The free-market capitalistic fight for Net Neutrality

Published 10:17 am Friday, March 6, 2015

We all have that grandfather, or perhaps uncle, who is on Facebook and probably shouldn’t be. He’s the one who clicks on the virus videos of scantily clad women that make it look like more will be revealed, and when he does it goes out for all to see.

But when his feed isn’t hacked, he’s posting things that tow the Republican party line, even if he doesn’t understand it. Granted, just like the teenage liberal boy on your feed, it’s pretty easy to just ignore what he says.

Every once in a while, though, an important issue comes along like Net Neutrality, and it not only gets your crazy grandfather acting up, but also people who are otherwise rational political thinkers.

Certainly, it makes sense. The Federal Government has come in and taken a stance on the Internet. The immediate thought of more government involvement in something you love, like the Internet, makes you feel about as good as watching the end of “Ol’ Yeller.” But you also know it’s not quite that simple.

With those thoughts, you get on Facebook and see something like this:

“Obama has this new thing called Net Neutrality, and it’s going to make the Internet SOCIALIST, force companies to do things differently, take away our freedoms and tax us. It’s UN-AMERICAN!!1!”

“But, Net Neutrality is how the Internet is supposed to work, and it’s how it did work until recently. It’s exactly what America stands for!”

You think this last thought, but you don’t actually say it because you know it will just devolve into yourself being called a socialist.

This isn’t a socialist issue, though, and we unfortunately need to allow the government to sink their claws into the Internet Service Providers.

Look at it this way: Someone is currently robbing you of all you own, and there is another person standing around who could help you. You instead choose to let the mugger continue to rob you, rather than allowing the other person to help because you are worried about them robbing you too.

Basically, your ISP is happily robbing you of everything it can get out of you, and more. But the federal government looks pretty shady too, and you know they’ll tax you if they can, so you don’t want to let them help you.

But if we didn’t stop the ISPs from their current path, the Internet was going to be changed forever into something that wouldn’t have been a fair, free market of information and goods.

This ruling may or may not turn into something else down the road, but there was nothing written to suggest that. If it does change on us, we will have to fight that battle, too.

However, as compared to the government — normally the bad guy — the ISPs are the true villains here. They’re expensive, they have poor customer service, charges get added seemingly on a whim, and they honestly couldn’t care less about what we think. Why would they? Are you going to go back to dial-up or do without the Internet? No? Then welcome to paying more for less high-speed Internet than they get in Europe and modern Asia. Even some developing countries pay less for broadband and have faster Internet access than we do in America.

The ISPs are over-charging us in other ways, too. Companies like Netflix are already being extorted by broadband companies for more money, or else they would have slowed the service down for users on those networks. Who does Netflix pass this on to? The consumers, of course. Conveniently, Comcast owns Hulu, a competitor of Netflix, and Hulu now has an advantage in the market based on an extortion price.

This sounds more like the Italian Mafia than America. And that’s the point, this is not a leftist-socialist issue, it’s a straight-up right-wing issue, an American capitalist issue. Without Net Neutrality, there would be no more companies like Facebook turning nothing into something online, and then where would we rant about the stupid things the government does?

Many of us want to think that our blogs can help us in making a living one day. Well, if you couldn’t pay the ISPs their racket money, then your website would have been slower than AOL or Earthlink was in the 1990s. No one has time for that, so we’d be forced to use only the websites the broadband companies want us to use, the ones they are making money off of.

All this started because of government bureaucracy trying to deregulate the Internet, rather than performing one of its core functions in protecting the free market. Rewind back to 2002, the FCC classified that broadband was not a telecommunications service, subject to the regulation that the federal bureau was created to enforce on phone companies. Rather, they were an information service, which is really meant for things like a library catalog system. The regulation that broadband ISPs no longer faced included stopping monopolistic behavior or denying the same service to lawful users.

We already have seen that they are willing to make the Internet different for each user, so what about this monopoly thing?

In today’s world, almost anyone can try to open a restaurant and compete with the chain. It’s hard to get a monopoly because the more customers you serve, the more people you have to hire, the bigger your building has to be and you also have to pay more for food. It puts limits on how big one company can be in a particular area. That makes it easier for someone to enter the market and try to do it better if another company is overcharging customers.

That’s not the case with telecommunications or utility services. Not just anyone can enter because the costs to lay down the network are astronomical, so it’s a more efficient use of our resources as a country to allow the natural monopoly, but it needs regulation.

That’s because once it’s built up in an area, ISPs are generating X amount of bandwidth for a fixed cost, whether we use it or not. In all likelihood for you to be added to the Internet network, your provider is only paying for the technician to hook up a cable to your house and giving you a router, which they charge you for. Then someone has to flip a switch and monitor the network, which they also charge you for.

Continually adding people to the network actually lowers your ISPs’ overall costs to provide service to an area, but that’s not reflected in the rates like it is in many other countries. This is because we as a society have given them a license to practically print money. What faceless corporation wouldn’t take advantage of that?

Bringing us back to 2002, a government agency didn’t do what it was created to do because it caved to pressure to deregulate. In doing so, the FCC gave the ISPs — the greater evil in this case — a get out of jail free card. The courts sided with the companies because they didn’t have to be regulated like a telecommunications service, which for all purposes they are, so there was no ability to threaten them to behave right with lawsuits.

All that happened this past week was that the FCC took that card away. The government does mess with the free market more than it should, but cases like this are different. It’s one of the bugs in the free-market system, and so far, government regulation is the only way we’ve come up with to correct it.

Yet, there’s still danger that the government could botch it again. The FCC only passed it 3-2, completely along party lines, with the Republicans voting it down. Well, the Republicans are about to get a majority in congress, and they might get duped into supporting the wrong bad guy.

This isn’t a party lines issue. It’s not socialism versus the right-wing free market. This is absolutely American capitalism versus a threat to the free market of the Internet.

It’s Amazon, Netflix, Google and other net-born companies that have made a lot of money and created a lot of jobs thanks to the Internet’s free market, along with the consumers; versus AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, who want to exploit how the market works for their own gain, while not having to employee the same number of people compared to the jobs they could take away.

We need to educate people — like our crazy grandfather — so that they understand how the Internet actually works, and we need to call our representatives in congress, or we may as well kiss the free market of the Internet good bye. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to call your grandfather. He never hears from any of his grandkids.

CAIN MADDEN is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or