Friday, November 14, 2014

ALEC and the Internet: A "Net Neutrality" Chattanooga Primer

A Couple of Internet Questions
Painfully woven together like fine silk...

MeanMesa exists on the internet. Everyone reading this post is either reading it on the net or reading a hard copy of it prepared by someone who accessed it on the internet. The ideas presented in these Short Current Essays meander around, here and there, travelling by wispy links to places where no one has ever heard of it before.

That's the magic.

Question One: Should unregulated corporate internet providers be free to direct system advantages to "profit centers?"

The terms used in posing this question are intentionally general. All sorts of "the...uh...details" about just how the corporations would be able to accomplish this -- including the wide variety of the "advantages" which could be manipulated into the process and the disparate collection of "profit centers" which would benefit from it -- are not really the point here.

Instead, the "point" here is that allowing this to continue -- it's already well under way -- will represent a "replacement" of traditional, dynamic market pressures with a new market which imposes artificial corporate "profit priorities" on the variety of products offered for consumption, that is, one where market forces are eliminated from the equation. 

Although we are all most likely quite tired of the expression, this describes a "supply side" economy replacing a "demand side" economy. Not surprisingly, the voices clamouring for this unregulated dystopian paradise are precisely the same ones which have so eagerly clamoured for similar changes in just about every other market since Ronald Reagan "turned up his toes."

"Net Neutrality will hurt private sector job creation"
"Regulating the internet threatens entrepreneurial freedom. It's like ObamaCare for the net."
"...will stifle innovation and concentrate more power in the hands of Washington bureaucrats..."
Among all the gush of talking points being broadcast today, it may be hard to settle on a single "fear generator" which might account for this drive among the billionaires and corporatists, but we can speculate on a "likely suspect."

The "fear side" is anchored to the admittedly flimsy idea that our government might extend its "control issues" into the process to prohibit this latest gang of "free enterprisers" from "picking winners" by eliminating competition. What has been, traditionally, considered the "fair competition" in an open market where consumers "vote" with their pocket books turns out to be a little too intimidating for the castrated version of our contemporary -- and vacuously corporate -- "captains of industry."

The corporate communications magnates who penned this financially enforced "business plan" as their latest wet dream have lost the old, bold confidence that they could possibly "compete" their way to success. It's not that competing is so much more laborious than this alternate business idea of "quiet suppression." It is that the suppression and manipulation of the terms of competition seems safer to these suddenly timid, modern, corporate media types.

It's hardly surprising that "owning Congress" might represent an essential requirement for those wishing to transform the freedom of expression on the internet into a nearly suffocated, sterile, corporate wasteland where consumers are left choosing exclusively from a thousand utterly mediocre, mind numbing, commercial options. 

For a recent example of this think of the orgasmic, halcyon days of Rush Limbaugh's rather grotesque ascent in the beginning of his career. The billionaires, organically attracted to usefulness of the folksy nihilism surgically embedded in his retrograde political messaging, had already purchased literally hundreds of broadcast stations around the country while Rush was still a back woods nobody in the business. 

Almost statistically disconnected from the actual base of listeners who might be interested in listening to the old gas bag based on their own appetites, his radio show was "force fed" to hundreds of stations. In no time -- because the show was bellowing forth from all these hundreds of radio stations -- the corporate image managers were very comfortably claiming that "listener ratings" clearly showed that it was "what people wanted," when it was actually pretty much "all people could get."

"Free market?" MeanMesa's ass.

[This blog is usually far better behaved than to thoughtlessly add such a "low class," utterly pedestrian epithet to these, otherwise, usually "high class" missives. In this case, the selection of every one of those four words was stridently intentional.]

Still another example of "oligarchic meddling" also bears down on the internet control issue. The last election established beyond any doubt that the oligarchs have purchased the media. The invisible Democrats found themselves -- although not without other, substantive defects, of course -- utterly unable to employ the traditional media model in presenting their platform [that is, if they actually had one they weren't too frightened to discuss...] because the "editorial policy" of the obedient networks simply didn't include them as relevant.

The effect was that the huge media buys made by the oligarchs' wing nut Super PAC's roamed freely through the halls of public opinion without ever being contested or contradicted. The effect of "net non-neutrality" on the internet offers a sinister, although similar, prospect for the anti-democracy interests.

Although already cursed with a genetic abhorrence of paying decent union wages, the oligarchs also obsessively hate unions because they cannot control or counter the political influence created by large numbers of people in an opposing campaign's "ground game." 

For the billionaires the net's practically effortless ability ["effortless" in the sense that such a project doesn't require millions of dollars from a Super PAC] to aggregate huge numbers of voters to an issue just as threatening as the image of thousands of union hands arriving on buses for ten thousand "door to door" visits with a target constituency.

