Thursday, December 4, 2014

Robbing Consumers

I was robbed this week. I was stupid and left my iPhone in the car ("hidden" in the center console, but I left the charger connected) so it was obvious to a passerby that there was something there. Aside from the hassle of having the car window replaced and the sense of intrusion caused by my own mistake, I spent the bulk of the day without a smart phone. My first instinct when I got into the car and noticed all of the broken glass was: I must take a photo of this for the police, insurance (and potentially Facebook). Oops, can’t do that, no phone. Then I went to contact the police but couldn’t because, well, no phone. As the day went by all of the little things that I use the miniature computer for became apparent: figuring out where the nearest phone store was, how to get there, having music on the way, etc. Every element of how I navigate day-to-day activities now seems reliant on the Internet through the palm of my hand.

President Obama last month endorsed Net Neutrality. Wikipedia defines this as “the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differently by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”

From the time Al Gore 'invented the Internet,' it has become perhaps the most revolutionary tool in disseminating information. Regardless of class, race or any other of the usual variables – once somebody connects to the World Wide Web, the information is there for the asking. Time Magazine in 1982 made The Computer its “Person of the Year” and Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos received the honor in 1999, symbolic of the importance of the Internet and commerce. In 2006 “You” (the reader) was the selection to represent the “individual content creator on the World Wide Web.”

In the President’s web/video announcement, he cited a section of the Federal Communications Code that he wanted utilized to protect the principle of Net Neutrality. (He has to use the FCC rules and process because the other attempts by his Administration to govern the Internet have failed in court case after court case.) The  code cited means that the Government would regulate the Internet as a utility. That request underlines the importance that the Net has in everyday life (like lights, water, telephony). My own experience for just an afternoon (before resurrecting a 4 year old model which I will use for several more weeks) validates the President's idea that connectivity is very much part of how life is lived today. Regulating the Net as a utility though portends huge potential problems and it’s easy to see how many started frothing at the very idea. 

75% of the traffic on the Internet is attributable to streaming – whether it be Netflix, YouTube or another similar service. 

Internet Service Providers (Comcast, AT&T, Charter, etc.) have had to upgrade their equipment to manage this explosion in traffic and data. U.S. is 9th out of 243 countries in broadband speed, not bad overall but pretty lame for a "first world" country. Per the Huffington Post, Verizon charges $310/mo for 500 Mbps while in Seoul the same speed costs $30/mo. Most people don’t have anything near that speed, though.

To manage the explosion in traffic and data consumption, ISP’s want to charge fees to businesses – essentially penalizing successful companies that have people using large portions of data. Some mobile companies “throttle” the data after a certain threshold is met. 

The failed legislation and various FCC rule recommendations are designed to keep access open – neutral – regardless of the usage by user or content creator. Capitalists worry that having the Internet regulated means that innovation will suffer and the speed with which they can adapt to a changing marketplace will be dramatically impacted. It takes several years now for rates to be adjusted to market conditions for other utilities - that would kill the essence of the Net.

The internet’s very success – and its very ethos – is that it isn’t regulated. The web is just that – a network of computers throughout the globe that have a common protocol allowing access. It operates without a central governing body. This must continue.

It doesn’t make sense to have the government regulate the ISP’s like they do electric and water companies. It also doesn’t make sense to allow ISP’s the ability to restrict at will which content their customers have access to based on their own criteria. The solution is to keep the Internet free and open, and move the financial model to one of usage. If you want to access the internet and only need to check email, that’s one access price for using a relatively small about of data. If you want 24-7 streaming at the fastest possible connectivity, that’d be a different price...and different by provider. Let the consumer decide. Don’t rob consumers of choice.

No comments:

Post a Comment