advantage over regular, old, dumb copper phone lines. Or, to put it another way, If ISPs want to continue on with no net neutrality, then they would have to lobby congress (and the FCC) to get rid of the “common carrier” bit completely. That will allow anyone that owns the physical lines to do anything they want with them (including not sharing them with anyone). But baring that outcome, (and the outcome of my competitive businesses utopia) I will fight to classify current ISPs as common carriers just like they should have from the very start. Still, the resentment will remain and the problem will never truly be solved unless more competition comes into the picture.

    So go on and continue fighting for net neutrality as you see fit, but know that the sacrifices we make to do so may help win the battle, but it will not win the war. Consumers like us suffer because we have no choice. The only logical answer is to have more choices, not to force the other people to make them do what we want. If we do that, then we have to admit to ourselves that we are no better than Comcast and Verizon, who wants to force us to use their multi-tiered Internet lanes.


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