The think tank psych masters undoubtedly look at the daily political content of something like MeanMesa's Face Book page and shudder.

Eliminating "free range" communication like this is also part of what they have in mind for the internet, and, by the way, the billionaires already own the corporate internet providers. Happily, MeanMesa is such a small blog that it is safely -- at least for now -- under their radar.

The MeanMesa title for this section of the post mentioned two questions. Let's have a look at the second one.

Question Two: Instead of "privatizing" the internet provider industry with total deregulation, why not "publicize" it?

We need a little background to appreciate the full ramifications of such an unusual question. However, our first stop will be in the EU for a very quick look not at internet service, but at cell phone service plans. The following excerpts are from an article on the DIGITALTRENDS site. [Read the entire article here - DIGITALTRENDS]]

In other parts of Europe, prices are cheaper, too. Orange in France sells a wireless plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of data for $64 a month. Orange is no small fry, actually serving nearly as many customers as Verizon and AT&T combined. A major carrier in Spain, Telef√≥nica, also offers a fairly reasonable plan with 500MB of high speed data, unlimited texting, and 500 minutes for about $65 a month.


But let’s not forget about Hong Kong and Japan. In Hong Kong, Hutchinson (also known as ‘Three’) will give you an 5GB high speed wireless plan with plenty of minutes for just $59 a month. A similar deal goes for Softbank  in Japan, which will set you back just $55 for unlimited data, SMS, and free calling to Softbank other users between 1AM and 9PM.

Do any of these numbers even remotely compare to the monthly bill for your US cell phone plan? Although enterprises in the EU are routinely classed as over regulated "socialist disasters" in the US domestic media, this service and pricing schedule is evidence to the contrary. Whether a result of regulation or simply more open competition between service providers, the conclusion is unavoidable.

MeanMesa's answer to this second question doesn't deal with "net neutrality" in the sense presented above. Instead, this question deals with the fundamental "business plan" of domestic US internet service providers and their punitive, "supply side" relationship with the "rules writing" Congress -- which they now happen to own.

 New York Times
[Excerpted. Read the entire article here.]

US Plan for Internet Fast Lanes
 Contrasts with European Rules

By Mark Scott
April 24, 2014
LONDON — The battle over whether Internet content should be treated equally is heating up.

A proposal in the United States that would allow Internet providers to charge companies for more powerful transmission of web traffic stands in contrast with new rules in Europe.

Late on Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission said it would propose new rules that would allow American Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to charge companies like Google and Disney for special, faster lanes to send video and other content to their customers.

The proposals, which will be released for public comment on May 15, are unlike new rules in Europe that outlaw attempts by telecommunications or cellphone carriers to charge for improved access to their data and mobile networks.

The decisions put American and European policy makers on different sides of the debate about the future of so-called net neutrality — the idea that telecommunications companies and other Internet service providers cannot discriminate between different services that run on their data networks. Last month, European lawmakers approved new, tougher rules aimed at guaranteeing equal access to the Internet.


After intense lobbying from telecom companies and consumer advocacy groups, European politicians inserted last-minute amendments intended to provide a strict definition of net neutrality. Other countries are also considering adopting similar protections. In Brazil this week, lawmakers approved a net neutrality provision that bars telecom companies from charging higher rates for access to content that uses more bandwidth.


“The F.C.C. wants to recognize that innovation is the very essence of the Internet,” said Luigi Gambardella, chairman of the European Telecommunications Networks Operators’ Association, a trade body. “Such approach is in sharp contrast with the hyper-intrusive rules that the outgoing European Parliament recently voted on.”

Regardless of who comes out ahead in the current debate, it is likely that customers worldwide will see price increases for surfing the web.

In the United States, analysts said companies like Disney and Netflix would eventually seek to pass on to customers whatever they have to pay for speedier Internet lanes.

In Europe, telecom operators could charge customers more for their monthly cellphone and cable contracts to cover the additional investments needed to upgrade their mobile and fixed-line networks.

Americans are accustomed to "banding together" to improve conditions for life here. We've done this over and over through our nation's history with good results. However, the last few paragraphs of this New York Times article could be a right wing discussion of the Affordable Care Act with the replacement of a few terms.

The corporations serving as internet service providers don't like "banding together" idea at all when they are asked to "cooperate" with it. Instead, they immediately go to their usual litany of complaints about "having to pay for something someone else is using" to serve as their latest "excuse" for arbitrarily raising rates anyway.

You know. "Whatever the market will bear."

[MeanMesa suspects that some of the caustic, faux-ideological Congressional wing nut talking points mentioned above may have come directly from this edition of the paper.]

