A little over two years ago we beat back SOPA/PIPA, legislation that would have allowed Big Media to control the Internet. The defeat was stunning. The bills were flying through corrupt and know-nothing congressional committees, and they had (until the very end) the support of the Obama administration. It looked like the fix was in. The legislation died because of an unprecedented deluge of e-mails, letters and phone calls made to legislators on the eve of final votes on the bill. Even SOPA/PIPA’s most ardent opponents were shocked at the power of an agitated and informed public.
Well, it’s time go back, Jack, and do it again.
The news hit last week that the FCC is going to announce proposed regulations that, if enacted, would kill net neutrality. The regs have been described as allowing Internet providers (Time Warner, Verizon, etc.) the ability to negotiate with big Internet users (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, etc.) for better and faster service than everybody else.
The FCC has twice issued real net neutrality rules, and twice these rules have been struck down by the courts, which have held that such rules exceeded the FCC’s authority. This is sticky stuff, but it appears that if the FCC were to declare that the Internet is a “public utility” it could make net neutrality rules stick. But the FCC is afraid of making such a ruling because that would end up in court with more lawsuits from Big Internet and Telco companies, with the full support of their Republican enablers. You see, making the internet a “public utility” (which it absolutely is) smacks of regulation and that smacks of socialism and that smacks of Obama wants to take our guns away. Or something.
So now the FCC is still all a-scared of calling the Internet a rose by any other name, and instead it totally caves. On Tuesday, the chairman of the FCC issued a ridiculous defense of the to-be-issued regulations on Tuesday, stressing that the FCC was dedicated to an “open Internet,” that the regulations were merely being proposed for public comment, that everything was still on the table, and that the proposed regulations would be tough and that the FCC would make darn sure everything was done fairly.
An “open internet” is not the issue here. It’s that these large companies will get preferences, at the expense of everybody else. Another way of saying that these companies will get a “fast lane” is that we’ll get the slow lane. It’s hideously anti-competitive: No one will be able to compete effectively with fast-lane companies without the added expense of paying tribute to Big Internet. It’s hard enough for a start-up company to enter a mature market; this will only make it harder.
And who’s ultimately going to pay for the fast lane? You are, when the big companies that buy fast lane access pass the costs on to you in the form of higher prices and subscription fees.
What really pisses me off here is that we have in this country is some of the worst Internet in the civilized world. Speed is terrible. Reliability is terrible. Access to real broadband is terrible. Why? Because the Big Internet companies are some of the most dishonest and duplicitous corporations on the planet. They gouge customers and break the promises they make to government. They don’t exist to provide what is increasingly being recognized as a vital service on par with electricity or telephones. They exist to maximize shareholder value. And they are essentially monopolies. So we have crappy Internet.
And for this the FCC is going to reward them and simultaneously wreck the Internet? It’s totally insane.
What now? The FCC is supposed to issue the new proposed regulations on May 15, and the public (that means you) will have the opportunity to comment. I’ve already seen a number of online petitions and portals to contact congressmen, etc., but I’m not sure those things will be as effective as directly contacting the FCC, which has the ultimate authority here.
I’d like to think that this is just more Obama-style rope-a-dope: Send up a trial balloon, wait for the public to go batshit, and that will give them cover to do what they wanted to do in the first place. We’ve seen him do it before. Many times!
It’s worrisome, though. The Obama administration has been frustratingly wrong on so many Internet, privacy and intellectual property issues. The FCC chairman tried to rationalize the proposed regs by saying that they were preferable to the years of litigation that would happen if the FCC acted otherwise. In other words, we can’t do the right thing because these big companies will be mean to us. Dude, grow a pair already.
Watch this space for info on how you can best be involved. We can’t let this happen.
Paul Rapp is a Berkshires-based intellectual property lawyer who won’t let a torn rotator cuff slow him down, no siree.