after being taken behind the woodshed during last month's epic Congressional losses, lame ducks Democrats finally decided to act like Democrats. Sorta. They celebrated the holiday season by once again capitulating to Republicans and extending the Bush Tax Cuts for another two years. Then again, capitulation has been the Dem's M.O. for decades. Giving new life to the monster which destroyed this country's biggest surplus ever and, in less than a decade, replaced it with its biggest deficit ever, was no surprise. But aside from that one final moment of embarrassment, they've actually been working to act more like the party of FDR and JFK. Since their last major "game changing" legislation, LBJ's Great Society, the problem with Democrats has always been in seeking compromise first and then settling for whatever they can get afterwards. Unfortunately, Democrats felt compelled to go along with further tax cuts for the richest 1%, but in return they did some good for the other 99%.
From reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, to finally fixing the Don't Ask/Don't Tell mistake, to the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (an act named for NYPD hero, James Zadroga, who died in January 2006 after a long and sadly painful struggle with respiratory diseases acquired as a direct result of being a 9/11 first responder) the Democrats finally used their Congressional majority to push through issues backed by the majority. This while the President took a final advantage of his lame duck friends in Congress to pass the START Treaty with Russia and get fewer nukes pointed at both superpowers.
While that Nancy Pelosi led majority comes to an end next week, Barack Obama will continue to enjoy one within the five seats which form the FCC.
Like Congress, the FCC waited until year's end before making their biggest news. They did so by setting new government standards for Net Neutrality. Well, that's the take of the FCC's ruling if you're a big business advocate. If not, then all the FCC did is sell the internet out to corporations. Neither side is happy except for the three Democrats on the FCC who again got the chance for yet another compromise. But what does this compromise mean? Oh yeah, and what the hell is this Net Neutrality stuff anyway? A Wikipedia page explains it all clearly, but only if you're a law student or tech nerd.
For the rest of us, ehhh, not so much. We'll try to cut through the mumbo-jumbo and explain the Net Neutrality battle as well as its importance. Not that the photo on the right isn't reason enough to support a neutral net!
What the bulk of it seems to boil down to is, bandwidth. According to a simpler Wiki explantation, bandwidth is a measure of consumed data communication resources expressed in bits per seconds, or in more in depth studies, multiples of the bits per second formula.
It's what we pay Internet Service Providers for. As more and more data is being consumed by the general public, from home and work computers, to laptops, to cellphones and now tablet computers like the, iPad, ISP profits have soared even during a struggling economy. More customers means more money for the ISP's even if this second web explosion has equated to capacity problems as well as more work for them in keeping their millions upon millions of tech-addicted customers happy.
Now, however, Internet Service Providers like, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and TimeWarner, look to lighten their loads while also creating new pools of profits. Instead of making their respective customers happy by providing all of the internet to all of their customers, they would prefer a more business friendly model. During the summer they even proposed a tier system which would help with the finite resources of bandwidth while also creating more profits. The tier would create one highspeed internet for high profile websites and website applications put forth by the big businesses that act with the service providers, and a slower collection of internet sites for everyone else.
If successful this would turn the internet into the type of tier system we have in place with regard to cable TV. Basic cable provides the local stations, those affiliated or not affiliated with the networks, as well as a few bonus stations, while added premium packages can offer access to everything else. It's like getting NBC (who is currently in the process of being bought out by Comcast) for cheap but having to pay extra for the Tennis Channel, even if you still lust over Anna Kournikova, hate Jay Leno and find Brian Williams to be a pretentious asshole.
Actually, this would be worse than the cable set up as unlike television, the internet was designed to be an information superhighway. Allowing big businesses to get their sites and apps out on the cheap while hampering smaller sites to a different tier censors the amount of collectable information. A full block on certain sites puts an even greater amount of censorship in the hands of the ISP's and whatever conglomerates they might be in business with. And it's not just the small sites but also, other billion dollar businesses who can fall victim to a lack of net neutrality. If, for instance, Comcast is successful in buying out NBC, they can charge extra for bandwidth to competitors like Fox. Thus making, for instance, any websites and apps tied to Fox News a type of premium station while keeping MSNBC sites and apps available to their customers for the same basic service price.
