The FCC will vote on December 14, 2017 on whether to reverse common carrier status for broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. This action will have profound effects on the internet and the way it functions. Join us in this episode as we explore exactly what this means for censorship and the future of the internet as we know it.
[0:00] Hello everyone, I'm David Torcivia.
[0:02] I'm Daniel Forkner.
[0:04] And this is Ashes Ashes a podcast about everything terrible in the world and all the good things we can do to help fix them.
[0:11] Today we're going to be talking about net neutrality. It's a very relevant discussion to something that's going on right now and we want to highlight what it is and why we should be concerned.
[0:20] And our apologies if you're listening to this after this upcoming vote December 14th. We here are hopeful that things will go in favor of net neutrality but we're not optimistic to say the least and we'll talk about that why that's the case in just a little bit.
So Daniel what is net neutrality?
[0:39] In order to understand what net neutrality is, David, I think it's important to start with what is the internet in the first place.
[0:45] Well as far as I can remember according to everyone's favorite internet expert Al Gore, it's just a series of tubes. Is that right?
[0:53] That's actually pretty accurate. It seems very simple, but say if I have a computer, you can call it a server, and I put stuff on, it my content, I put a website that I want you to be able to look at and to visit. I need a way for you to connect to that and the simplest ways to simply connect a wire from my computer server to yours. And that provides a direct connection. Of course if you're in a different country or you're very far away, I don't have the ability to connect us through wires. So I can hire this company, an internet service provider that has already laid these networks, down these networks of wires and switches and relays, and they will connect us automatically. And that's ultimately all the internet is. It's a connection between my server and your server and the ISP's allow us to scale that to millions of servers and billions of computers.
[1:43] Well that seems to make sense and it seems very straightforward when you put it that way. So I mean I guess the ISPs are just, uh, since I'm not going to run a cable across the country or across continents, the ISPs have done that for us and they charge us access to the internet, and that's the Internet fees we pay. Yeah?
[2:00] That's right you as the consumer likely pay an internet service provider like AT&T or Comcast or Time Warner a monthly charge to access their internet network. And the content providers also pay a fee. These other companies like Facebook that post their content on the servers and they also pay internet service providers in order for you to access their content.
And I want to point out that although the internet service providers are giving us a very valuable service this kind of road from my server to your server, they're not actually creating anything. They haven't done anything particularly innovative. Maybe they've created a faster wire than one that was 10 years ago and I guess we can consider that innovation, but they're not creating anything. They're simply the bridge between one computer and another computer.
[2:49] Okay so we have the internet. You know this is the connection that the ISPs provide for us between the servers that you or I or somebody else runs whether that's Facebook or my grandma's computer. How does Net Neutrality come into this like what is what is this legislation about, now that we understand exactly what the internet is at a very basic level?
[3:08] Net Neutrality is the fact that we as consumers can access the entire internet openly without discrimination in terms of what we access and how we access it because these internet service providers are classified under the FCC's title II of its Communications Act as common carriers. And what that means is that because they are simply conveying a good from point A to point B, in this case the good as information, they should not be able to discriminate or regulate that information. Their job is simply a transporter.
[3:41] That sounds like a good thing, Daniel, why would these ISP's be fighting this?
[3:45] The reason why internet service providers don't want net neutrality is because if you take away this common carrier classification, it gives them the ability to charge for different types of information and to treat different types of information discriminately. And what that ultimately means is a higher profit margin.
[4:08] Wait, even higher profit margins? This is industry, as far as I know, especially where the lines have already been built up, that has profit margins surpassing 97%. I mean that's amazing. Other industries, corporation would kill for that kind of profit. What more could they possibly be looking for? What are they going to do with all this extra income?
[4:22] Well that's interesting. These internet service providers are telling us that if they can raise their profit margins, they can reinvest some of that money into their networks to give us faster access for example or other innovative services. Of course it is a little bit problematic to your point that they're already making a 97% profit margin, why can't they just reinvest some of that money already?
