The Cable Companies Want to Control our Internet Access. We are so hosed.
By Steven Salzberg on 6/30/2014 04:30:00 AM
If you’re reading this, you care deeply about net neutrality - even if you don’t know what it means. How would you like to pay 2, 3, or maybe 10 times as much to access all the websites you frequent? Think it can’t happen? Well, think again.
The cable TV companies that control most of America’s access to the Internet want to change your online experience - for the worse. If we allow them to destroy net neutrality, here’s how your Internet service might look very soon:
Try out “Basic Internet” package! For only $49.99/month, we’ll set you up for super-fast Internet, with 100’s of websites available - but wait, there's more!
Do you like Gmail? Get Gmail service for just $8.99 per month extra! Want to watch Netflix movies? Just $29.99/month for speeds almost as fast as you enjoy now! And try our “News Xtra” package featuring CNN for another $29.99! Sports? Of course! Our Active package, including ESPN, is just $49.99!
But wait! Our special SuperNet package gives you all these websites and more for just $129.99/month!*
*Don't expect us to really explain what the * means.
This is no joke: the cable companies already deliver television this way, despite years of complaints from consumers about high costs and bundles with hundreds of useless channels. When you have a monopoly, you don’t have to listen to customers.
As bad as it might be for Google and Netflix, the end of net neutrality will be far worse for the countless small entrepreneurs and innovators who can’t afford to pay fees to the ISPs. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that YouTube video stars fear that “the end of the world is near.” These are independent video artists who make a modest living from the small amount of ad revenues they earn from their content. If net neutrality goes away, they’re toast.
Net neutrality is very simple - it’s how the Internet works now. Basically, all traffic is treated the same, just bits and bytes zipping around on the network. Net neutrality says that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data equally, just as they do now. The ISP just provides the pipes.
One of the best explanations of net neutrality that I've found is here. Check it out.
The FCC can safeguard net neutrality by simply declaring that Internet service should be regulated as a utility, like electricity or gas. But FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has other plans; he wants to try self-regulation first.
Let’s see how that works out.
The issue goes beyond simply the cost of net access. Free speech is under threat too. Suppose Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, or Verizon decides it doesn’t like the content of, say, Fox News. Or The Huffington Post (this cuts both ways). They can just increase the costs to access those sites, and viewership will crumble.
The possibilities for limiting or even censoring content providers are endless.
FCC Chairman Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the cable industry; thus it’s no surprise that he is sympathetic to the cable companies. His latest proposal would allow ISPs to charge us more for Netflix (say) as long as it’s “commercially reasonable”. This could be the beginning of the end of the Internet as we know it.
The ISPs must be salivating over the prospect of how much more they're going to charge us. This will be almost pure profit: they'll just monitor our web traffic and send us the bill.
All is not yet lost. The FCC had a policy in place to guarantee net neutrality until January of this year, when a federal court ruled it had exceeded its authority. The court made it clear, though, that the FCC could simply re-classify broadband Internet service as a “telecommunications service” (which is precisely what it is) and it could then re-impose the previous rules. But the cable companies have jumped into high gear and are lobbying furiously for Wheeler - who used to lobby for them, remember - to proceed with his “commercially reasonable” discrimination policy.
Wheeler’s proposed policy will be a disaster. The FCC needs to take action before irreparable damage is done. If you want to express your opinion, FreePress.net has an easy way to do so.
The cable industry is famous - almost laughably so - for bad customer service. Indeed, Comcast won the “Worst Company in America” competition this year, followed closely by Time Warner, Verizon, and Monsanto. I can’t think of a worse collection of companies to control our Internet access.