Unfortunately, as is always the case, Fox has not seen the big picture while screaming against any government intervention. Big business advocates like Fox can argue that the people should simply let the market decide while gutting the government regulations that a true Net Neutrality would bring. If however Comcast is your only available Internet Service Provider, the market can't decide, only Comcast can. So the fight isn't really big businesses vs. the masses. Instead, it's big businesses vs. their equally as rich competitors, as well as the masses.
As for, Obama, he campaigned in 2007 and 2008 by saying things like: "I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to Network Neutrality." Often he'd add comments like: "Once providers start to privalege some applications and website over others, then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose."
Later, as President Obama stated: "I'm a big believer of Net Neutrality. I campaigned on this, I continue to be a strong supporter of it. We've got to keep the internet open, we're getting push-back obviously from some of the bigger carriers who would like to be able to charge more fees and extract more money from wealthier customers. But we think that runs counter to the whole spirit of openness that has made the internet such a powerful engine for not only economic growth but also for the generation of ideas and creativity."
Often he used YouTube and especially Google (originally a strong Net Neutrality advocate) as companies which grew thanks to a level internet playing field. Google realized that their many services, including Google Maps, for instance, could be phased out of the market by an inferior Yahoo! map service put forth in conjunction with AT&T. Not wanting to deal with government regulations however, and having become a billion dollar industry in their own right, Google gave up the fight in favor of deal making with other industry giants like, Verizon. In August, the politically liberal search engine and the politically conservative Internet Service Provider (previously the two were polar opposites on the Net Neutrality front) proposed a pact. It was the Google/Verizon pact which created the idea of a tier system. Together the two also hoped to take broad regulations out of the FCC's hands. In its place, the FCC would be allowed to study tilted playing fields on a case-to-case basis but even those stop-gaps would be powerless to deal against wireless devices. Instead of fighting the private sector's pact, Obama's FCC Chair, Julius Genachowski, like many other Obama pals, decided to go along. In the process they've allowed for zero protection to wireless customers, many of whom, not so coincidentally, use Verizon.
On December 21st, Genachowski came up with a Net Neutrality stand almost as toothless as the one suggested by industry giants Google and Verizon. They added a provision to keep ISP's from blocking legal sites but even there were not specific as to what "legal" meant. Still the Democrats voted for it and the Republicans voted against, leading to 3-2 passage.
Although hailed by President Obama as "an important component of our overall strategy to advance American innovation" some instead remember the stand taken by candidate Obama. One of those were Senator, Al Franken, who's (post-FCC ruling) statement was not as cheery:
The FCC’s action today is simply inadequate to protect consumers or preserve the free and open internet. I am particularly disappointed to learn that the order will not specifically ban paid prioritization, allowing big companies to pay for a fast lane on the internet and abandoning the foundation of net neutrality. The rule also contains almost no protections for mobile broadband service, remaining silent on the blocking of content, applications, and devices. Wireless technology is the future of the internet, and for many rural Minnesotans, it’s often the only choice for broadband.
Franken, not known for compromises, had earlier said that the FCC plan would "do more harm than doing nothing at all" while according to MSNBC, a Republican FCC commissioner called the vote "jaw-dropping interventionist chutzpah." With the threats of overruling the FCC decision by incoming Republican legislatures and the threats of law suits by ISP's who want even more than a tier system, Franken wants Net Neutrality to fight from a position of strength. Not as the weak, pseudo neutral guidelines put together by Genachowski. Unfortunately, this is what we're stuck with for at least the next two years, the earliest date for another Democratic majority to the House of Representatives. As the days of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" end, the era of "Fake Net Neutrality" begins. We can only hope that it takes less than 17 years to fix yet another mistake of Democratic compromises.
For more on how the Democrats stole compromise from the jaws of victory, please click on this Craig Aaron piece. For more on the entire struggle for neutrality, please check out SaveTheInternet.com, a site which according to internet law expert, Marvin Ammori, might be blocked from wireless subscribers in the future.*