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Time Warner/Others Open Pandora’s Box – New Legislative Action Forthcoming

Phillip Dampier May 6, 2009 Community Networks, Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't 14 Comments

dampier1This really reminds me of 1990.  Back then, a few bad actors in the cable industry were acting so naughty, they created a groundswell of support for legislative action against the cable industry as a whole.  At the beginning of the 1990s, it was sky high rate increases, poor service, and trying to deny competitors access to cable programming networks.  The level of arrogance among the cable companies reached a high point when, then Senator Al Gore (D-TN), called the industry as a “cable cosa nostra.”  We were in the thick of it back then, working to get passage of S.12, a bill to re regulate cable which passed in 1992.

In 2009, some of the same winds are blowing.  The industry is attempting to “test” pricing for broadband that either rations Internet usage, or extorts an enormous amount of money for it.  Industry leaders promise upgrades in return for rate hikes to customers, and then tell their own investors those upgrades are not immediately necessary.  They use inconsistent arguments, bought-and-paid-for research, and clueless legislators who are duped (or bought) to carry their legislative agenda.

It always takes just a few issues, usually coming in sequence, to turn a minor skirmish into a major war, and I think we’re one or two issues away from a full court press to force dramatic changes in the cable and telephone industry.  So far, the issues which are coalescing include:

  • Net neutrality, which protects against strong arm tactics by industry players seeking to become the gatekeepers of broadband service delivery;
  • Leveraging monopoly power to protect from investing in aging networks, particularly in small and medium sized towns and cities;
  • Looking for ways to limit consumption or extract massive additional profits from broadband divisions, particularly in areas where equivalent competition does not exist;
  • Imposing legislative measures to limit or control potential competition;
  • Continuing to impose rate increases well above the inflation rate.

Back in 1990, some municipalities were fighting back by constructing their own wireless cable, satellite, and wired delivery systems for cable programming.  They were fought every step of the way in much the same way the industry seeks to limit broadband competition today.  Some cable operators now seek to impose control over online video, denying it to non-video subscribers in the same way small satellite dish services in the late 1980s and early 1990s were denied access to cable programming networks outright, or charged extortionist pricing for them.

At the time, most of the consumer pushback came from home satellite dishowners who owned those mammoth satellite dishes, especially in rural areas.  That was how I originally became involved in the fight.  Back then, we didn’t have easy access to the Internet to organize, so we relied on a satellite radio station – KSAT from Gilroy, California, which aired a variety of activist talk radio programs devoted to fighting back against big cable company abuses.  The Internet has definitely made things easier, both to research and expose industry bias, financial incentives given to lawmakers, and for organizing legislative calls to action and protests.

So it seems we’re coming full circle.  Once again, there are some very bad actors who are not listening to customers and are making assumptions that they can simply impose terms and conditions on subscribers and expect them to live with it.  Not if you and I have anything to say about it.

So here is what is coming next:

People keep writing and asking what’s up with Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) and his legislation to ban capped Internet.  Congressman Massa has stayed very dedicated to this issue and in no way has backed off.  He has already shown a remarkable commitment to his constituents here in upstate New York, and his willingness to protect consumers all over this country from gouging caps and tiers.  He is the most impressive freshman congressman I have ever known, and it was an honor to help fight to get him elected to serve here in western New York.  He’s simply indefatigable and tenacious, and he’ll demonstrate that once again very, very soon.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has announced he is going to begin leading a new fight to preserve net neutrality.  Wyden has come to recognize that allowing a free market for broadband also depends on those players in that market playing fairly, and it has become obvious they are not.

“I think there are storm clouds ahead that could close the doors of [the technology] marketplace to future innovation,” said Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. “The continued growth of the Internet right now is being hampered by the lack of clear, enforceable standards on net neutrality. I don’t think the country can afford that in these kinds of difficult economic times.”

And one of the ways growth gets hampered is when cable companies impose unjust caps and tiered pricing on broadband consumption, all while remaining profitable and unwilling to maintain an appropriate level of investment in their networks.  PC World has more:

Wyden and other backers of net neutrality rules say there need to be stronger policies against broadband providers blocking or slowing Web content from competitors of themselves or their partners.

Wyden’s call for stronger rules bucks the status quo in which the FCC has taken enforcement action against two broadband providers for violations of its Internet policy statement, saying broadband consumers should have the right to access any legal Web content and attach any legal devices to the network. Most recently, the FCC in mid-2008 prohibited Comcast from slowing peer-to-peer traffic in an effort to manage network congestion.

Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission has repeatedly shown timidity when dealing with broadband bad actors, looking instead to Congress for legislative action on this matter.  That’s fine with us.  If it literally takes legislation to force private networks to open their wires to competition and making them into “common carriers,” so be it.  No community, by the basis of its size, economic merit, or competitive situation should be exploitable in a way that denies its citizens the kind of advanced, affordable broadband services they deserve in a changing world.

