Friday, February 27, 2015

What the FCC's ruling means to you


So for the past year the battle has raged between the proponents of a free and open Internet and corporate interest.

It seems everyone had an opinion from podcasters to John Oliver and most of them rose in opposition to the flimsy pleas of poverty from the likes of multibillion dollar corporations with names like Time Warner and Comcast.

To listen to the ISP's you'd think that Net Neutrality or at least Netflix would be the death of them.  "They use 30% of the bandwidth!"  and "Somebody's got to pay for this"  All the time failing to mention the thousands of miles of "Dark Fiber" sitting unused for decades.   

And what of the promises not kept?  When AT&T threatened to curtail its services if the FCC changed its rules, the company seems to have conveniently forgotten its own obligations.  Time and time again they promise 100% broadband coverage if only they were allowed to gobble up another competitor or get another tax break.  They rarely deliver.  When it comes to ISP's you need to have a conversion chart to figure out what they mean by 100%

But that's all in the past now and and Wednesday's FCC's ruling makes a free and open Internet all but guaranteed, right? 

After all, the FCC has changed its rules and barring a successful legal challenge (unlikely as the changes follow court recommendations from their last go-around) ISP's are now just like your local power or water company.

Maybe...

Of course there'll be the requisite court battles waged by the ISP's where every "I" will be checked for the appropriate dot and every "T" scrutinized for the correct cross.  But in the end, it will happen.

But to you and me, it really doesn't matter.

The argument has been all about Internet Fast lanes with current rules allowing the "theoretical" throttling of services who can't "pay to play."  Treating ISP's like any other public utility puts an end to such a prioritization of services.  

Of course there's merit in that but for the average consumer it's the argument of an idealist.  Yes corporate interests should always take a back seat but if you're really expecting more competition and lower prices for your Internet services I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.

Here's why...

ISP's are either regional monopolies or down-level customers of services from those monopolies.  That means no matter what, they still hold all the marbles ( or fibers ).  If Google comes to your town that's great but if AT&T, Verizon or Comcast have a lock on the right of way Google's out of luck.  

You need look no further than other regional utility providers currently under Title 2 for an example.   In many parts of the country your choice of a power company is dictated entirely by your geography.  Meaning the only competition consumers enjoy comes from a moving truck.  It also means that with little oversight, rates can be set on a whim.

It's true that there are no fast lanes in water and power utilities but there's also little to no competition.  Where you are dictates your service and your bill.

The same can now be said of ISP's with many areas only having one or two providers who more often than not have completely different offerings ultimately negating any equivalency.  Worse, due to the broken promises of coverage from companies like AT&T and Verizon, millions of customers are still lacking the barest minimum of broadband capability (now 25Mbps.)

So in the end, Netflix may come to you as quickly as Hulu but that's about the extent of the FCC's ruling.  You're still at the mercy of geography and you won't have much recourse when they jack up your Internet bill.

This was a ruling based largely on a "potential" injustice not a current one.

The FCC may have allowed us a moral victory but we have a lot further to go before consumers see any real benefit to their own bottom line.