[4:48] And to interrupt you even more there for a second, these ISPs don't have a very good track record when it comes to investing huge sums of cash at their given into infrastructure improvements. And I mean I see them out there, I see them building you know upgrading lines and stuff and they definitely are doing something. But I know in the record books, we as the American people have given hundreds of billions of dollars to these ISPs specifically for highspeed broadband buildouts. And they just never delivered, you know. I think the number that I remember seeing in these discussions, and "scandal" is the word that I see used a lot, is that we Americans have paid over 400 billion dollars to these ISPs for promised upgrades and they just never delivered and they pocketed the money said "thanks" and that's it. That doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me and what these companies are planning to do.
[5:41] Yeah a lot of these ISPs took advantage of deregulation in the 90s, that happened to cap some of their profit margins because of their monopoly powers. They said if you take away some of the regulation on us we'll reinvest money into our networks and provide all these amazing services and we gave them that deregulation, they kept the money and their profit margin skyrocket. I think at one point their profit margin was around 14% and as we have slowly given more and more power to these companies, it's just risen to this extraordinary level of 97%.
And a lot of these companies are telling us now, "but if you let us charge for certain information it will allow us to create these 'fast lanes' so that some people will be able to have a faster internet and because we can charge them a little bit more and they're willing to pay for it they get to access the internet in this super speed fast lane that they're going to create for them."
[7:00] I have to interject here because Fast Lanes is something I keep hearing all these people talk about, and, I mean, it just doesn't exist, right? So imagine all the available broadband as this huge highway. Okay. And the only way to increase how many people can drive on this highway, is by building more lanes, by physically expanding this highway. But that's not possible without, you know, spending a lot of money on construction, on building this new infrastructure out. And that's not something that they're talking about doing, they're talking about building fast lanes by slowing down everything else and making these fast lanes toll lanes. And so this is going to hurt everybody because in order to utilize this fast lane you're going to have to pay more money.
[7:19] This is this is going to impact lots of small websites too. Your favorite startups, websites that can't pay this this almost extortion fee from these ISPs are going to be impacted by this and that seems anti free market, that seems anti-innovation, and I'm not like a free-market kind of guy but even I have to admit like this is definitely not in everyone's best interest.
[7:43] It's interesting you bring up small business. Netflix is one of these companies that has always been a champion of net neutrality, but now that they've reached a certain size they suddenly change their tune and they're no longer in support of it.
[7:54] Yeah exactly that's the point I'm trying to make. That these companies, they realize that they have the cash reserves, the market clout that they can force, they can use this this fast lane as a way to stifle innovation from possible upcoming competitors who would have to either pay more money initially, precious startup money in order to be able to compete on this lane, or just have an inferior service to these big dogs. And so that ends up acting sort of like a, reinforcing the Monopoly of the startups on the internet. And while some some of these big companies publicly say that they're for net neutrality, companies like Google, in other countries like India just had a big net neutrality debate where they decided to enforce it and preserve it, but companies like Facebook and Google were really fighting against this because they are huge companies with deep pockets and any sort of net neutrality repeal that makes the process of serving content to us consumers more expensive benefits these market incumbents because they have the financial reserves in order to to afford this and the startups, industry selling becomes much more expensive and that innovation becomes much more expensive when we start stifling that American Tech entrepreneurial scene which is one of the most important parts of our country's industry.
[9:08] Yeah I think a big cohort of tech startups, these smaller companies have come out together in all support of net neutrality because they won't be able to compete with these big monopolies that will be able to stifle some content providers that they don't agree with and really control the flow of information.
[9:24] Yes so I mean I'm still looking for these non Insidious reasons that PR and politicians are telling us we don't need net neutrality and I'm really struggling to find them so like if somebody out there has, just a really great reason that I haven't thought of I would love to hear it. But for the moment it just seems like it's a it's a way to reinforce these Mark of monopolies and squeeze even more money out of us consumers.
