Sand in the Vaseline

the_internet_simplified1This blog is on equal footing with the New York Times.

No, I am not having a Richard Sherman moment. I am simply stating a fact. A fact that should give all of us pause as we contemplate the marvels of technology

What I write on these pages is instantly available to billions of people, anyone connected to the world-wide web. By virtue of nothing more than my registered domain, my silly and perfunctory blog is just as accessible as any other online media source.

The internet, virtually free of government regulation (at least in the United States), is the great equalizer, and it has fundamentally shifted the way we live our lives. Today, we can do things that would have seemed impossible or the stuff of science fiction just 20 years ago.

Medical records can be transmitted at lightning speed, sometimes helping doctors save a life; you can now renew your driver’s license while wearing only boxer shorts at 3 a.m. from the comfort of your own home; 12-year-old boys no longer have to suffer the humiliation of sneaking a peek at a Playboy magazine perched on the top shelf at the local drug store. There are millions of funny cat videos to watch; and you can argue politics with absolute strangers (today they are called Facebook “friends” or “followers”) 24 hours a day.

I think we can all agree that the internet is pretty cool. Thank you, Al Gore!

I write this because of a recent court decision that is considered by some as a victory for free markets and by others as a threat to humanity.

The issue is known as “network neutrality,” a terrifying concept with a very appealing name. Thank you, public relations professionals! (You’re welcome)

Those who favor net neutrality say they want to “save the internet.” Those who oppose net neutrality say they want to “save the internet.”

Enter the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals, which sided with Verizon and other telecom giants over the schizophrenic rulemaking proposed by the FCC.

According to Reuters, the Court rejected federal rules that required Internet providers to treat all web traffic equally, a decision that could allow mobile carriers and other broadband providers to charge content providers for faster access to websites and services.

The Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet rules, also known as net neutrality, required Internet service providers to give consumers equal access to all lawful content without restrictions or tiered charges.

Which side of the net neutrality debate is right?

The sad fact is that both sides are a little bit right, and we can all agree that the internet should continue being cool and delivering porn or funny cat videos at blazing fast speeds, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not really the issue at hand. Let’s pause for a moment and watch a video:

Clash of the Titans

At the center of the net neutrality debate is a sad truth. This is not some humanistic battle on the wild frontier of technology. This is a race to the bank by two sets of very large corporations.

On one side, you have internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T. On the other side are huge internet users like Netflix, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and YouTube.

The late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was roundly chastised for describing the internet as a “series of tubes,” but he was not that far off the mark.

The bottom line? It costs money to make the internet work. It requires infrastructure that is in constant need of upgrades and repairs to meet the challenges of an exploding market and skyrocketing volume demands. The world has a big appetite for cat videos and pornography.

Netflix, Amazon and others want to use the internet just like you and me. Equal access for all, they scream.

But does that make sense? Net neutrality opponents argue that the internet is a public domain and should thus have equal access for all users. Let’s think about that.

AA001879Can we apply that logic to other public domains? How about the post office? Should it cost as much to mail a post card as it does an air conditioner? Is that discrimination?

Or how about the Turnpike, a quasi-public piece of infrastructure subsidized by tax dollars? Tractor trailer trucks have to pay a bigger toll than someone driving a Prius. And that is fair because the truck creates more wear and tear on the road.

Proponents of net neutrality say that consumers may have to pay more for faster services or special tiered packages. Oh my!

Their rallying cry, as demonstrated by a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Susan Crawford is that the internet could end up being like (gasp) pay TV.

I don’t know about Susan Crawford, but television when I was growing up sucked. We had three channels, and I was my father’s remote control. Television today is much better. I have a huge TV and about a zillion channels that all show the same seven movies over and over. I pay through the teeth for that kick-ass, high-definition, Dolby surround-sound, 60-inch, power sucking thing of beauty, and I can pause live television. Imagine telling that to someone watching Archie Bunker in 1972.

Net neutrality is a solution desperately in search of a problem. Your internet today is better than it was five years ago. I guarantee it will be even better five years from now, . . . unless, the “Save the Internet” crowd opts for a second bite at the apple.

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