The decision from the Federal Appeals Court continues to reverberate within the news cycle, as debate continues about the viability (or mythology) of neutrality in the marketplace and how sternly the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should oversee the industry. For those of you wanting to hear a lively discussion of the issue, a bit of its history, and proponents from both sides of the decision, may we recommend today’s one-hour discussion on The Diane Rhem Show?
As a couple of the discussants point out, we are all comfortable with the notion that we pay more when we use more electricity or gasoline, so why not the same for the internet (infrastructure and bandwidth)? And as at least one advocate for neutrality admits, we are simply used to the fact that a flat rate covers all users and all speeds when we pay our bill each month.
But whither the private political actor or entrepreneur or artist (or any combination thereof)? They do not use the internet to turn profit, so they might not pay as much for usage. Ah, but what if said artist/actor/entrepreneur wants to move large files even to a small constituency? Pay more or get slowed to the back of the queue? Would it them be too extreme to wonder if that person’s ISP might also slow down the connection if she/he is agitating against – oh, I don’t know – picketing the unfair business practices of said ISP? The Googles and Viacoms and Ikeas can afford to pass on costs to many customers, the artist likely can not. And the argument about ‘economies of scale‘ is surely flawed by the fact that the ISP establishes the scale first, then expects the customer to pay up or move on (possible only in larger urban centers thus far). Remember: the court case originated because the FCC found evidence in 2008 that was throttling down speeds without justification or prior notification – surely the bare minimum we should demand from any service provider.
The opinion page of the New York Times weighed in with the point that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) already cannily use such claims as “speeds up to…” or “price packages beginning at…” to entice customers, who then feel they must pay more to get even descent service. The Times argued that the FCC must come up with standards of measurement as we see, for example, with fuel efficiency in cars. As the MKCREATIVE team have pointed out in previous blogs (including yesterday’s), what we consider good speeds pale in comparison to many of our overseas/north-of-the-border peers.
As we relayed yesterday, the Obama Administration is not likely to spend much political capital giving more muscle to the FCC. But state and local governments might, as California did a few years ago when the state’s citizens demanded higher fuel efficiency standards (and clearer explanations of those standards) than the EPA’s standards. We will discuss state consumer protections in an upcoming blog. For now, enjoy the rest of your Thursday.