[9:47] So how did we get here I mean we did mention the the 400 billion dollars of these internet service providers have stolen from us in the form of promise, upgrades that they never did in exchange for deregulation I mean is it just that they have nowhere else to turn in terms of the regulation or tax breaks that they have to break down net neutrality in order to extract more profit from consumers.
[10:09] Well I mean I think we need to examine to like how these isps became such monopolies and that is very able to squeeze through these things and political force and have this much power. A lot of this relates back to when cable companies for first starting and when we were building out the internet and upgrading phone when it has a hole. So there was this thing called the cable franchise fee which was a attacks sort of. Bad local municipalities would charge to cable companies. In order to be able to build out lines in their area and in there was a lot of quid pro quo stuff going on like now like if you let us run cables in your little tiny town then we'll like why wrap your schools for free and get your schools near Free TV, I will build like a little TV station for your your local government, all these like little like nice perks at These Eyes Peas and they were nice peas yet but these cable companies would give to his municipalities in exchange for exclusive rights to this place, and sometimes it was literally enshrined that this is the only company that's allowed to operate here, a lot of those things were found it illegal or question 1 there's some legislation is come in that prevented that from happening anymore but, and said what they've gone is added all these permits and restriction process that you have effective monopolies and its municipalities even today. And so this cable franchise fee you still see on your TV cable bill the cable companies just pass it on for the government to you so you're basically paying the government. In order to allow cable companies to to string up a bare wires and lines which is kind of a roundabout way of passing on the stacks.
[11:41] Which is another way that we are paying the cable companies for all the stuff but the legacy of this franchise fee and the partnership with the municipalities in order to do this initial Network bill. Is what is left us when so many places where they only maybe one little company of one internet company that we have to choose from.
[12:01] 51% of Americans only have one choice of broadband provider.
[12:05] Yeah exactly that's the point and so it would be discussions about like free market and instead of just really don't apply here because for most people. If you want internet you have me one maybe two choices and usually the second choice is significantly slower significantly more expensive and not a real option and I guess also foremost American satellite internet is also a possibility but again that's very expensive, it's very slow there's any bandwidth restrictions. And it just doesn't make Financial sense compared to the internet that we were promised when we paid all these ice pieces companies to build it for us it's sort of frustrating and it prevents us consumers from being able to do anything, in the market to fight these predatory practices this is why companies like Comcast or Charter can get away with being some of the worst companies in America in the world go to the year after year I have such terrible customer service, treat us like crap not give us the stuff that they promised us would still get away with it and we just have to keep subscribing cuz we just don't have a choice and that's anti-competitive at the anti free market.
[13:04] It sounds like even though the net neutrality vote is pending there still a lot of ways we're being negatively impacted by the Broadband in the street today.
[13:13] It's a lot of these things are still in play like I mentioned it but we still mostly have to still one or two options in most places for this internet though the market is very late a lot of situation is not a competition but what's in a discussion back.
[13:29] That brings us to this boat that's coming up on December 14th this FCC vote on whether we're going to keep net neutrality or we're going to dismantle it and allow these companies to go forward with regulating the information that comes to the internet. So how exactly is this poking to be structured and who all is involved.
[13:46] Well today small Council your Senators your representatives don't have any say on this you can call them all you want and they can try and influence people but they actually have no real. So it's really out of our hands at this point as Motors as a people of America and it's in a very small group of hands of people who are appointed. So the head of this vote is a Jeep I was actually appointed by Obama this is not just a trumpet Legacy that's going on but this is Obama's appointee he is the single head proponent trying to kill this net neutrality, and he along with a small Board of other people get to make this choice and we really have nothing to say we can call we can complain we can write letters but ultimately it's out of our hands at this point, which is why we are less than optimistic that come this phone. It's not going to go in the way of the consumer and said favoring the isps with the repeal of net neutrality and Title II.
[14:40] If title to dust get repealed and we see the breakdown of net neutrality where we going I mean what's it going to look like for me as a consumer and maybe for you as a content provider.
