A General Reminder For Policymakers: Don't Muck Up The Public's Ability To Use The Internet

from the a-reminder dept

I know that it’s become a bit too tempting for lots of people to declare this or that tech policy issue “the next SOPA,” but the response over the last few weeks to the FCC’s upcoming rulemaking on “the open internet” and net neutrality certainly feels a lot closer than pretty much any previous issue. David Carr has a writeup over at the NY Times that explains the situation most succinctly — with a truly key point being buried deep in the middle, in which he recaps the SOPA story. I’ll bold the key line:

In the debate between the Beltway vs. the Valley, my money is on the Valley. Remember in 2012 when a clueless Congress lumbered into Internet regulation by coming up with SOPA and a companion bill in the Senate (the Protect I.P. Act)? The entertainment companies that backed the legislation thought it was no big deal, but then a group of Silicon Valley players — many of the same ones who are now coalescing to oppose new Internet regulations — unleashed their user base and a huge wave of protest erupted. Both bills went down hard.

In the weeks after the SOPA debacle, I was at the Sundance Film Festival and then in Hollywood, talking with entertainment executives. They looked like extras from “The Walking Dead,” with bite marks all over them. They didn’t know what hit them because they did not understand the intimate relationship that the Valley has with its customers.

Way too much digital (and real) ink has been spilled that totally missed the point concerning the SOPA battle, arguing that it was the “tech industry” or “Silicon Valley” taking on Hollywood. But, as we noted many times, that was never the situation at all. It was the users of those internet services who led the way, with the companies joining in after the fact. Many people on the other side of these battles still don’t realize how much has to do with the users first. They assume, incorrectly, that it’s all about lobbying dollars, but miss out on the simple fact that a large public outcry beats lobbyists every time.

In the end what matters is votes. Lobbyists win on issues where there is no public outcry because in those situations its easier to keep the lobbyists happy. But when the wider public gets activated, politicians know that votes come first, and lobbying can’t stop the tidal wave of public support on an issue. And that’s where those not paying attention get confused. They don’t realize that many people really, really love the services that the tech industry has built. People have very positive emotional attachments to them — and that’s often because those services provide amazing connections and interactions and do so without giving people the feeling of being ripped off.

That’s usually not true with things like entertainment and it’s especially not true with broadband.

Yes, some people argue that because users “don’t pay” for many internet services, the services don’t actually have their best interests in mind, but that’s just wrong. The reason these internet services are so successful is that they build great products that users love — and they often give them away for no monetary exchange, based on alternative business models. You can argue about whether or not those business models are fair, but to argue that these companies don’t try to build great products for their users is simply incorrect.

And, because of that, when there are issues where the interests of the public and these tech companies align — those on the other side may discover just how difficult it is to play the same old lobbying game. When the public gets moving on an issue, old style lobbying games get steamrolled. Whether or not that happens with net neutrality remains to be seen, but many of the same initial ingredients are certainly in place.

Mucking with a functioning internet is just not a good idea.

We don’t want two Internets — a good one and a bad. We want the money and investment to flow toward a single infrastructure that works rapidly and efficiently, as it does in so many other countries. It should be a medium in which videos of your niece dancing to Beyonce, streaming coverage of Occupy Wall Street and “House of Cards” all play smoothly when you hit a button.

Given the mounting opposition, the F.C.C. commissioners would be well advised to delay any changes this Thursday. And if they don’t, they may end up starring in a sequel: “SOPA II: When Nerds Bite Back.”

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Comments on “A General Reminder For Policymakers: Don't Muck Up The Public's Ability To Use The Internet”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Proof here

There are two business models in competition here, the tell the customers what they can have and when, and the give the users what they want from the service you offer model. Guess which one needs laws to sustain it, and which one relies on attracting and holding them, and therefore which one listens to and supports its users in political battles. (Hint it is not the entertainment industry).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Proof here

Look no further than this:

“It should be a medium in which videos of your niece dancing to Beyonce, streaming coverage of Occupy Wall Street and ?House of Cards? all play smoothly when you hit a button.”

In some ways, that really is what the user wants. TV, news or even home video – all treated equally and equally available. No preference given to origin or subject matter.

But, ignoring the obvious troll arguments (no, nobody’s saying that the niece video is on a par with professional product, and you can substitute any news event with the OWS mention) – these are things that the ISPs and especially the corporate media wants to get rid of.

