Contrary to the sentiments of FCC chair Ajit Pai, ending net neutrality is bad news for the average internet user. If your main source of entertainment is streaming shows on Amazon or watching videos on YouTube it’s really bad news. As the former Associate General Counsel at Verizon Communications, Pai’s not in this position for good of consumers.
Pai is the epitome of corporate lobbying gone amuck in Washington. He’s even joked about being a Verizon puppet in public. Sadly, his jokes reveal the truth of what he’s done over the years.
What Ending Net Neutrality Means For You
So what does the recent decision by the FCC to remove the basic consumer protection of net neutrality do? It means that internet providers can charge you more for faster access to particular sites – not just for general internet speeds. Currently they’ve only been able to leverage slowing down the internet based on the amount paid – which is a bunch nonsensical hocus-pocus itself, but I digress.
Even worse, your ISP provider slowing down how quickly you can get to a site isn’t the only thing they’ll be able to charge for. You very well may end up paying to access some sites, period. Even worse, there may be sites you won’t be able to access at all – no matter how much you pay them.
What Ending Net Neutrality Looks Like in Practice
Think about how cable and satellite TV is run. If you don’t pay for HBO (or if your provider gets into a dispute with them) then you don’t get to see their shows. Now the telecommunications companies will be able to this with things like Google and Facebook. Yes, they’ll be able to make you pay for access to Facebook.
At least in the above scenarios with cable and satellite you can still see the channel where HBO’s content should be. You know there should be HBO on channel X. In theory, ending net neutrality means your provider can make channel X seem non-existent. Say a small video uploading site sets up a website. You won’t find it in a search, because a company like Comcast will have the right to block sites they compete against. They can also accept payments to push it to the back of the search line. Ending net neutrality makes this legal. No longer will it be public demand that controls what you see first – it will be the corporations that control what you see.
Now, the big telecommunication companies that pushed for ending net neutrality – Verizon, Comcast, and ATT led the charge – say they’d never do any of these kinds of things. . However, history suggests otherwise. The claim is especially dubious when you look at the reason the FCC chair Pai gives for why net neutrality needed to go.
Ending Net Neutrality – Why Ajit Pai’s Reasoning is Bogus
Pai’s entire statement on ending net neutrality hinges on the idea that telecommunication companies have been hindered in the “build out” of the infrastructure needed for a faster internet. In making this argument he harkens back to the time of President Bill Clinton and waxes poetic on how the low level of regulation encouraged companies to improve our information superhighway.
Encouraged by light-touch regulation, the private sector invested over $1.5 trillion to build out fixed and mobile networks throughout the United States. 28.8k modems gave way to gigabit fiber connections. Innovators and entrepreneurs grew startups into global giants. America’s Internet economy became the envy of the world.
This bit is a lovely story – but that’s all it is. What actually happened is completely different. That “light touch” regulation ended up being a gravy-train for telecommunication companies. It led to mega-mergers, fewer choices – and a lack of a robust fiber optic network for all Americans.
The Road to 1996 – From One Monopoly to Another
To really understand just how fictitious Pia’s statement about 1996 is you have to go back to 1934 and then to 1984. There’s a series of books by Bruce Kushnick that gives an in depth analysis of just how much Americans has been screwed by these corporations. A great Huffington Post article is based on those books, and it has a download of them. They’re worth reading if you’ve the time and like following the money. However, here’s the truncated facts.
1934 – Bell and the FCC
The Federal Communications Act of 1934 created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This was done in part because it was deemed that telephone service was a basic necessity – like electricity. Therefore, every household had a right to be wired for it.
At the same time, the idea of leaving a national infrastructure issue in the hands of private corporations without some kind of oversight would be ludicrous. The reality is that corporations aren’t primarily concerned with the public interest.. As such, the FCC was founded to make sure the American people got treated fairly.
For the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio so as to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.
1934’s was in the era of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New Deal, and a general sense that government was actually for the people. The creation of the FCC was part of that movement. As such, like social security and medicaid, the FCC regulations meant to project Americans are things that the U.S. conservative movement like to rail against.
1984 – the Long Distance Scam
That’s not saying that the implementations of the FCC have been perfect. Espe As we can see, it’s subject to the whims of congress and their lobbyists. The first problem with 1934 act was that only one company – The Bell System – was handling all of the phone operations. It was a convenient monopoly. Eventually, after a series of lawsuits, Bell was found to be overcharging customers. The final 1984 lawsuit forced the company to be broken up into seven regional telecommunication companies. …Those seven companies promptly discovered a way to create regional monopolies.
The Long-Distance Scam
Because of the 1934 principle that everyone had to have access to full phone service issue of long distance calling (in 1984 that was a thing – calling state to state was “long-distance”) each company had to provide equal access to their infrastructure to any company wanting to sell long-distance. That access had to be of the same quality of what a baby Bell company offered to their own local customer. As explained in a Vox 2014 article on Comcast – things got complicated.