[14:51] There's a lot of things and we don't exactly know what the ice peas have planned they say they're not going to change anything but they spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying of the repeal of net neutrality so we know that they desperately want this done and they, why would you spend that much money not to do something and so we can imagine a lot of things that could happen and frankly none of them are good. The basis of that all this is built office that now York internet traffic doesn't all have to be treated.
[15:20] It means a lot of things and some of the troubling things about it that we've seen in other countries that don't have net neutrality is that consumers have to pay for all the basic internet services that they have come to rely on them for example in Portugal. You want to access social applications like Facebook Snapchat Instagram that's going to be 5 Euros per month you want to be able to access. Gmail that's going to be 5 Euros a month you want to be able to access your favorite video streaming services Netflix Hulu. That's going to be an additional 5 Euros per month and maybe you have some business applications as well that could be another charge you want to use a VPN to keep yourself private that's going to be 20 30 40 year olds per month. And so that's just one aspect of this that will affect the consumer in terms of your wallet.
[16:07] So you're saying I already pay you know $5,800 whatever for internet. Now they want to charge me in addition to that packages it sounds a lot like cable television which is everyone's least favorite way of pricing out things like, I already paid for the television but you want to add all these extra packages so I can visit these other channels but you're trying to do this with websites like I have a Facebook V I have a Netflix VR to pay Netflix for this why am I paying again, in order to access something that I already pay for that seems crazy but I guess this is Beth the kind of thing that that the repeal of men Italian tables.
[16:39] And it's not just that they can charge you David for using Facebook they can also charge Facebook more money for providing that content so imagine AT&T has a video service that they want people to use because they're trying to get into the television business.
[16:56] Write a little like Netflix because it's a competitive service so these internet service providers can just charge Netflix a lot more and charge a lot last or even nothing to use their own video streaming services. And you can see how that can affect the competitiveness of. Especially small businesses and people who are trying to compete with these internet service providers that are diversifying their business interest into some of these internet services.
[17:22] Anti-competitive to me so you're saying that if I have a new start-up I want to be able to access my consumers I might have to pay AT&T for the right. For people who already want to see my product or my content or whatever I would have to pay them in order to get access to the consumer who also has to pay them to get access to me sounds just like maybe a couple steps short of extortion but I'm not a lawyer.
[17:45] The cruise to me also while I'm thinking about this if they can control you know like how much you pay in order to access these websites does that mean they can just completely block access to anything they want.
[17:58] For example a lot of these internet service providers have terrible track record when it comes to customer service let's say I create a website where I want to say oh Comcast gave me bad customer service. Comcast could just say it we don't want to show that website on the internet no one can access it and that's huge application for our freedom of speech and our sense of democracy when you can just silence a voice it doesn't agree with your business interests.
[18:23] Yeah this seems like to me the absolute most important part of this is the ability of these networks to censor what we see and for you not even to realize that this thing isn't there isn't available for you. Seems really scary really dangerous say you know I want to say something critical about Comcast I could bring up.
[18:41] They can just block that erase it from the internet but say about another piece of legislation comes along that wants to bring back net neutrality, and others information online about it telling people how to organize and do it. I can just block access to this website and that that really information that flow of information telling people how to do something that might benefit them but potentially hurt the cable companies. Is this going to be an accessible that's dangerous that's terrifying and that's I think should be by itself enough reason to keep net neutrality even if it has other benefits that that we're not seeing. The negatives here just really quite terrifying.
[19:19] Yeah I agree I definitely don't want to see net neutrality go away is there anything I can do I feel like it's just four or five people in this committee that I doing this belt on December 14th I feel a little too powerless to be honest.
[19:32] Well like I just mentioned there are websites of people organizing to to fight this at this minute rally take down this is been going on for a while this is not the first attempt to get rid of this this is the 2nd or the 3rd or the 4th and I'm not even sure at this point it seems like we keep.
