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Ear to the Ground

‘The Internet Is Fucked’

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Posted on Feb 25, 2014

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Even if someone printed this out and mailed it to you, you get your information from the Internet, a magical place that is increasingly controlled and manipulated by greedy, lazy corporations. Free speech, as we know it, is gone.

The Federal Communications Commission has refused to classify the dumb pipes that bring the Internet to your front door as dumb pipes, what’s known as “common carrier.” Instead, the regulator treats broadband Internet providers as information services, like AOL or MSNBC.com, because they give you email and ugly home pages to look at. But really because powerful, anti-competitive companies like Comcast have spent tremendous amounts of money to keep it that way. A judge said the FCC can’t impose net neutrality rules on broadband until it correctly identifies ISPs as common carriers, and so right now it’s absolute mayhem.

Nilay Patel of The Verge is a lawyer and tech writer who has written a must-read document for anyone who cares about free speech on the Internet.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the meantime, the companies that control the internet have continued down a dark path, free of any oversight or meaningful competition to check their behavior. In January, AT&T announced a new “sponsored data” plan that would dramatically alter the fierce one-click-away competition that’s thus far characterized the internet. Earlier this month, Comcast announced plans to merge with Time Warner Cable, creating an internet service behemoth that will serve 40 percent of Americans in 19 of the 20 biggest markets with virtually no rivals.

And after months of declining Netflix performance on Comcast’s network, the two companies announced a new “paid peering” arrangement on Sunday, which will see Netflix pay Comcast for better access to its customers, a capitulation Netflix has been trying to avoid for years. Paid peering arrangements are common among the network companies that connect the backbones of the internet, but consumer companies like Netflix have traditionally remained out of the fray — and since there’s no oversight or transparency into the terms of the deal, it’s impossible to know what kind of precedent it sets. Broadband industry insiders insist loudly that the deal is just business as usual, while outside observers are full of concerns about the loss of competition and the increasing power of consolidated network companies. Either way, it’s clear that Netflix has decided to take matters — and costs — into its own hands, instead of relying on rational policy to create an effective and fair marketplace.

In a perfect storm of corporate greed and broken government, the internet has gone from vibrant center of the new economy to burgeoning tool of economic control. Where America once had Rockefeller and Carnegie, it now has Comcast’s Brian Roberts, AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, and Verizon’s Lowell McAdam, robber barons for a new age of infrastructure monopoly built on fiber optics and kitty GIFs.

There is so much more, and even some hope, but you’ll have to go to The Verge to read the whole story.

One point worth underlining: As Todd O’Boyle of Common Cause recently told us on Truthdig Radio, this is fundamentally a free speech issue. A handful of companies with nothing but dollar signs in their eyes have unprecedented control over all American communication. Think about these questions: Where do you get your news? Does that site pay to gain access to you? Comcast owns NBC and NBC News and it’s trying to buy Time Warner so it can be the only truly broadband Internet provider in 19 of the 20 biggest metro areas. In the absence of any regulation, does Comcast have any incentive to let you visit CBS News? Or Truthdig?

Facebook just spent $19 billion on a private text messaging service, because owning communication is incredibly valuable.

The United States is entering a strange new world, where Comcast is our politburo and Verizon is big brother. And the NSA? Well that’s a whole other horrifying blog post. You may have to read about it through the postal service, because the Internet is fucked.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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