COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER
On Technology

FCC ruling is a victory for Internet freedom

The vast majority of the public has welcomed the decision by the Federal Communications Commission last month to support net neutrality.

The decision will affect most of us, as well as millions of companies, in a very positive way. Despite some of the opponents’ claims, it is neither a government takeover nor a power-grab by our president.

The opponents — Internet service providers, which include cellular carriers and cable companies — have created many false claims to obscure the facts.

What they wanted was to be able to set up different classes of service, offer faster speeds and more data for an extra fee, and provide slower service to those that don’t or can’t pay for premium service.

The FCC’s 3-2 decision — split along party lines — simply recognizes that access to the Internet is vital to all of us and to the country. Therefore, all of us need to be treated equally.

The decision affects commerce and communication, and is critical to innovation.

Equal access to all must be assured. Its control should not be left in the hands of a few private corporations whose goals are profit and are thus not always aligned with the public good.

The idea of net neutrality is not something new. In fact, Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 describes a regulated “common carrier” such as telephone service that delivers goods to the public with no discrimination, in contrast to a private entity that can choose whom it serves and what rates it charges.

The FCC’s decision is simply classifying the Internet as a “common carrier,” which means the ISPs cannot set their own rules and rates without some oversight.

The Internet has changed the way nearly every business and individual works, and has fostered the creation of companies we never even imagined just a few years ago — from how we get a taxi to how we book a flight, how we shop and how we educate.

It’s used by more than 70 percent of the households in the country.

Today, the United States is well behind other advanced countries for Internet service. Sweden and Korea have speeds 10 times faster and pay much less for the service, partially the result of their governments’ oversight and subsidies.

For a while it looked as though the FCC might choose an approach that would have given more power to the ISPs. These companies claimed that, because of limited capacity, they should be able to charge more to customers that send more data or need higher speeds, much like an individual paying to be allowed to use an HOV lane.

They claimed that without this ability, we would all suffer from a congested Internet, and the financial incentives would not be there to invest in expanding capacity. The answer to that is clearly to build more capacity. If they choose not to do this, there are others willing to jump in, such as Google.

The public wasn’t buying this and saw through the self-interests of the ISPs. In fact, it was the public’s response — 6 million email and phone complaints — that counteracted the ISPs’ lobbying and campaign contributions to members of Congress.

The decision was also affected by the companies that opposed net neutrality: Comcast, Verizon and others in the cable and cellular industry that, for the most part, have treated their customers with disdain.

Their policies have been so shortsighted and adversarial that few people trusted them with the Internet.

For example, Verizon and most cellular carriers have nickeled-and-dimed their customers at every turn. Go over your data allowance one month? Pay a large penalty. Go under? Too bad, you can’t save it for the following month. Travel out of the country? Pay exorbitant fees, providing the carriers with 90 percent margins. Add a new device such as a tablet? Pay a connection fee and a monthly fee to have access to data you are already buying.

Comcast has some of the worst customer ratings for service of any company in America. It’s been well documented how they lie, do everything to prevent a customer from canceling and ridicule their customers.

There’s some poetic justice here in that what these companies wanted so badly was denied, in part because of their own poor treatment of their customers. If they had developed a more trusting relationship over the years, the opposition might have been less vocal and the ruling might have been different.

As one blogger noted, “Companies should have to earn profit by having satisfied customers, hard work and a decent product. Now profit seems to be earned by finding ways to separate customers from their money in the most predatory ways.”

The ISPs reaped what they sowed. And we are all better off for it.

*****

Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.

User Response
0 UserComments