Thursday, December 21, 2017

Winners And Losers After Net Neutrality Has Been Trashed

I've always maintained that net neutrality ought to be on the radar screen of any blogger or ordinary person that uses the net frequently. The reason is that its existence is crucial to sustaining quality of communication and also free speech.  If I was unable to get my blog up in an expeditious and timely manner, despite a particular topic (say quantum statistics) that may only be read by 10 people - believe me I wouldn't be doing this much longer. The headaches simply wouldn't be worth it. I do it now because I don't have to pay higher than normal costs to get my material published - whether educational or political opinion..

This elicits the question of why there would be those who seek to abolish net neutrality. Well, as with most arenas in our declining land, the major  Neoliberal moguls detest little guys having any say equal to their own- so hope to buy their way to faster internet speeds at the expense of the rest of us. Or to put it more bluntly, to perhaps eliminate the rest of us.

Who can forget the stirring and robust defense of net neutrality - as well as its explication - by John Oliver some months ago? The  segment can still be seen it at this link:

Oliver argued the net in its current form was not broken, while noting the FCC was
pushing for a 'two tier' system.  Killing net neutrality would allow private companies to go into the fast lane leaving everyone else in the slow line. To get your streaming movies or shows then might take twice as long as it does now, while higher paying corporate entities and ISPs  like Comcast - could either afford to go into the fast lane or (in the case of ISPs) charge more to average Joes to use it.

.To refresh memories, the Obama FCC - to preserve net neutrality - ceased treating the internet as an unregulated information service- instead reclassifying it as a "telecommunications service". Thereby the FCC could assert authority to regulate the net as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Oliver was so energized at the prospect of the new FCC chairman (Ajit Pai) overturning the Obama FCC rules that he provided viewers with a rapid link to enter comments at the FCC - supposedly seeking them for 120 days: 

Last week, the unthinkable transpired and Pai represented the tiebreaking vote to enable this travesty to pass. It behooves us then to look at winners and losers and also what the 3-2 decision means for free speech.

Led by Trump  toady Ajit Pai, the FCC is now set to spend the  coming months drafting new rules that, if implemented, will slow down the net considerably for any who use DL'ing, including streaming of videos (including for Netflix and Amazon services).  Pai, like other Trump -appointed hacks (Tom Price at HHS, out to destroy Medicare, Scott Pruitt at EPA, out to destroy that agency or weaken it to the point of uselessness) is convinced the Obama era rules adopted in 2015 have "harmed the internet" by retarding investment in broad band infrastructure. 

In other words net neutrality is a no-no because it represents the continuation of "heavy handed regulation which will chill investment in a service increasingly critical to life in American society".

According to Pai, mastering the lingo of Wall Street speak (WSJ, May 20, p. A11), the small ISPs are being left out of the market because they can't compete with the big boys. Pai claimed he "heard from 19 small, government -owned, municipal broadband providers" who insisted that Title II regs stood in the way of their further investment. In effect, depriving hundreds of thousands living in those municipalities of accessing new services and the small ISPs from deepening their networks.

In Pai's mind,  the basic error of too many on the left is thinking "there is a dichotomy between the consumer and the market". No, there isn't, given consumers help to define the market - but the market so formed has to be fair: not playing favorites. After all, the bible mantra of the capitalists is that the market works best when consumer choice is maximized. But it can't be if my net speed is only 1/4 as fast as that slobby looking Wyatt Koch - son of billionaire Bill Koch, eg.

Should that rich slob, just because he's rolling in inherited money,  have more right to higher web speeds (to sell his stupid rich man shirts)  because he can pay for them? Hell no!

 According to Pai (ibid.):

"To me, markets and market -oriented policies have delivered far more value to the consumer than pre-emptive regulation ever has."

If Pai's arguments were really sound why not first do all he and the FCC can to make all net speeds much higher as opposed to "comparable to Estonia" as John Oliver joked in his piece.  The reason is that Pai and his cronies want to slow net speeds down even more for the rest of us so that private entities, that can pay a lot more, get preferential treatment in the form of much greater speed, efficiency.

What about winners and losers in the coming debacle?