The first example? To hell with fair use – this needs to be blocked as copyright infringement! Unfiltered news footage that isn’t edited to support a narrative or keep people watching their ads? Unacceptable. Quality TV that was also produced without conforming to last century’s business models? They’ll still pretend that’s impossible, but you’d better believe they’ll throttle Netflix if they get half a chance…

In other words – yes, this is all about the disruptive effect of new ways of doing business, and now that they’ve lost “high ground” when arguing that the alternatives are outright piracy, they’re trying another tactic to block that competition. With all the unintended consequences that go along with it if they’re sucessful, of course.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Proof here

To hell with fair use – this needs to be blocked as copyright infringement!

You can see a real life example of this in the 6 strikes. No where can you contest a strike based on fair use, parody, nor FOSS. It has not been put in as a reason you are not infringing.

Jim says:

Re: Re: Re: Proof here

Ultimately, this is what drives Hollywood & the cable/phone companies crazy. They don’t look at the work tech companies do in putting out products, they just see the billions they rake in and say, hey we should be getting most of that!

They don’t create innovative entertainment platforms, they don’t just be dumb pipes. Instead, it’s lobby, lobby, lobby. Corruption will only get them so far.

Edward Teach says:

Political people's view of grassroots...

My wife was an elected public official. That meant hanging out with politicians and other political people. People in the political/ruling class genuinely do not believe in “grassroots organizations”. They believe that every single political/lobbying organization has some kind of corporate or non-profit foundation backing it.

I personally called my Senators and Representative about SOPA and PIPA well before the “internet blackout” day, and on the blackout day itself. I did this without prompting from some “think tank” or “foundation” or “citizens for blah blah blah” giving me a script. I believe in real grassroots stuff, I just don’t think it happens all that often.

This explains why *IAA and the US Congress and the political/ruling class don’t believe in a citizen’s uprising type of thing, like the anti-SOPA deal was. It also explains why the lobbyists, *IAA fascists and politicians will be blindsided if such an uprising occurs again, and I hope that it does.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Political people's view of grassroots...

From my standpoint, everything in between the website and my computer is merely transport, who should have absolutely NO SAY in what I ask for. Their job is to deliver it, up to the full bandwidth speed that I pay for, including multiple streams, like I want to watch a movie on one screen, while monitoring some sporting event on another, while I have a group conversation on Skype, all without interference or dropping or slowing down. Certainly possible in the advertised 10 mbps that I pay for.

As far as lone grassroots action like you took, you may be a bit short sighted in thinking that the average voter has the same level of ability, interest, commitment, etc. For those others, tools like this come in handy.


Anonymous Coward says:

the internet should be used to make money, yes, but definitely not in the way certain industries want to do it. when an industry refuses to accept the internet as the best distribution platform invented unless it is in complete control of it, then we have a serious problem. if Wheeler carries on down the road that he is contemplating (maybe already decided?) he is going to get just as burned as the politicians did over SOPA. you then have to take on board that the EU has voted to keep the internet open, how it is now, not split in two just so the friggin entertainment industries can use it to make mega bucks, at the public’s expense and the cable companies can start throttling connections when they want just so as to get price increases going! and that will definitely happen! to think it wont, Wheeler must be on knock out drops (or had a real good payout)!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“the internet should be used to make money”

This evoked my inner pedant… I would not say “should” here. That implies some kind of imperative. I think “people should be able to use the internet to make money” is better.

Using the internet to make money is well and good, but that is not, never has been, and never should be the purpose of the internet.

Loki says:

You can argue about whether or not those business models are fair, but to argue that these companies don’t try to build great products for their users is simply incorrect.

The problem here is that most businesses start that way, but as they grow older they lose sight of that in pursuit of making money (the old “start-ups innovate, legacy litigates” mantra). Compared to other industries (oil, telcos, retail) most internet companies haven’t been around all that long (look at the example of what, say, Costco is doing compared to Walmart) but you can already see the shift starting to occur. I saw it to some extend with AOL and even MySpace (especially after the enetertainment indstry got it’s claws into it), and I’m especially seeing it with Facebook.

I haven’t seen Facebook roll out anything that had most of its users going “oh wow” in years, just constantly manipulating data in new ways simply to maximize profits (and generally pissing it’s user base off in the process). This has also become Google to some extent (if the ever sat down and worked out how to really integrate many of their service (Youtube, Blogger, maps) into Google+ they’d probably crush Facebook in a year.

For me, the only real difference I see between Facebook and Comcast is Comast is reaching into your wallet to take your money directly, while Facebook is reaching into your wallet to take your information which it uses to get money from someone else.

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