It’s clear we must also begin to be stronger advocates for municipal broadband solutions where appropriate.  We’ve seen the results.  Intransigent providers unwilling to provide needed upgrades or control price increases suddenly rush to improve service and pricing when confronted with the reality of competition.  We’ve already seen that in Lafayette, Louisiana and with your help, the good people in many parts of North Carolina will also soon enjoy the fruits of our labor.

As one of our readers pointed out, with public broadband, if you don’t like the service or the terms, you can literally vote out the people running the provider.  That’s better than just voting with your feet to find, if you’re lucky, an equal competitor.

The cable and telephone industry drumbeat is to impose consumption-based/metered-billing because “it’s inevitable.”  It doesn’t have to be if customers realize all that really represents is a massive money party for them, not cheaper access for us.  As I’ve repeatedly said, when has your cable bill ever gone down?  It’s not going to go down because of these initiatives.  It’s just laying the groundwork for the same kind of spiraling rate increases you already see for your video services.

North Carolina week for StoptheCap! has just demonstrated once again the real Power of You.  Without your help, our second victory in 30 days would not have been possible.  The fight is long from over, however.  Now is the time to stay engaged and vigilant.

To help facilitate that, I am very pleased to announce StoptheCap! is about to have a major overhaul in our design.  In the next day or so, we’ll be unveiling a new format I’m sure will make finding things a lot easier, as well as helping our non-daily visitors instantly find what work needs to be done and how to do it.  You will also find a Paypal button, should you wish to help us defray the mounting expenses we’ve been piling up since the fight began.  Littering the site with advertising seems counterproductive, and would possibly blur the reality that this site has been created and is run by consumers, for consumers.  There is zero industry money here, zero political money here, and zero hidden agenda.  There is no money party here, not even for a bag of those Cheetos bloggers are supposed to be eating all the time.

Thanks for being a loyal reader.  If you haven’t commented before or written anything here before, why not take a minute and say something.  The industry players we are fighting back are here to read this site every morning.  Why not take a minute and say hello to them.

Currently there are 14 comments on this Article:

  1. Corrine says:

    Adding my respect for Rep. Eric Massa.

  2. Chris says:

    Hello, I want to thank you folks at Stop the Cap! for giving the “Little Man” a voice in this whole sortid mess.

    Also, a quick hello to Triad Time Warner who I will soon be severing ties with if you continue to push your “CAP agenda”.

    I live in Eden NC just north of Greensboro and with no real broadband competition around here I think I’d rather just do without and take my “misinformed” TV watchin’ business elsewhere, than to continue to allow TWC to rape my wallet.

    Props to Massa!!! I only hope NC’s Politicians will grow a pair as big as his.

  3. MK8 says:

    I say Phillip Dampier for “President of the Internet!” I’d trust no other for the job.

    • Oh god no. The Internet doesn’t need a president. Vint Cerf would be a better choice anyway. 🙂

      • [email protected] says:

        We always have Al Gore as a possibility or if he can’t make it.. we can get Regis!! 🙂

  4. Yanni says:

    Thanks for keeping me informed of what’s going on. I’m in Winston-Salem, NC and when I heard about this cap it sent my blood boiling. It was nice to find out I wasn’t alone.

  5. PaulK says:

    Hey guys…long time reader, first time commenter! 🙂

    Seriously though, I’m a local Rochestarian who’s been reading the site since the RR caps were first announced. I wrote every single one of my elected officials from the state to local level and I greatly appreciate the work that you’ve been doing, Phillip. Keep up the fantastic job!

  6. patb says:

    Thanks for the article and keep up the great work. If you organize a march on Washington, let me know—I’ll join you!!!!

  7. Fish says:

    Looks like the site is getting props from writers on HuffPo as well… good article to boot.


  8. Jeff says:

    I would definitely like to contribute $ to this site. I read more content from this site than any other right now. This is the journalism that the newspapers & TV stations SHOULD be doing. Show me the paypal!

  9. Uncle Ken says:

    Oh no not Al Gore You may not get internet caps but you would get carbon caps for every minute your computer is running.

    Fish Good link!

    And naturally good job by Stop the Cap as the hub!

  10. Dean S.B. says:

    I TOTALLY AGREE with EVERYTHING that StopTheCap.com has been doing from the start.

    I’ve started reading this site since early-April. And I’ve gotten WELL-INFORMED about the “cap & tier” BS that big cable & phone companies are trying to do to we, the consumers!!

    I’ve sent several online letters from FreePress.net asking my Congressman, Steve King (R-Iowa 5th District-Western Iowa) to lend his support to Eric Massa’s bill…to STOP these “too BIG for their britches” companies from UTTERLY GOUGING us Internet Users!!!

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK there, Philip!! 🙂


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