The Chattanooga Horror
Throwing entire decades of suffocating internet capitalism
... under the bus

So, what exactly terrified all the magnates of the internet provider industry so much? Only a few months ago it must have looked pretty much "safe and serene" lounging in those palatial conference rooms high in the sky perusing a consumer market completely "under control" as far as the eye could see. 

After all, who could live without the internet? And, perhaps more importantly, who could possibly have enough muscle to ever wreck this perpetual dream?

All that was necessary in order to maintain that beautiful -- and bountiful -- "gold plated" scam was to continue piping GOOGLE and YAHOO through the television cable and phone lines to millions of captive consumers, raising prices every few months and constantly suckering suckers away from each other with phony "bait and switch," temporary, introductory start up "bargains."

As it turns out, a "horrible" -- at least for them -- community funded, free enterprise nightmare was floating their way from an unexpected direction.

Have a look at the following New York Times story. [Visit the original article here - NYTimes There is a fascinating slide show at the original site.]

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — For thousands of years, Native Americans used the river banks here to cross a gap in the Appalachian Mountains, and trains sped through during the Civil War to connect the eastern and western parts of the Confederacy. In the 21st century, it is the Internet that passes through Chattanooga, and at lightning speed.

“Gig City,” as Chattanooga is sometimes called, has what city officials and analysts say was the first and fastest — and now one of the least expensive — high-speed Internet services in the United States. For less than $70 a month, consumers enjoy an ultrahigh-speed fiber-optic connection that transfers data at one gigabit per second. That is 50 times the average speed for homes in the rest of the country, and just as rapid as service in Hong Kong, which has the fastest Internet in the world.

It takes 33 seconds to download a two-hour, high-definition movie in Chattanooga, compared with 25 minutes for those with an average high-speed broadband connection in the rest of the country. Movie downloading, however, may be the network’s least important benefit.

“It created a catalytic moment here,” said Sheldon Grizzle, the founder of the Company Lab, which helps start-ups refine their ideas and bring their products to market. “The Gig,” as the taxpayer-owned, fiber-optic network is known, “allowed us to attract capital and talent into this community that never would have been here otherwise.”

Since the fiber-optic network switched on four years ago, the signs of growth in Chattanooga are unmistakable. Former factory buildings on Main Street and Warehouse Row on Market Street have been converted to loft apartments, open-space offices, restaurants and shops. The city has welcomed a new population of computer programmers, entrepreneurs and investors. Lengthy sideburns and scruffy hipster beards — not the norm in eastern Tennessee — are de rigueur for the under-30 set.

“This is a small city that I had never heard of,” said Toni Gemayel, a Florida native who moved his software start-up, Banyan, from Tampa to Chattanooga because of the Internet speed. “It beat Seattle, New York, San Francisco in building the Gig. People here are thinking big.”

But so far, it is unclear statistically how much the superfast network has contributed to economic activity in Chattanooga over all. Although city officials said the Gig created about 1,000 jobs in the last three years, the Department of Labor reported that Chattanooga still had a net loss of 3,000 jobs in that period, mostly in government, construction and finance.

EPB, the city-owned utility formerly named Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, said that only about 3,640 residences, or 7.5 percent of its Internet-service subscribers, are signed up for the Gigabit service offered over the fiber-optic network. Roughly 55 businesses also subscribe. The rest of EPB’s customers subscribe to a (relatively) slower service offered on the network of 100 megabits per second, which is still faster than many other places in the country.
Some specialists say the low subscriber and employment numbers are not surprising or significant, at least in the short term. “The search for statistical validation of these projects is not going to turn up anything meaningful,” said Blair Levin, executive director of Gig.U, a high-speed Internet project that includes more than three dozen American research universities. Mr. Levin cited “Solow’s paradox,” the 1987 observation by Robert M. Solow, a recipient of the Nobel in economic science who wrote that “you can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

Such is the case with many new technologies, Mr. Levin said. No one is going to design products that can run only on a one-gigabit-per-second network if no such networks exist, he said. But put a few in place, he added, and soon the supply of applications will drive a growing demand for the faster connections.

Chattanooga’s path to Gig City is part of a transformation that began long before most Americans knew the Internet existed. Named America’s most-polluted city in 1969 because of largely unregulated base of heavy manufacturing, Chattanooga has in the last two decades cleaned its air, rebuilt its waterfront, added an aquarium and become a hub for the arts in eastern Tennessee. In more recent years, an aggressive high-tech economic development plan and an upgrade of the power grid by EPB moved Chattanooga toward the one-gigabit connection.

In 2009, a $111 million federal stimulus grant offered the opportunity to expedite construction of a long-planned fiber-optic network, said David Wade, chief operating officer for the power company. (EPB also had to borrow $219 million of the network’s $330 million cost.) Mr. Wade said it quickly became apparent that customers would be willing to pay for the one-gigabit connection offered over the network.

