You might not be aware of this, but you’re reading this article on the internet. Okay, you probably knew that; what you didn’t know is that the very nature of the internet is under attack. The reason you can load my webpage as fast as you can load Amazon or Google is because of a legal and regulatory concept called “Net Neutrality.” The idea is that the Federal Communications Commission, which governs telecommunications devices such as radio, TV broadcasts, and phone networks, required all internet service providers to treat data flowing through their cables equally, regardless of the source. Verizon, among other companies (especially Comcast), has led the charge on eliminating this rule; Comcast and Verizon have already used shady pretexts of “peering” to coerce Netflix into paying them what amounts to a tithe so that their data can reach consumers at reasonable speeds.
Now, creative and digital types have talked about this for a while, but the truth is that there’s a lot of abstract terminology and regulation involved. The media has generally failed to get a hold on it until, well, until now: John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight (and one of the best-ever The Daily Show correspondents and substitute-hosts, never forget), did an amazing job describing this issue. It’s thirteen minutes long, but Oliver is a hilarious gentleman who will make it both educational and fun! And, no, I’m not lying to trick you into watching.
I did exactly as Mr. Oliver asked. Well, first I went to the FCC’s website, got the phone number for their boss, and called them! Then, I visited the FCC’s commentary system, which by the way is archaic (ancient (really fucking outdated)) and posted a comment. This could easily qualify as a topic for a Dystopian Review video, which I might give a shot at making. I dunno. However, if that doesn’t get done, since my comment is already in the public domain, well, here it is! Feel free to basically cut/and/paste it when you comment, though I’d like to be credited if you do so. Just cuz it’s a just cause!
My Open Letter To The FCC
To: Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC; the larger body of FCC employees; the rest of the country and the rest of the world!
I know you’re overwhelmed, so I’ll make this very simple, ladies and gentlemen. I’m a 29 year old writer from Long Island, in New York. I’m an independent author. Most of my sales come from electronic books distributed via Kindle. I am, with some caveats, the definition of a “start-up” enterprise. What I do would not be possible without an open internet; Amazon’s rise would not have been possible without an open internet; our whole modern economy would not be possible without, well, you get the idea – an open internet!
There’s more: The government, which is by/of/for the people, paid for the research that ultimately led to such services as ARPANET. In one ethical viewpoint, the internet is already ours – we paid for it! But, that’s unrealistic, so let’s instead turn to the inscrutable source which is Wikipedia: It claims that in 1993, the internet carried 1% of all telecommunicated information. In 2000, it carried 51%, and by 2007 it carried 97% of all telecommunicated information. Since that wikipedia article cites a study by Martin Hilbert and Priscilla Lopez, “The world’s technological capability to store, communicate, and compute information,” published in Science Magazine in April of 2011, I’d wager it’s a legitimate argument.
Therefore, it’s safe to conclude: At least 90% of all that telecommunications companies do is part of the internet. It follows that, for lack of a better term, the internet is telecommunications. Guess what? That makes administering it your job. Perhaps “Commissioning” is a better word? I’ll leave to the side the numerous studies showing that, under your stewardship, our quality-of-internet has plummeted, and that most of our telecommunications companies have carved out little fiefdoms which clearly violate whatever anti-trust statues are on the books. I’m sure you’ve been linked to enough clips of John Oliver citing them to get the point.
But, here’s mine: We paid for it, we paid for it again when we bought a subscription to our cable company, and we pay you to keep it working in a fair manner. The concepts of “net neutrality” and “open internet” are vague and easy for people, even myself, to not quite “get.” However, since you’re the experts here, you know what your job is: Get it right. That’s all the majority of us ask: Get it right.
Regulate telecommunication companies like you would regulate any other public utility, because I can guarantee you that it is easier to disconnect from your local water utility by setting up rain collection buckets than it is to disconnect from your local internet service provider and get any kind of service. I mean, that’s the whole point of utility regulation, right? People need things like electricity, water, and telephones (which are telecommunication devices, themselves).
Regulate them the right way because it’s the right thing to do.
My warmest regards,