A General Reminder For Policymakers: Don't Muck Up The Public's Ability To Use The Internet
from the a-reminder dept
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.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 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.
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.”