Do all Americans have the right to access high speed internet at a reasonable cost? Most of us would say “yes”. The internet has become one of those public utilities, like water, sewer lines, power and telephone service, that are indispensable in the modern world. Of course, it wasn’t always like that….if you are a little older like me, you remember when there was no internet.
But now, our personal lives are interwoven with the online world in such a way that to deny people access to high speed internet would seem highly unfair, if not criminal.
Over a year ago I cut the cord and got rid of cable. I wrote about that here. What’s funny is that I remember when cable TV first came in and what a big deal it was….and now, here I am evolving beyond it. Yet as my article pointed out, even getting rid of cable to move to the world of streaming much of my entertainment, I needed to ensure that I had an adequate speed for my internet service…..and in my neighborhood, there was only one company that offered that — Comcast Infinity. Although I was able to drop cable and save money, I was at the mercy of Comcast and their high prices for high speed internet. I look around the world and see that other countries get faster internet cheaper. Why can’t we?
So as much as I wanted to price check among internet providers and pick the one with the best service and price…..I was stuck in what was essentially a monopoly of only one provider. Some of you may have more than one internet provider….good for you….much of our country does not. Yes, there are other internet companies in my area but they don’t offer the speed that I need. Essentially we are all living in a system of internet oligopoly (a state of limited competition, in which a market is shared by a small number of producers or sellers.) Why are we not complaining about this?
Which brings us to “net neutrality”. This is defined as “the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.” Sounds reasonable. In fact, I am for net neutrality. I don’t think our providers who are already limited in number, should be able to favor or block certain websites. Yet, it’s already quietly happening.
This week, AT&T rolled out there new “over the top” TV streaming service “DirecTV Now”. This internet based service offers packages of cable TV channels that you can stream. I currently subscribe to a similar service, Sling TV, so I support competition in the area. Yet, even with this “good news”, this astute reader realized that one of the benefits that AT&T described of their new service was actually a quiet movement away from net neutrality. Using their service won’t count against “data caps” (A bandwidth cap, also known as a band cap or a data cap, limits the transfer of a specified amount of data over a period of time) so long as you get your internet from them too. Means you got data caps though if you are with AT&T. Already a month or so ago, Comcast started quietly changing their plans to have data caps.
On the surface, data caps sound reasonable. Those who use the most data should pay the most, right? But why? Data transfer is not like water usage or power usage. There is no real need for data caps on internet service. You should be attached to the net at a certain speed or not. You pay to be on the highway at the speed you want.
But, you say, can’t we simply change to another company if Comcast or AT&T or others want to charge us more? Not while we live with an oligopoly in our internet providers. In essence, they are our limited band of access points or “gatekeepers” to this much needed public utility. That’s the point of this recommended article.
The best case scenario is that we have free competition among a number of internet providers….a true open capitalistic marketplace. Now we have an oligopoly. Given that, we must place limits on what these few providers can do. We must maintain net neutrality. Unfortunately, Donald Trump and his candidate to lead the FCC does not believe in net neutrality. The highly potential result is an oligopoly of no choice with providers charging what they want and doing what they want.
If we are not careful, we will lose our freedom to access a high speed internet at a reasonable cost. I highly urge you to follow and pay attention to this issue and speak up on it. this is too important for you to be “too busy” to pay attention to.
Here are sources that you can consider supporting. There are others.