It’s January 13th. The Supreme Court rules that the FCC cannot regulate wireless broadband services as common carriers. Why? Because back in 2002, FCC head Michael Powell reclassified broadbands as information services rather than telecommunication services. That Michael Powell is now a lobbyist for said broadband industry is both prologue and beside the point (though if you want to drop him a line, here’s how). The upshot is that ISP’s could now treat different websites with different services, charging both consumers to access better quality and providers of content to not be throttled. So what do you think happened?
That’s right. Verizon and Comcast began throttling websites, using
extortion legal tactics to get bribes market rates.
What’s interesting to me about this graph is that both companies saw this coming from a mile away. Look at the dip that happens before the ruling. While many other ISPs are getting better with their services, these two are getting worse. This was a planned event, aided by a decade-old ruling and an FCC that refused to budge on the issue until it was too late.
Why is this important? Well, for one thing, fewer than one in five Americans do not use the internet now, or 1 in 20 for teenaged users. While magazines are making a comeback and television has never been better, the latest generation in this country has essentially completed a paradigm shift in how they access information. And going via mobile is no way around this, either; most cell providers now cap or throttle information above a few gigabytes of usage per month. Tie this to the way that the average user communicates (more than a third of users in the U.S. now use their phone as their primary/exclusive means of internet usage) and you have a literal stranglehold on how he/she can read, listen, and speak.
If you’re an established ISP, the best part is that there’s no going back at this point. Just look at this infographic and tell me that people are going to suddenly shift gears and go back to shopping by catalogue. Do you think that young Americans, used to near-instantaneous access to information or chatting will go back to the days where they had to send steamy pictures via snail mail? Where people had to wait a whole day to learn about sports scores? Where Blockbuster was a megalith among the pantheon of Fortune 500 companies?
Okay, I’ll calm down with the hyperbole.
The rest of the world is getting faster and faster internet and we’re… well, not getting slower, but plateauing and paying more for the privilege. The US is getting an average of 8.6 mps, about 40% slower than the first-place provider, South Korea. This is a bit of an exaggeration, as well, as the former represents the average peak speeds while the latter actually represents standard usage. Time Warner, while certainly not the trailblazer in this kind of activity, certainly doesn’t care much about consumers’ preferences… and why should they? They have a virtual monopoly in certain markets, and are still having issues keeping costs under control.
The FCC is now promising action on this, and several representatives have gotten up in arms about it, too, but that may all be lip service. It’s up to the average consumer to contact Congress and get the gears cranking up to speed, but until there’s a reason to do so, people won’t act…
Noticed a dip in your service? Unable to switch accounts? Enjoy being able to access the internet without some faceless bureaucracy trying to squeeze every red cent out of your bank account? Then do something about it. Your reliance on the internet is only going to get more and more severe, I promise you. Except for some notable exceptions, computing and data are steadily moving away from offline or hard copies and onto server-based platforms. It means that at a certain point, you not only won’t be able to affect change, you won’t know how or why you should. And considering that accessing the cloud already has its own host of issues, that’s something that should scare us all into action.