Chattanooga has been joined in recent years by a handful of other American cities that have experimented with municipally owned fiber-optic networks that offer the fastest Internet connections. Lafayette, La., and Bristol, Va., have also built gigabit networks. Google is building privately owned fiber systems in Kansas City, Kan.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Austin, Tex., and it recently bought a dormant fiber network in Provo, Utah.

The systems are the leading edge of a push for ever-faster Internet and telecommunications infrastructure in a country that badly lags much of the world in the speed and costs of Web connections. Telecommunications specialists say that if the United States does not keep its networks advancing with those in the rest of the world, innovation, business, education and a host of other pursuits could suffer.

Even so, few people, including many who support the systems, argue that everyone in the country now needs a one-gigabit home connection. Much of the public seems to agree. According to Federal Communications Commission statistics, of the households where service of at least 100 megabits per second was available (one-tenth as fast as a gigabit), only 0.12 percent subscribed at the end of 2012. In Chattanooga, one-third of the households and businesses that get electric power from EPB also subscribe to Internet service of at least 100 megabits.

But just as few people a decade ago thought there would be any need for one terabyte of data storage on a desktop computer (more than 200 million pages of text, or more than 200 movies), even the most prescient technology gurus have often underestimated the hunger for computer speed and memory.

Fiber-optic networks carry another benefit, which is the unlikelihood that a potentially faster network will come along soon. Fiber optics can transmit data at close to the speed of light, and EPB officials say the technology exists for their network to carry up to 80 connections of 10 gigabits per second at once.

Those who use Chattanooga’s one-gigabit connection are enthusiastic. Mr. Gemayel, the Florida native who moved Banyan here from Tampa, first passed through Chattanooga in 2012, when he heard about an entrepreneurial contest sponsored by The Company Lab with a $100,000 prize. Banyan, which was working on a way to share real-time editing in huge data files quickly among far-flung researchers, won the contest. Mr. Gemayel returned to Tampa with his check.

But once there he discovered that his low-bandwidth Internet connection was hampering the development of his business. By the beginning of 2013, he had moved to Chattanooga.

Other companies have become Gig-related successes. Quickcue, a company that developed a tablet-based guest-management system for restaurants, began here in 2011 and over the next two years attracted about $3 million in investments. In December, OpenTable, the online restaurant reservations pioneer, bought Quickcue for $11.5 million.

Big technology dreams do not always pan out, of course, and Chattanooga is familiar with failed experiments. The city spent millions of dollars in the last five years to build a citywide Wi-Fi network, known as the “wireless mesh,” intended for use by residents and city agencies. It sits largely unused, and its utility has largely been usurped by 4G wireless service.

Few people here would say that the Gig has even begun to be used to its fullest. “The potential will only be capped by our selfishness,” said Miller Welborn, a partner at the Lamp Post Group, the business incubator where Banyan shares office space with a dozen other start-ups. “The Gig is not fully useful to Chattanooga unless a hundred other cities are doing the same thing. To date, the best thing it’s done for us is it put us on the map.”

For all the optimism, many boosters are aware there are limits to how far the Gig can take the city, particularly as it waits for the rest of the country to catch up.

“We don’t need to be the next Silicon Valley,” Mayor Andy Berke said. “That’s not who we’re going to be, and we shouldn’t try to be that. But we are making our own place in the innovation economy.”

Finally, It's Time for the "ALEC Part"

One second after the Chattanooga system had delivered its first "gigabyte per second" gigabyte somewhere, the "red telephone" at the central ALEC anti-democracy bunker began ringing frantically. The voice on the other end was repeating -- in a desolate, panicked voice -- "Make it stop! Make it stop! This is going to ruin everything!"

Now, MeanMesa wasn't there, so guessing whether it was Verizon or ComCast on the line would amount to nothing more than sheer speculation. However, as fast as raw lightening at dinner time in Kansas, the ALEC "emergency legislation authorship" team was ordered into action. Dozens of otherwise incompetent state legislators all across the nation in red state Houses and Senates must be supplied with bills which could stop this Chattanooga travesty in its tracks!

You know, before it spreads!

This is what we're supposed to say, right? [cartoon - Daily KOS]

As soon as they received the emergency ALEC marching orders, the sold out national Congressional reactionaries also immediately jumped into the suppression's "counter insurgency" operation in Washington. By the time the tea party had fumbled Marsha Blackburn to the microphone to wail about the "injustice of it all," secretaries and administrative assistants all across Wall Street were desperately snatching their snivelling, whimpering CEO's off the suicide ledges atop the lavish net providers' skyscrapers.

National Journal
[Visit the original article here - National Journal]

House Votes to Save Bans
 on City Internet Service

Republicans want to stop the FCC from preempting state laws.

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