Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In America, Big Wins

It isn't exactly news that Big wins in America. A case in point is JPMorgan Chase. They're so big, they're allowed to be, in essence, a criminal enterprise and get away with it. If you don't agree with that, I've got a portfolio of subprime mortgage-backed securities to sell you.

More to the point, we've got yet another example of Big winning over Small in yesterday's DC Court of Appeals ruling that net neutrality -- the concept that all creatures great and small on the Internet have equal access to the bandwidth -- cannot be enforced by the FCC. This ruling, which is by a three-judge panel and not a total en banc ruling by the entire court, is based on a technicality, but that doesn't mean it won't stick, given the current political climate in the U.S.

Net neutrality isn't easy to explain, especially to those who can't visualize the Internet as it has become. You can think, "I turn on my computer, and the Internet works," which is mostly true. But it works the way it does because of long-standing agreements and regulations. One regulation, that everyone, once they've paid the price of admission, has equal access to every corner of the network (obviously I'm not talking about secure sites, like government, banking, and credit card sites).

Yesterday's ruling changed that. To understand what changed, let me use Anytown, USA as an example. Imagine a town of 18,000 people, with its highway access, its main streets, and its alleyways. We move around and come and go as we please, as least based on our vehicles and the ordinary whims of traffic flow. There's no one there saying, "You can't go travel on this public road, you aren't rich enough." (Once again, I'm not talking about toll roads and bridges. They exist but aren't ubiquitous enough to interfere with my story.)

Now imagine that there are 10-lane freeways to every home in your Anytown, along with boulevards, streets, alleyways, and bike lanes, each of them leading directly to your living room. Yesterday's court decision gave network providers such as Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast the right to sell to Google or Netflix, for example, the right to use the 10-lane freeway to your living room. If you can't pay the price, set by the "free market," maybe for a lot less you can use the bike lane.

So much for innovation and start-ups. Why? Imagine that you have a great idea, and you decide to try out in your garage (you know, the way Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and Microsoft got started). Before this ruling, the road to the Internet was as wide-open to you as the next guy. Now it isn't. Google, Netflix, Apple, all the Big Guys can buy as much access to the 10-lane freeway as they want.

You, with not much money, can buy access to every home in the world via the bike lane. What you offer you customers will probably be sucky, but, hey, this is America. Freedom!

Don't worry, because when this reaches the Supreme Court, who famously decided in recent years that Corporations are People and Money is Speech, surely they're going to straighten things out.

Here's a link to a WaPo article that explains the court decision and another to a WaPo article that explains how the FCC can fix the problem. Of course, that would likely end up in the Supreme Court.

I think we're pretty screwed, but Freedom!

No comments:

Post a Comment