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Don't Break the Net is Astrotuf

by johnk Saturday, Sep. 06, 2014 at 11:11 AM

Comment about this new group advertising on Facebook

There's an ad on FB by "Don't Break the Net" with the "doge meme". It's an astroturf group, a fake grassroots group. Right in the middle, they trot out NAACP and CWA... so it's probably backed by AT&T. CWA often supports some of what AT&T does. NAACP probably gets money from them. They also bag on Time Warner Cable... so who could that be? The group running it, "Tech Freedom", puts up a lot of "libertarian" propaganda to attract people who are immune to observing reality. (The DBtN website, itself, boldly decontextualizes a lot of quotes by groups and individuals that probably wouldn't support them.)

The issue is recategorization of internet service as a "utility" similar to water and power. Presently, internet service is classified as an "information service". These categories were set in the 1980s when internet service was provided over telephone lines. In fact, it was before the "internet" as we know it today - services like AOL, Compuserve, GEnie, Delphi, and Prodgy were information providers, and only some had internet services.

So the online information services model carried over to the internet, which was different, but both ran over phone lines -- phone lines were regulated as a utility. The "utility" aspect of phone service required that the phone companies give equal access to all the companies selling internet service. Because of this "level playing field" regulation, there were dozens of internet service providers selling retail internet to households.

Over time, internet service providers consolidated, and we're now in a situation where there are very few providers selling internet to households, typically, there are only two in an area: a cable tv company, and the phone company (AT&T or Verizon). There are multiple companies that sell DSL or fiber - but they are reselling AT&T or Verizon, and it's the phone company techs that come over to pull in the cables.

(Rural areas have dialup and a wireless ISP. I don't think wireless ISPs like hughesnet can be considered comparable because they're "laggy" and not competitive.)

The existing companies don't want recategorization because a vertically integrated service that includes everything from the wiring to controlling the programming is hugely profitable. Ultimately, they want to turn the internet into something resembling cell phone service or cable tv service, where specific programming and services are priced differently, to maximize profits, and to control the entire vertical stack.

It's already going into this direction, with bundling of TV and phone and internet. All those services, priced differently, are run over internet technologies. They call it "phone" but it's really over the internet (it's VOIP). They call Uverse "TV" but it's really over the internet (it's IP TV). The same goes for phone and TV over the cable providers.

Opening the discussion of recategorizing internet is a threat to this duopoly/cartel. If internet were turned into a utility, these internet companies could not provide all those services. Other companies would bundle services and know they could get equal access to the underlying internet service. The specifics of recategorization are unknown - and anyone who says it should be regulated like the phone system needs to think through things a little harder, because the internet is not like the phone system at all. Still, despite the challenges, it's something that needs to be considered because the existing system is a monopoly or duopoly for most households and small businesses.

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