I finally got around to scanning through this month’s Learning & Leading with Technology, and was instantly captivated, infuriated, depressed, and provoked by Anita McAnear’s Issue Oriented piece, The Net at Risk. McAnear overviews some of the high points of a recent Bill Moyer’s program, The Net at Risk, which you can view on the web. I was moved to watch about half of the piece yesterday afternoon, and knowing that I will not have another chance before Monday, I wanted to go ahead and share some of my notes. But for a better thought out and crafted overview, check out your December/January issue of Learning & Leading, or click to a PDF of McAnear’s article at the ISTE web site.
The program is essentially about the telecoms’ interest in and lobbying for control of the Internet, and their apparent lack of interest in actually improving the Internet, to keep us in line with the service and cost enjoyed by many other industrial countries around the world. For instance, we, in the U.S. pay about $40 a month for 1 Megabit of service. I’m afraid that I am not sure exactly what a megabit means, but, according to the program, Japan and South Korea enjoy one hundred times that speed for the same price.
At the heart of it is the claim that the Telecoms promised, in the early 1990s, that with rate hikes and $25 billion in tax right-offs, that they would provide information superhighway service. For instance, 5,000,000 households in New Jersey would have 40 megabit service by 2006. Today, no household enjoys service near that fast.
The program blames federal and state telecommunications commissions for not holding the telecoms to their promise. They’ve (telecoms) walked away with 128% increase in their revenues, and they have not reinvested it back into the networks, as we continue to use, what the program refers to as 19th century technology — copper.
The program also told the story of Lafayette, Louisiana, who, in an effort to attract business and to keep their creative children at home, decided that they did not want to wait for the Telecoms. Electricity passed them by in 1896, and the city formed the Lafayette Utility system (LUS). A coalition of democrats, republicans, conservatives, and liberals, got together and called for a municipal bond that would allow the city to borrow $125 million to have LUS run fiber to every home.
They knew that they would not be able to compete with the ad dollars that would be applied by Bell South and Cox, so they formed the Fiber Film Festival, inviting citizens to create and submit their own ads urging passage of the bond. They won. Yet Bell South and Cox, ground the move to a haul with litigation, delaying the installation by a year at a cost of $125,000.
As a result of telecom lobbying ($40,000,000), 14 states have passed laws making it difficult to impossible for U.S. municipalities to do what Lafayette is doing.
Another issue, which I did not get to watch all of, was Net Neutrality. I must confess that this one has confused me. The Telecoms arguments are logical. Yet, when someone in the program mentioned that Google and YouTube would likely not happen on a network where you have to pay more for the speeds required by these services, it all started clicking. Citation Machine would be impossible. Receiving, at present, over 800,000 page views a day, I would not be able to afford the extra bandwidth that this service requires. Charging two rates for Internet service would serve to hold a status quo, crippling innovation.
Timothy Woo, a technology law professor at Columbia University, calls it extortion, charging higher rates for certain services — because they can. It gives them control, because they can. It happened in the 19th century, when Western Union charged substantially less for service to Associated Press, than other news services. The Government came in and called the wires, Common Carriage, and held that the fee should be consistent for service through the wires, through the canals, through the see ports, etc.
Well, that’s as far as I got, and now it’s time to go walk the dog. I will definitely watch the rest of this program when I get back to my office on Monday.