Politics

Don't Let Them Ruin the Internet

Dear Readers,

We have until September 10th, 2014, to send our comments to our elected officials and to the FCC before they vote on Internet Neutrality.

Please read this letter, and then copy it so you can alter it and send in your own letter, both to President Obama, your two senators, and to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Dear President Obama and Chairman Wheeler,

As the cable companies finally build a much-delayed and much-needed fiber optic network across the country, it is crucial that you stand up to these monopolies and not institute any new rules that will allow them, when they have no true competition or oversight, to charge substantially more money to customers to get faster Internet service.

They should not be able to maximize their profits by controlling the price and the scope of this infrastructure system that they are building, without guidance or oversight. Their plan to offer two kinds of service, with a faster service going to consumers willing to pay more, should NOT be allowed.

They should not be allowed to charge the price they want, where they want, providing fiber optic access when they want, with limited government regulation, which is what the news rules you are considering would allow. It’s bad for consumers, bad for cities, bad for education, bad for competition, and bad for the country. 

We are far behind countries in Europe and Asia where government and private industry have worked together to lay down these fiber optic lines, and the citizens are enjoying all the efficiencies provided by the fast data moving through these fiber optic networks. Businesses thrive, innovation grows, education improves, and economies prosper.

As the cable companies finally start building our infrastructure for fiber optic broadband across the country -- they should be treated as public utilities and be obligated to deliver the same access to the Internet to everyone, not just those people and those regions who can afford to pay more money to get it first.

There was once a time when running water, electricity, heat and indoor plumbing were considered luxuries. Now, they are considered bottom base necessities for any American, no matter how rich or poor you are. 

Good roads did not exist in many parts of the country until after World War II, and then, in the 1950s, Republican President Eisenhower understood that a decent interstate highway system was crucial for economy. Now anyone can drive across the country without having to pay a toll to be in the fast lane.

Now the Internet has become a basic necessity, like water, electricity, plumbing, and decent roads. For any person or any company to compete in this country, they must be using the Information Superhighway. Equal access to the flow of information should be the base starting point, just like with roads and electricity.  We should not have to pay a toll to get our information faster.

I am not saying it should be free. But as the system is built it should be made accessible to all, with close oversight of the pricing and product so that it can be affordable to all.

We also must allow local and state governments to use their tax revenues to team with companies to create this much needed new system on their own, independent of the cable companies. The cable companies should be working with governments to facilitate that construction, to help cities get what they need, to compete.

Yet the cable companies used their clout in Washington to create regulations so difficult to follow that it’s impossible for cities to create fiber optic systems of their own, like they do in the rest of the world. In 19 states the monopolies have made it impossible or illegal to compete with them.

Even worse, the cable companies have not kept pace with the demand. While they took in 1.4 trillion dollars in profit in the last five years, they have only used 15% of their profit  on researching, developing and building this crucial new system.

You must use your position as FCC chairman to not only regulate these companies, but to de-regulate these restrictions in place, and encourage these civic start-ups

When a mayor wants his or her city to have a fiber optic system, that mayor knows how much fast Internet can help that city. It can attract businesses. It’s a boom to universities and schools. And it creates money-saving environmentally friendly efficiencies. If you want to monitor water usage, traffic flow, road repair -- anything -- a faster Internet can make your city run better. 

A city is not livable unless it works with a well-run regional utility that delivers good clean water at a reasonable rate. The same argument should apply to decent Internet service, which is why mayors want it.

The EPA just instituted new regulations that will require states to work together to reduce our country’s carbon emissions by 40%. The states can do it however they wish, as long as it gets done. To do so, allowing cities and states to build competing efficient high-speed Internet system will help. 

Using the Internet, Los Angeles could then team up with Portland to trade carbon credits, and while also tracking emissions, monitoring and helping consumers tweak home energy usage, and creating a shift-time work force -- which gets carbon usage down through efficiency and innovation.

These are just a few benefits of what an open and accessible Internet can provide.

If it doesn’t happen, here are my fears, which I share with many Americans:

Fear 1 -- The Internet will become as bad as Cable:

My Internet will become like my cable. No choice, no service, hidden costs, high prices.

Fear 2 -- Comcast and Time Warner will Merge:

if allowed to merge, the resulting monolithic monopoly will control too much traffic and content. The cable box is destined to become the web browser/cable box. That is the merging of the TV and Computer that people have been predicting. But imagine one company controlling that box -- a company that controls the highway (fiber optic line) and what gets delivered on that highway (content). Once they control the road, they can control the speed of who is on that road, which means they control choice.