[19:46] Killing in we win a little Victory and then 6 months later or year later this comes back again under slightly different name or different technique and they try and kill it again. Battle for the net for example is one of the big websites helping people call the representatives call legislators organize getting direct contact with the Jeep I. Have their voice be heard to say that you know please don't do this this is bad for me as a consumer bad for me is an American and bad for the Americas a whole outside of a handful of isps, and these have really been rallying point we've seen lots of websites have basically online protest about this was slowdowns of their websites and simulate what might happen under net neutrality. I sent two ships to block out information to to show what these of These Eyes Peas could do, there's been a lot of interesting digital activism that leads to this like actual legislative process contacting our politicians. Insane please help us but at the same time there's been a lot of fighting back there so the FCC ask for comments, on the repeal of this the ice bees or somebody flooded is open comments with over a million fake comment in support of repealing at neutrality, people have gone and shown that these were fake practice going up to the Internet General that this needs to be investigated and the Attorney General declined to you in several States attorney generals have come together and say that this is wrong this is clearly a crime has been committed. But we're ignoring it because it's politically expedient to do that. So there is a political process going on you can do this still by the time you hear the show this this particular battle might be over but the technique of These Eyes Peas.
[21:20] These politicians are just keep doing this over and over and over again, until eventually they just wear us down and that we can't fight it anymore and we give up and I can finally repeal net neutrality and they can introduce whatever private regulations they want on the internet free from the government saying, you must treat all information equal and give everybody equal access.
[21:40] And even if someone is going to be hearing this after this vote takes place like you said they've this is an ongoing fight and I think we can take some lessons from this and some takeaways that go beyond just this episode that we can be talking about a lot in this podcast. This is really a problem of system is a problem of the market is a problem of the local municipalities is the problem of our are larger government that's at the Vanguard of this decision to take down net neutrality. And we want to point out a lot of problems with our current system on this podcast you know we've talked about climate change issues we talked about. Surveillance in corporate technology problems I think it would be easy to be critical and saying it sounds like we're just complaining about everything and not really offering. Solutions really what we would like to get across is that we need to recognize that the contact for these problems. Is a broken system and although we can offer little Band-Aids here and there you know electing a better politician who has our interest in mind ultimately. This is a problem of a system I just focused on short-term incentives that leads to these types of corporate practices of extracting as much profit as possible with no accountability and with no care for what the people actually want.
[22:52] Yeah I mean this this at every level at at local municipality is a failure of government at the federal level it's a failure of accountability for a politician. In terms of the market this is a failure of capitalism saying that these monopolies are these massive incumbent companies both the isps and these huge tech companies like Netflix like Facebook like Google it's in their best interest to do things good for them but bad for us as consumers and it's a failure of the system there's nothing that can be fixed about that. Hey it's about looking for alternatives or introducing regulation but those are just Band-Aids and and not going to happen it in the way that the government is set up right now which is again up failure of that political system. So we need to start looking at alternative there are people doing radical Alternatives in especially in in the internet you see decentralisation the introduction of mesh networks a neighborhood mesh networks you build a little bit of antenna. You put out your window and you can connect to your neighbors directly and he will be like neighborhood internet's that that are. They have the information you can serve it you can browse things and then browse be real in it as well but maybe we'll start seeing introduction of bees as the actual and it becomes too expensive becomes to censored. And becomes even more of a place to put a coil and corporate control I would love to see if you would like that but time will tell.
[24:05] And I hope we can all be a part of that progress in those upcoming solutions.
[24:10] This is been a kind of short episode, but we wanted to talk about this very topical thing. We might do more of these in the future, but we've also got many more major topics lined up and aren't going anywhere and we hope you'll be tuning in for that.
If you want to read anything more about what we talked about today, about the the 400 billion dollar scandal, about the municipalities, about Netflix, we have all these links and more on our website ashesashes.org. You can find this episode just under the simple name "Net Neutrality" you can also follow us at all your favorite social networks @ashesashescast.
[24:43] And try to access those before the ISP start charging more for them. If you like this show share it with a friend, and if you didn't like the show share it with an enemy. Bye!
[24:51] Thanks for listening. This is Ashes Ashes.