Our opinion: Destroying the spirit of the Internet


"The Internet, in its current form, is not broken. And the FCC is currently taking steps to fix it."

That's how John Oliver, host of HBO's spoof news program "Last Week Tonight," sums up the recent furor surrounding Net Neutrality.

"Net Neutrality is actually hugely important," Oliver said during last Sunday's episode. "Essentially it means that all data has to be treated equally, no matter who creates it. It's why the Internet is a weirdly level playing field, and start-ups can supplant established brands."

The Federal Communications Commission has a proven track record of failure when it comes to protecting the public's interests and strengthening our country's broadband infrastructure.

Recent efforts from Internet providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, are asking the FCC to end the current version of Net Neutrality. As a recent CBS This Morning report points out, these new rules "would open the door, for the first time, for Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon to charge tech companies to send content to consumers more quickly. (Streaming movie provider) Netflix, for example, might pay a premium to ensure that its customers can stream movies more reliably, at a cost a start-up competitor might not be able to afford."

Or, as Oliver succinctly puts it: "Ending net neutrality would allow big companies to buy their way into the fast-lane leaving everyone else in the slow lane."

Well, we all know how that would turn out.

These new Net Neutrality rules, combined with recent proposed megadeal mergers (AT&T's proposal to take over DirecTV; along with Comcast's $45 billion bid to merge with Time Warner Cable) will take away American's freedom of choice when it comes to choosing an Internet provider.

We echo the sentiment of a recent Contra Costa Times editorial: "Eliminating net neutrality or allowing further consolidation of the communications industry are not in consumers' interests. Consumer dissatisfaction even now is rampant."

What's more troubling, is that the FCC is closer than ever to allowing this monopoly on Internet service to pass. Some sobering facts to consider:

-- A recent federal study published by Broadband.gov found that 96 percent had access to two or fewer cable broadband providers.

-- Consumers' average bills for pay TV had outpaced the 1.6 percent rise of inflation in 2012, according to a recent FCC report. The jump in basic cable was 6.5 percent to $22.63 a month; the increase in expanded basic was 5.1 percent to $64.41.

"We pay more for our Internet service than almost anybody else on Earth," Oliver said, highlighting the United States' 31st place ranking (out of 192) from a May 2014 Ookla Speedtest, lagging behind countries like the Czech Republic, Israel and Estonia. (For what it's worth, Hong Kong was ranked at the top of the list, followed by Singpore, Romania, South Korea and Switzerland.)

-- According to a recent report from Bloomberg, Comcast spent $18.8M in lobbying last year, more than any other company except for defense contractor Northrop Grumman.

-- And perhaps most troubling, President Barack Obama recently picked Tom Wheeler, a former top lobbyist for cable and wireless companies, to be the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission.

So, why should you care?

Look no further than A Guide to the Open Internet (found online at http://www.theopeninter.net/). Among the many accolades of a free and open Internet: preventing unfair pricing practices; promoting innovation; driving entrepreneurship; stimulating competition; and (most importantly, we believe) protecting freedom of speech.

And while these megacompanies may preach fairness in the marketplace, one need look no further than Comcast's recent negotiations with Netflix. As the talks continued last fall, download speeds provided by Comcast to Netflix customers mysteriously decreased at a drastic rate until a compromise was reached this past February.

The spirit of the Internet only exists if all content is provided to users equally, and those users have the ability to pick and choose a carrier that best suits their needs.

These proposed mergers do little to foster that spirit; the FCC's new ideas on Net Neutrality all but kill it.

The Reformer editorial board is scared of these changes, and you should be too.

[The FCC is currently taking public comments on Net Neutrality. Visit FCC.gov/comments (where more than 45,000 comments have already been logged on this issue in the past 30 days).]


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