Well, internet is pretty much fucked. The FCC is adopting new rules that will allow for “high speed lanes” for those willing to pay.
Whatever services you have right now? That’s pretty much all we are going to have. You can argue whether the likes of Facebook, Netflix, Amazon streaming, and others are “good” or “a waste of time”, but the simple fact is they can only exist because of how cheap and easy it was for a company to get on the internet. Without the open internet, those services most likely never would have happened, and we’d still be watching pixelated 320×240 video clips with mono sound.
Any new company that even comes close to doing something interesting that might require bandwidth will now be squashed – the ISP that feels threatened will jack up fees for the service that wants to use any additional bandwidth, which will suffocate it in its crib.
Lest you think I’m being hyperbolic, keep this in mind. The US (FCC) already decided once, in 2002, against treating the internet as an open utility. The thought was that doing so would “regulate the internet”, and thus “stifle innovation”. The thought was that by not regulating how data was brought into your home, the world would open up to all kinds of crazy new ways to get data in. Cable! (Your cable company could provide you the internet). Phone! (Your phone company could) Fiber! Satellite! Wireless! It was going to be a bonanza because the competition would drive speeds up, and drive costs down.
Well, it didn’t work out that way. You pretty much can only get the internet in one or maybe two ways, and you are locked in to that one service. Great Britain, amongst others, went the other way, regulating the pipe, and saying the pipe had to be open for anybody to use. You would get your pipe from, say, the phone company, but you would buy your actual service from any ISP that wanted to provide it. This was more like the high speed version of the old dial-up days of ISPs – you used your phone to connect to AOL, or a local ISP, or another ISP, etc.
The result? Well, there was a really good explanation of it on NPR’s Planet Money podcast “The Last Mile“. (click here for a transcript). Did you look closely at the transcript? Look who was the FCC chairman in 2002 – Michael Powell. Guess where he works now – as a lobbyist for the cable industry, which hey, wouldn’t you know, happens to be “winning” the race to bring internet into your house. Does your head hurt yet?
In most places in the world, you get several choices of providers, at various prices that are lower than in the US, and the speeds are higher. Here is a handy little chart showing what, on average, people in various countries pay for internet, vs. the speeds they get.
Look at that. The US gets crappy, slow internet, and we pay through the nose for it. And no, this is not because we are a “large” country or we are “spread out”. A country like Korea is densely populated, but countries like the UK are much more spread out, yet they also get incredible speeds at ridiculously low prices.
And now, its about to get even worse now. Your bill is high, and your speed sucks. Netflix has to pay cable companies in what has been billed a “peering arrangement” to get decent access. Now they can have a formal method of payment thanks to the FCC, in these new “fast lanes”. When Netflix pays, what do you think will happen? The bill will be passed onto you as a Netflix user. So, not only will you have a ridiculously high internet bill compared to the rest of the world, you will have to pay just to be able to use the coolest services on it.
Oh, and Netflix won’t have to worry too much about any new players coming along, so their service doesn’t have to keep improving. Well… actually, maybe it will. Because Comcast is also a content provider, and can also start its own streaming service like Netflix (they have one now, it’s just not very good). If they aren’t getting the kind of buy-in for their Netflix-like service from consumers? Well, they can just charge Netflix a little more, and then offer you their service “for free” as part of your internet/cable/phone package. So, unless Netflix continues to be “awesome”, you might dump it for the freer, crappier, Comcast service.
“Oh, no I won’t! I won’t stand for crappy service. I will keep Netflix!” Really. Huh. OK. Have you used your cable box recently? Do you see how crappy the user interface is? Do you see how slow it is when you do something like bring up the guide, or the pay-per-view, or the OnDemand menus? They suck…. they suck terribly. You don’t have to use one of those boxes. In most places, you can buy a box online that uses technology that will allow you to connect to your cable provider. And the interface will be better. But, realistically, nobody does that. Because it is a hassle, it is expensive, and, for the most part, since people don’t know they can get something better, they just assume this is how TV has to be.
The internet in the US is going to get shittier. That’s just the way it is. And since most Americans don’t travel abroad, we aren’t going to know how shitty the internet became. I’ve seen friends tell me how “cool” it is that they can watch Netflix or other TV type services on their phone. Guess what? That new thing was new in South Korea, too. In 2000.
Our internet is terrible, and the FCC has just decided to make it worse.
We should all realize – if the government doesn’t regulate something, it doesn’t mean “freedom”. The thing will get regulated… by a for profit company.