After the FCC released its plan in late November, well-known telecom and media analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson wrote in a note to investors that the FCC plan dismantles “virtually all of the important tenets of net neutrality itself.”

That could result in phone and cable companies forcing people to pay more to do what they want online. The technology community, meanwhile, fears that additional online tolls could hurt startups who can’t afford to pay them — and, over the long term, diminish innovation.

Losers then will almost certainly include most millennials who consume their sports, news, entertainment via online streaming. They can expect speeds to slow to a snail's pace unless they pay more. Also affected will be those who do frequent youtube spots. With no net neutrality they will be relegated to the slow lane and take hours to upload even a five or ten minute video.   In 2007, for example, the Associated Press found Comcast was blocking or throttling some file-sharing. AT&T blocked Skype and other internet calling services on the iPhone until 2009. They also aren’t backing away from subtler forms of discrimination that favor their own services.

Of course, the deep pockets of Google, Netflix, Amazon may well be sufficient - provided their share prices remain high - to pay off ISPs to make sure consumers can access our service.

A far more likely target for loss is free speech.With this FCC ruling, corporations will have control over what content citizens can access on the internet. It could be as simple as Comcast blocking websites with negative comments on their service. Or it could be as sinister as an ISP blocking access to political content, news and writing that it opposes. Just think of it! Much of the content on this blog is highly controversial, for example the strong anti-Trump stance, and also to a degree the anti-conservative stance.

If you are a proponent of every American’s right to free speech, this should be frightening to the core. No company or corporation should be able to control what information we can consume, with a few exceptions, e.g. bomb- making manuals put out by terrorists. But no interested reader should be denied anti-Trump material such as often appears on this blog.

ISPs like Comcast have said they would never take it this far. But why do they even need the option? When Comcast is your only choice, what prevents them from extracting every penny possible from you and the online businesses that constantly inundate our lives?

This is exactly why many of us inveighed against the 1996 Telecommunications Act.  Writing in his book, The Problem of the Media, Robert McChesney had this to say (p. 51);

"The corruption in media policy making culminated in the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, arguably one of the most important pieces of U.S. legislation. The law rewrote the regulatory regime for radio, television, cable television, and satellite communication - indeed, all of electronic communication including the internet.

The operating premise of the law was that the new communications technologies - combined with increased appreciation for the genius of the market- rendered the traditional regulatory market moot.

The solution therefore was to lift regulations and ownership restrictions from commercial media and communication companies, and allow competition in the marketplace to develop, and reduce the government's role to that of protecting private property.

There was virtually no dissent whatsoever to this legislation from either party, the law sailed through both houses of congress, and was signed by a jubilant President Clinton in February, 1996. Corporate CEOs regarded it as their "Magna Carta"."

The preceding  lesson from McChesney ought to be a no-brainer for us now: not to be fooled again by the "deregulation is good for ya" banter. Fool us once, shame on them, fool us twice, shame on US.

So far, there have been hundreds of public protests against Pai’s plan and more than 1 million calls to Congress through a pro-net neutrality coalition’s site. Smaller tech websites such as Reddit, Kickstarter and Mozilla put dramatic overlays on their sites Tuesday in support of net neutrality. Twitter on Wednesday was promoting #NetNeutrality as a trending topic. Other big tech companies were more muted in their support.

Public-interest groups Free Press and Public Knowledge are already promising to go after Pai’s rules in the courts. There may also be attempts to legislate net neutrality rules, which the telecom industry supports. Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, on Tuesday called for “bipartisan legislation” on net neutrality that would “enshrine protections for consumers with the backing of law.”

See also:


"Pai is dead wrong that this flurry of activity has been done to advance the public interest. Indeed, as one might expect from a man who once worked for telecom giant Verizon, Pai has directed an unprecedented abdication by the FCC of its responsibility to protect the public welfare. ...The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the oldest organization defending civil liberties in a digital age, warns that allowing ISPs to monitor and manipulate data makes the web more vulnerable to attacks....

Adding insult to injury, Pai’s FCC also halted enforcement of a rule demanding Internet providers “take reasonable measures to protect customer (personal information) from unauthorized use, disclosure or access."


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