CNET posted the new bill proposed by Senator James DeMint and five other Republicans that would limit the FCC’s ability to promote net neutrality. Seeing that AT&T and Comcast have made sizable contributions to DeMint’s election campaign, it is unsurprising that he would clamber over his constituents and the citizens of the United States for the chance to win his true masters’ (i.e., big media and Internet service providers) favor. Full disclosure of his top 100 contributors including AT&T, Comcast, Cellular Telecom & Internet Assn, and The Club for Growth (all with anti-net neutrality stances) on opensecrets.org here.
The CNET article author, Declan McCullagh, begins by writing, “Seven Republican senators have announced a plan to curb the Obama administration’s push to impose controversial Net neutrality regulations on the Internet.” I have seen the modifier “controversial” in many locations recently as the FCC has tried to follow its mandate for broadband access: “All Americans should have affordable access to robust and reliable broadband products and services. Regulatory policies must promote technological neutrality, competition, investment, and innovation to ensure that broadband service providers have sufficient incentive to develop and offer such products and services” [Full broadband goals here]. The only controversy that figures into the FCC’s plans has to do with that created by the conglomerate broadband providers and wireless carriers who use astroturfing sites such as Hands Off the Internet and congressional avatars to argue that net neutrality will endanger jobs and impede the growth of the Internet. With the de facto net neutrality that we have enjoyed for a number of years now, the Internet has blossomed into a necessity of modern living and a jobs aggregator. What it can also become is a new means for itemized exploitation of Internet users. What we are seeing now with AT&T’s shift to new restricted wireless data plans (and Verizon’s impending shift from unlimited to capped data accounts) is the same sort of thing that we can expect from internet providers if the Internet is not regulated by the FCC. In this case, we the people can use the government as leverage against big corporations that would like to squeeze every dollar from our pockets without returning the favor with better products, more robust services, and updated infrastructure. The corporations want to take without necessarily giving anything back. They want to sell us their vision of an Internet based on tiers, prioritized access, and more paywalls, and they want to call their imposition on us a choice. I don’t see innovation and choice in something that will eventually cost me more to get the same access and services that I get now for a lower price. When there are fewer players and the new system of competition based Internet is based on collusion and agreements between those few players, I cannot see how competition will lower prices and provide better services. Those few providers of Internet access, wireless data access, and big media are already not reinvesting their hefty profits into infrastructure to provide a better online experience for Americans (unlike broadband providers in other parts of the world), so why would they decide to do that when they can charge us more in the future? There won’t be any other companies to compete with them–it will be nearly impossible for an upstart to move into the marketplace due to the heavy investments and the improbable chance that new competitors will be able to enter into new agreements with the big players that allow for the free flow of data across the different networks. Essentially, the ISPs want to build walls held together with “g(lue)reed” to enforce tolls on the transfer of data, and that isn’t a plan that is good for consumers.
That being said, the FCC’s use of “ancillary jurisdiction” to enforce net neutrality can be a double edged sword as Corynne McSherry points on in her commentary on EFF’s site here. The political enforcement of certain goals, such as the indecency issues that the George W. Bush administration pushed so heartily during his two terms as President, can be a real problem. However, I do not believe that government is a wholly bad entity that we cannot rely on. Corporations only operate to maximize profits and appease investors. Consumers do not in any practical way “vote with dollars.” We do vote for our government officials though, and we need to send a strong message to our representatives that they do work for us, and not for the businesses who want us to subject us to their maximization of profits. I didn’t vote for congressmen and senators with the hope that they would do things that would cost me more money by them enacting laws to help Internet providers with the next big money grab. Did you?