I recently contacted my state Senators, urging them to fight for net neutrality laws that would keep the internet open, and limit how much control ISP’s are allowed have over what data comes over MY internet connection, and what they’re allowed to charge me extra for. In the past, when I contacted my senators on these kinds of issues, I’ve always received a letter back, describing how they’re trying to do exactly what I asked them to. Of course, in the past, all my Senators were Democrats. Recently, that changed, as with it, the kind of letter I was sent back.
For the uninitiated, net neutrality is the idea that internet lines consumers subscribe to should be free and open, with no restrictions on either certain websites, or certain kinds of data. For example, without net neutrality restrictions in place, your ISP may in the future offer packages, similar to cable, where the ‘entry level’ package would allow you to use your email and small / unknown websites at full speed, but all other websites, such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google and ESPN, would be throttled back to download at much slower speeds; or, you would be charged an additional fee every time you used them, similar to the per-text texting plans on cel phones. At this level, you may not even be able to access video sites like YouTube, Hulu or Netflix for free, but you could be charged a fee per minute of video you watch, again, similar to voice ‘minutes’ on your cel phone. Only a premium-priced plan would allow you to access any site on the internet without a speed penalty or extra charge. This may at first sound great, if most of what you do is check email and use small unknown websites; but what happens your cable company gives you full-speed access to all of their own offerings for ‘free’ but charges you more for a similar competing service? For instance, if you use Time Warner Cable for your broadband, and they have an online video service that directly competes with Netflix & Hulu, they could give you access to their own service for no additional fees, while charging you more for access to the others. If this had been the case when Netflix was first getting started with online streaming, there’s a good chance they never would have become a major player, and without strong competition, Time Warner would eventually be able to leverage their position and remove their own video offering from the low-end package, making you pay more for access. With no major competing offerings, your only choice is to pay up, or go without.
Of course, the media empires that connect us to the internet say they would never do something like that, so no regulation is needed. They have their lobbyists ‘convince’ government officials through ‘various means’ to argue that making net neutrality laws amounts to the government taking control of the internet, and that it will stifle economic growth. The truth is, net neutrality would in no way be a government takeover of the internet, any more than regulating media mergers is a government takeover of the airwaves; and to the argument about stifling economic growth argument, it has been shown many times over in other countries that when there is healthy competition in the broadband market, consumers have much faster internet connections, and pay a fraction of the price that Americans pay.
In any case, here’s the letter from my Senator. If you think it sounds more like a doctrine written by the media corporations themselves, you’re not alone.
Thank you for taking the time to write to me regarding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the issue of net neutrality.
On December 21, 2011, the FCC voted to adopt net neutrality rules regulating broadband Internet providers. The issue is whether the Internet will be controlled by government regulators or by private enterprise and consumers in a competitive marketplace.
The term “net neutrality” might sound good, but it is just a clever name for government control of the internet. If the government were to control the internet through FCC regulations, the overall result would be bad news not just for consumers but also for the economy as a whole. Investment in broadband today is one of the few bright spots of the economy, with providers expected to invest some $30 billion per year in private capital into their networks annually for the next five years, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. I will resist efforts by the government to control the internet.
I believe one of my most important duties as your Senator is to listen to the views of the citizens of Wisconsin and, in turn, communicate my views. I hope I have accomplished that with you.
Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns with me on this issue. I apologize for any delay you have experienced in receiving this reply. Since taking office in January, my office has received over 180,000 pieces of correspondence. We are working hard to respond to your concerns in a timely manner.
Please feel free to contact me in the future with anything important to you or your family. It is an honor to serve you and the good people of Wisconsin.
United States Senator
And my response is below:
I recently received correspondance from your office informing me why you are against net neutrality laws. You claim that it is a government takeover of the internet. This is no more true than government regulation of media mergers is a takeover of the airwaves, and you know it. Without net neutrality, there’s nothing stopping the media companies from slowing or blocking access to websites of their own choosing, making it easier to push their own offerings, and put other companies out of business. If Comcast decided to charge more for access to Netflix, while offering their own video service for no extra cost, it would be a major blow to Netflix. But without net neutrality, there’s nothing stopping Comcast from doing just that. The same could be said for Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter, Amazon, and millions of other websites that started from nothing, and relied on free and open access to the internet to establish their business, and continue to rely on it to survive and flourish. You claim net neutrality is a job-killer, but how many jobs would be lost at the expense of a few top dogs at the major media corporations, if all the major ISPs implemented a tiered system of internet access that blocks or slows access to select websites or services? Innovation would plummet because small start-ups wouldn’t have a chance against the established conglomerates. Millions, perhaps billions of jobs would be lost or never created, in the name of higher profits for already established media conglomerates.
It has been shown many times over in other countries that when there is healthy competition in the broadband market, consumers have much faster internet connections, and pay a fraction of the price that Americans pay. It’s only because we allow these giant companies to be the only options consumers have, that we’re stuck overpaying for mediocre services. Without government regulation, it would only get worse for consumers, not better.
If you continue to fight against net neutrality, then you, Mr. Johnson, are not MY Senator, and I don’t need you to lecture me on how helping huge corporations put more money into the pockets of their richest few is good for me and my country.
Chris J Mischler