Sometimes it takes a humorist to make us aware of something rather serious. Political comedian John Oliver has done much lately on that accord to put a great deal of media pressure on the Federal Communications Commission. On his brand new HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” he did a particularly long , or as he prefers to call it, “Preventing Cable Company Fuckery.” In this case, the “Fuckery” refers to recently proposed FCC legislation that would change the way that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable distribute Internet traffic. If ratified the legislation effectively allows ISPs to choose winners and losers of the data distribution game. Oliver likened this to an organized crime squeeze, stating that the new rules would establish “fast lanes and slow lanes” for Internet service. Big customers like Netflix would be required to pay a premium for the their data distribution, and as a result have to collect more from its customers.
In the broadcast Oliver hit on some key points surrounding the proposed changes, including America’s slow Internet service to cost ratio, and the fact that Washington is largely in the pockets of big ISPs. Oliver quotes the Center for Responsive Politics, which notes that Comcast has spent $18,810,000 on lobbying on Capitol Hill, second only to defense contractor Northrop Grumman. Most importantly Oliver colorfully illustrates that companies like TWC and Comcast are true monopolies.
So the question remains: how do we stop “Cable Company Fuckery,” and ensure our access to Internet remains affordable and functional? Oliver’s solution was a call to action asking Internet commenters to submit their comments to the FCC ruling’s public comment section . The turn out ended up being so numerous (45,000 comments and hundreds of thousands of independent emails) that the Internet traffic crashed the FCC’s servers. While a great start, a mob with lit torches at the gates of the FCC probably isn’t a long-term solution. More importantly the monopoly of ISP needs to be confronted with real competition.
Enter Google fiber…
The hope is that Google Fiber will provide that competition, and not without reason. While boasting both faster Internet speeds and lower prices than other ISPs, Google Fiber brings something else to the table—a community approach to the Internet. Traditionally obtaining Internet service has been a transaction that individual consumers take on alone. Google may be changing that model by requiring councils representing neighborhoods or communities to establish demand for the product before the cables are laid.
Although working with your neighborhood or community to bid for Google Fiber installation means that the service will not be immediately available, this method does give the consumer more bargaining power. Under the new model consumers will be able approach their ISP as a group of customers rather than as an individual. This model could potentially prevent problems with throttling, poor service and changing contract prices.
If you still don’t trust the private sector to deliver reliable, affordable Internet, maybe it’s time to make the Internet a public utility such as electricity or water. This has happened before in Chattanooga, Tenn. where the municipal utility company became a localized ISP when they installed an updated smart grid.
By pairing energy meters and distribution centers with an Internet connection, a Smart Grid provides real time feedback on energy use, peak load and consumption habits. Chattanooga took the model one step further and turned their local energy company into a city-run ISP that both metered energy use and provided residents of the city with Internet speeds of up to 1gb/s at no additional cost.
There is no doubt that without access to the Internet, modern life as we know it would not be possible. We use it for seemingly everything in our daily lives: paying bills, communicating with friends, shopping and in some cases even organizing revolution. So when massive Internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable suggest “changing net neutrality laws,” they not only threaten our access to Internet but also the very fundamentals of the modern human experience. Perhaps the entry of Google Fiber and municipal ISPs into the game indicates the entry of some real competition…and not just more Fuckery.