That’s because speed will determine content. If I need to watch or purchase something, the choice that is presented to me first and most often becomes the default choice for many.  The cable companies will control that choice. Pay them to be first, and you will become the default choice. If you don’t pay, you may have a great product or service, but you will be harder to download or just harder to find.

Netflix already knows this, which is why they’re paying through the nose to Comcast to maintain current Internet speeds. Not better -- just the same!

Fear 3 -- Education and Innovation and Efficiency will Suffer

There are children born every day who have amazing potential.  A child could be another Steven Hawking -- but he may be disabled, live in the ghetto, or in rural Oklahoma. He or she could attend Harvard or UC Berkeley on-line and change the world -- but the cable company has determined that getting fiber optics to him isn’t profitable enough yet, or the school he wishes to attend hasn’t paid the higher price for better Internet access. He will be left behind.

Fear 4 -- Health Care will Suffer.

There are sick people who want to find doctors, treatments, and medicines. They may want to hunt for a better deal on their insurance. Imagine being sick and watching your computer buffer your video endlessly as you wait for your information to appear, all because you can’t afford the faster service, or because Comcast hasn’t gotten around to your town yet. Why? Because there’s not enough paying customers there to make laying new cable that profitable. They’ll get to you, but they’re skipping your town this cycle.

Fear 5 -- Democracy will Suffer

There are activists who want to change the world, and citizens who want a better community.  There are workers who want to organize, women who want fair treatment.  and people who fear their constitutional rights will be taken away. Now imagine all these people, who want to work within the democratic system, being shut out of the process because they either: 1) don’t have the money to get on the information highway and they’re stuck on the DSL side road 2) they can pay to get on the highway, but another opinion has paid more gets to be in the fast lane of the highway and gets disseminated first -- or 3) worst of all, there’s no highway on-ramp in their neighborhood at all.

Fear 6 -- We will create a Two-Tiered System

People who have enough money, or who live in wealthy communities where the fiber optic system will be created first will benefit from the high speed data highway. Those who cannot afford it or who live outside of the big cities will not. The rich will become richer and the poor will continue to struggle.

Less than seventy years ago, there were many wealthy US cities that had clean water, electricity and good roads and highways -- and one state away there were towns that had none of it. That was a two-tiered system for the delivery of basic necessities.

We are in danger or creating the same scenario again, concerning data.

Fear 5 -- We will continue to lose our standing in the World.

Meanwhile, other countries are innovating, helping their citizens learn, get healthy, become more efficient, and more green, we will fall behind.  

Fear 6 -- Mr., Tom Wheeler and President Obama will sell us out

Mr. Wheeler, please do the right thing. You have us worried.

You tried to rewrite the FCC rules about the Internet twice and the court struck them down both times -- because the new rules are confusing. You can’t write rules that deregulate the industry to favor companies who want to corner the market, while also insuring that they will also somehow deliver true net neutrality. It doesn’t make sense, and the courts sent you back to write better rules that make sense.

You raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Obama campaign, and I fear that you are beholden to the cable companies because you took their money, and because you once worked for them. 

President Obama, as a candidate in 2007, you said that a fair and accessible Internet was crucial for a growing prosperous democracy. Since the last election you haven’t said much on this subject at all!  I’m afraid that during your golf games with the head of Comcast, you may have changed your mind.

Mr. Wheeler and Mr. President, you may honestly believe that these monopolies will operate with the best interest of the country, and they will be run the Internet like a Public Trust, with fair access for all. But I disagree.

Please keep our Internet neutral. That’s how it grew our economy in the 1990s and how it will work best far into the future.

Sincerely,

Donald Ian Bull

P.S. I compare the interstate highway system to the new fiber optic system we need. It is true our country does have toll roads. However, they are always local, built by states or counties working with private business. There are no tolls taken on interstate highways, and there shouldn’t be tolls for access to a faster Internet. If a city then wants to add an additional layer for public FTP sites or public wi-fi and charge a slight toll to recoup the investment, I see that as the equivalent of toll roads in New Jersey or Southern California, for instance. 

Readers,

Tailor your letter and send it to Mr. Tom Wheeler at: 

www.fcc.gov/comments

To send a comment to President Obama, you can start at:  

http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

If you want to know more about this important subject, you can: Watch John Oliver on HBO or on Youtube. 

http://www.upworthy.com/john-oliver-goes-off-on-an-epic-fact-checked-mic-dropping-rant-for-13-minutes-that-you-need-to-see

Read Susan Crawford, author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.

Check out these links:

http://www.wallstreetdaily.com/2014/06/04/comcast-netflix-speed-deal/

http://www.govtech.com/network/Telecom-Providers-Need-to-Embrace-the-Broadband-Evolution.html