Before, making a long-distance call just involved one company, AT&T. Now it involved three companies: a Baby Bell at each end and a long-distance company in the middle. AT&T was one option for long-distance service, but it competed against rivals such as Sprint or MCI.
The result of this was that consumers had two bills, one for local, the other for long distance. Each “Baby Bell” got to charge the consumers for basic local service – as well as charge the long distance company for giving them the access to that baby Bell’s part of the national infrastructure. Of course, that cost would then get passed along to the consumer. Rates quickly skyrocketed and companies had huge profits. (This was helped by crying poverty and getting rate hike authorizations year after year.
Ending Net Neutrality Recreates an Old (bad) System
Here’s why understanding that long-distance mess is important. Ending net neutrality is basically a way to recreate this system for the internet. It’s a fairly technical explanation about why is true. A 2014 article by geek business blog Techdirt explains it best.
Comcast’s ultimate goal is to effectively make the internet more like the old phone system, post AT&T breakup, in which everyone had to pay to access the end points of the network. Ironically, they’re trying to recreate the internet in the form of the old telephone network, while at the same time doing everything to resist being classified as a telephone network by the FCC. (…) they’re seeking to have you both pay for your bandwidth and having internet companies pay again to get to you on the bandwidth you already paid for.
Telecommunications companies have been hoping for this. It probably started as soon as they realized the potential of what the internet was. The way it all came together was truly a perfect storm.
We’ve Heard This Before: Promising a “Buildout” of America’s Fiber Optic Network
The 1970’s was the beginning of a focused rise in corporate-driven lobbyists. They were driven by things like fighting the formation of the Consumer Protection Agency. Meanwhile, the internet was invented in 1983, and the operational “World-Wide Web” – was in 1990.
By the time 1996 came around corporate lobbying had gone from trying to block regulations they didn’t like to getting Congress to pass legislation that was profitable for their companies (TheAtlantic.com). It’s in this Washington atmosphere that lobbyists and Congressmen “worked together” to create the Telecommunications Act of 1996, bill passed by President Bill Clinton.
The Problems With the Telecommunications Act of 1996 – Promises Broken
At the time Clinton and Vice President Al Gore had a vision of the nation being wired with fiber-optics, which would replace the copper phone lines that dial up internet access used. The companies agreed to that, in exchange for allowing telecommunications companies to own media companies.
Between the growing World-Wide Web and the rapid rise of cable television, telecommunications companies clearly saw the potential of being able to own media. They wanted the ability to deliver content into people homes, as well as the source of the content. That’s why they were willing to promise a national infrastructure of fiber optics to get it. The 1996 deal gave them the right to do both.
Of course, that fiber optic network never really happened. Over the decades these companies have been given billions of actual dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to do it though. They’ve charged the consumers for this as well – but didn’t actually do it.
Instead the money was used to expand into wireless communication and media broadcasting. It’s why today you have only a few companies to choose from. They’ve all merged with content provides and with each other. Deregulation has allowed that these companies can own both the content and the method of distribution. Yes, telecommunications companies can do what Hollywood film studios can’t. That’s how come many companies can bundle your phone, cable, and internet wireless services.
A Big Loophole
To see just how disingenuous these companies have been, here’s another interesting wrinkle in that bill.
The Act ensures that schools, libraries, hospitals and clinics have access to advanced telecommunications services, and calls for them to be connected to the information superhighway by the year 2000. “
What’s the result of this pretty sounding clause? Even when companies did wire cities for fiber optics they did so with contracts that forbid the city from letting it be used by residential households. For the record, this goes counter to the 1934 idea that everyone should been wired for, “a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.”
Fiber optics are today’s basic infrastructure of communications, and these companies were paid many times over to build it. They just chose to spend the money given in ways that benefited them – not the country. Furthermore, they actually built some of it – but with provisions that denied most Americans access to it. Now they’ll be able to double-dip outrageous charges for internet access. So, don’t be surprised if fiber optics for everyone suddenly becomes available.
The Wrap Up – Ending Net Neutrality Is An Anti-Consumer Action
If there was any doubt about the total contempt FCC chair Pai has for the consumers he’s supposed to be protecting, this video dispels it.
Ajit Pai thinks what you do online is a joke. Even as he says ending net neutrality won’t change anything about what people can do online he’s laughing. That’s because he’s lying – and knows it.
No longer will you be finding things that are popular first. Your provider will get to decide what you see first in a search, and what’s available for you to see at all. From a business perspective, ending net neutrality means startups are going to have a harder time – unless they can buy their way to the top. The idea that this is good for business is nonsense. It’s good for a few businesses – like Verizon and Comcast.
That’s the truth about ending net neutrality. The only winners are big telecommunication/media companies. Having Pai be the FCC chair is akin to having Michael Flynn be on the National Security Council.
There’s no foreign government involved, but like Flynn, Pai’s not concerned about what’s best for Americans. His priority is the welfare of the companies he’s worked for, lobbied for, and has been lobbied by. He’s now gotten them what they’ve wanted: a policy based on a model that was bad for consumers. He doesn’t care, because the few companies he’s been associated with will making even higher profits.