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Opinion: Net Neutrality
Posted on Thu, 26 Feb 2015
I avoid talking politics for the most part on the station. I respect people’s views, and I try to keep things light and happy. My own political views are generally in the middle ground when it comes to most issues. Ten years ago, I considered myself conservative. I supported socially moderate and fiscally conservative policies, where I believed that folks who hit hard times should get a hand up, but not a permanent hand out.
So what happened? Well, I didn’t leave the conservative movement in the USA. The fact is, the conservative movement left me. Somewhere along the line, we got into wars for reasons I didn’t agree with, the Republican Party became radicalized and defined by some tea lovers, and Washington itself became so polarized that nothing ever got done. Then, the US courts decided that money was “free speech” and corporations soon owned everyone in Washington DC who could be bought. (On a side note, I do not agree that money is free speech. If you think it is, try giving money to some random group in the Middle East and see if the government thinks you’re just exercising your “First Amendment rights”)
“Corporations are people too” said Mitt Romney rather famously in the last presidential campaign. Like many Americans (and yes, I can call myself an American now having recently become an official citizen) I have retirement money in stocks and bonds. I want that money to grow, but as time goes on the “Maximize profits at all costs” mentality of many US corporations has left a bad taste in my mouth. I firmly believe you can be successful without stepping all over honest, hardworking people, and that’s what I expect companies I invest in to do.
In the last 12 years, millions of jobs were sent overseas, CEOs began receiving multi-million dollar prizes for putting the highest number of Americans out of work, and the concept of quality customer care and consumer satisfaction has taken a firm back seat to share prices, indexes and margins. The age of corporate greed has dawned, and it isn’t pretty.
Today, many of our corporations have stopped caring at all about being good social citizens and instead focus purely on profits and lobbying - mostly for policies that allow them to continue their pattern of “greed over altruism” - and it’s all very sad.
It’s no surprise, then, that the “Corporations are people too” line was met with scorn and ridicule. No individual I know would behave as badly as your typical American corporation. The people who make up a corporation might be great individuals, but something must happen when you put them all in a boardroom. Suddenly, all social conscience goes out the window and the “company collective” becomes a sociopath. There’s really no other way to describe it. I think the same thing happens in Washington DC.
The FCC vote today on Net Neutrality has evoked strong reaction from some of the sociopaths (AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to name a few) and the representatives in Washington that these companies have in their pockets. So let’s take a step back and analyze exactly what it is that these entities are so upset about.
First, since Congress and the Senate have lost all credibility (because their allegiance is to those who provide them with financial support, not those who elect them) we can disregard pretty much everything they say, especially “The sky is falling” op-ed pieces on Facebook. These are the same people who brought us the economic collapse of 2008, three costly wars, and oppose America doing what every other civilized country in the world has done… providing basic essential health care services for its own citizens.
So what’s got everyone in a tizzy? Today, in a landmark decision, the FCC moved to classify Internet in the USA as a utility
Think about that for a moment. How do you use the Internet? Do you iMessage? Facebook? Tweet? How would you be able to do any of those things without Internet? As a business owner, how does most of your communication happen these days? VOIP phones? Email? Guess what it all relies on? That’s right - a free, unrestricted and open Internet.
Do you like listening to ASF Radio at work? At home? But wait… What if your ISP had a music service that they made money from because of ads? Is it okay if they block ASF Radio so you can’t listen to it, because they can make more money off you if they force their own service on you? If they offer business email and VOIP services for a monthly fee, can they block your company from using Office365? Gmail? Other VOIP services?
Well, the answer today is yes… they can. Your ISP controls what you can access online and how quickly you can download it. However, as we have just established, your ISP is a corporation - and corporations are sociopaths. They don’t care nearly as much about you as they do their profits. They’re all quoted today as saying Congress needs to step in and save them. Of course… because they OWN Congress. (You’ll find out how true that statement is next year when ASF Radio is silenced by high royalty rates and Congress won’t do anything about it when you ask them to).
Wikipedia sums up Net Neutrality as follows: “Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”
If you can explain to me what’s so dangerous about that, I’m all ears.
In the not so distant past, ISPs used an all-you-can-eat pricing model for customers. As many of you know, this has changed. Cell phone providers now charge for a certain amount of usage per month and hit you with overages if you exceed the limit. Many land-based ISPs (Including Comcast) now also charge using the same model. Unlimited data is all but gone, and this is good - Given that these ISPs have now protected themselves from heavy users who might impact quality of service for everyone else, why on earth should they ALSO want be in control of HOW you use your allotment of data? It doesn’t make sense. Unless you do the logical thing and… follow the money.
The reason these companies, even though they are already charging you for data used, would like still more influence is due to the same old “Maximize profits at all costs” mentality. They like collecting from you for using Netflix, but they’d ALSO like to collect from Netflix! That’s double-dipping, and while it might delight the shareholders, it flies in the face of the spirit of the Internet to charge again for what’s already been agreed upon. Do I sound alarmist? It’s already happened - Netflix has had to pay some ISPs for carrying their data. Now you’ve already paid them for your 250GB of data this month, right? What if now they tell you that it doesn’t include a reliable Netflix stream, because Netflix hasn’t ALSO paid them a bribe to ensure good service. No bribe? Netflix will buffer all day long for you my friend. You’d better call Netflix and complain to them. Get them to pay us, and all will be well.
This all reminds me of another dispute you’ve probably all seen in your local TV markets in the past few years. Currently, our local ABC TV station is in a dispute with DirecTV over retransmission fees. That’s right, a local broadcast station which receives the vast majority of revenue from commercials, wants to charge a significant fee to DirecTV to carry their FREE over-the-air signal. The dispute has now led to the station forcing DirecTV to drop the channel from their lineup. But wait a minute - Doesn’t that mean less viewers for the station, which leads to lower ratings, which leads to less revenue from commercials? Where’s the sense in that?
For the record, I don’t subscribe to DirecTV. Still, I find this sort of greed appalling and I hope the TV station in question sees less ad revenue as a result of its own actions. What they’re saying is that if they can’t make money on both ends, they would rather let their viewers down and allow their ad revenue to drop. In England, we would call that “biting off your nose to spite your face”. Good grief. Hey, people, don’t be greedy. It’s evil.
Anyway, I digress… Net Neutrality is something you’ll hear a lot more about in the months ahead especially as more details become known, and one of the things it is designed to prevent is the continued erosion of consumer choices and this notion that your ISP should control what you can do online, all in the name of maximizing shareholder value instead of finding a good balance between success, profits and customer/community-focused philosophies.
Could there be hidden things in this proposal we haven’t seen yet that are bad for consumers? Sure… there might be. All I ask is that as this debate moves forward you educate and inform yourself, rather than falling for drama in the form of short Facebook posts and political hyperbole from both sides of the aisle. Let’s face it, if these major corporations are against it then you’re probably for it. At this point, I know I am.