Nobody just wakes up in the morning and before lunch announces to tens-of-millions of people that they’re about to pay more for less quality. You prepare the battlefield. You try to move opinions and interpretations of an issue. This is so they hate you less when you propose to damage the lives of many, and stab them in the back in a reckless & cynical attempt to please a company who gave your political bosses lots of campaign cash.
The Post is usually very good at reading the way the winds are blowing inside Washington. They have a decent feel for what the culture of the town is currently thinking. You tend to believe that Washington is run by folks who get your vote. More and more it’s run by a legion of permanent and unelected bureaucrats.
Your chosen representative is a visitor. The people who influence decisions live there. They are each other’s friends, their kids attend the same schools, they drink beer together, this is their life. So what they think of an issue matters. It guides the way a topic is discussed and debated. So when the Post makes such an emphatic statement of support for one side? You can guarantee a good chunk, if not a majority, of Washington thinks the same thing. And thus the Post has determined that it’s okay for Comcast to enslave the market.
If you’ve followed my previous posts on this issue you’ll know I substantially disagree with the Post’s assessment. It’s a good argument, but I don’t concur. I have two key problems with the Post’s supporting evidence.
1) A misguided understanding of the future of the broadband market
The Post seems to think that Comcast faces aggressive competition both now and in the future. And thus the market will keep them in check. They make the claim that potentially there are other upcoming options outside the connections of wired companies. Or that a wired business will face many new future competitors.
Everybody brings up Google Fiber as an example. Folks, even in the next decade Google Fiber is going to be available to only 2% of the population. And I think that’s too high an estimate. If even goliath Google doesn’t see a practical or financial inventive to offer this new service to like 33% of the market, what do you think the chances are that anybody else will? Without something like mandated line sharing, nobody new is going to enter the market because it takes billions up front to lay the infrastructure to establish a comprehensive, urban, wired product.
They then also state that Comcast’s critics are “speculating” when they claim it’ll use it’s dominance of the market to promote its own content. Now if the Post honestly believes Comcast, or any other reasonable corporation, would not use market supremacy to promote content they own? No, no really the Post can’t be this stupid. Trust me folks, they’ll advance the interests of their own content. I’d bet one of my dogs on it.
And don’t believe for a second that there’s a future outside wires. Comcast or Verizon offer speeds up to 500M. Almost no traditional (affordable) wireless internet option provides over 100M. Don’t let people tell you wireless anything can overpower the dominance of a business that owns the stuff buried underneath the ground. The electromagnetic spectrum is only so big. You can’t ignore the laws of physics.
2) Trust in routine, daily regulation
The Post believes that Washington, the civil service, is in a position to “… respond if big industry players begin to violate basic principles of market fairness”. Essentially the Post is saying they trust the bureaucracy to establish and enforce “fairness” if a broadband corporation (Comcast) steps out of line.
Well, what’s “fairness”? And what laws guide the current broadband internet market? Don’t look to the legislature to inform you. Congress still hasn’t crafted comprehensive laws that update guidelines since the internet became such a part of daily life. By the way, as with most things, a major villain here is a Congress that can’t do its job.
So if the laws aren’t a reasonable benchmark for regulators, then they’re left to basically make it up and trust their gut. And if civil servants are left to make it up, then they can essentially do whatever they want. When the bureaucracy decides what is “fair”, the individual consumer is going to lose. Why? Because the individual consumer doesn’t have campaign cash in the quantity that the corporation does. The Post trusts regulators to be “fair”, but it’s not an equal playing field between the consumer and the corporation, and so it can’t be “fair”. Particularly when, as we’ve previously posted, the guy making the decision spent decades lobbying for the people he’s presiding over.
This isn’t a normal business operation in the sense that you have the option to choose. What do I mean by that? Nobody makes you go buy McDonalds or an X-Box. These are add-ons to your life. I suppose you also have the option to not buy broadband internet, but if you do not possess fast, reliable internet? You’re going to get culturally & practically left behind everybody who does. You think inequality is bad now? Wait until access to the internet is controlled nationwide by maybe two or three entities, which possess isolated monopolies, and manage what content you see.
This isn’t just about how much you pay. It’s also about quality of service. When you don’t have competition, don’t be surprised when your service is complete garbage. Think it’s a coincidence that Comcast has arguably the worst customer service rating? The beneficial rules of the market break down when the game is rigged. Broadly speaking, there are exceptions, Americans already pay more for a less capable connection with far fewer options than most of the Western world.
Everything you do is supposedly going online: your car, your thermostat, your job, your pet’s medical records, your pacemaker, your kid’s homework, and so on. You don’t need Burger King to play in the modern world. Without internet access, you’re toast. This is why aggressive management of this topic is so important. It’s why normally when I’d just let capitalism do its thing, that I’m so inclined to mistrust leaving this one alone. The Post makes a pretty good case. But I just can’t agree with their technical assumptions. And I sure as hell don’t trust their faith in the regulatory regime to keep this “fair” for the individual consumer.
I’ve brought up this example before, and I’m going to keep doing it because it illustrates just how important this issue is. One day, when you’re close to being a bleached skeleton, your failing heart is going to be connected to your doctor via your internet connection. Do you want a monopoly and its regulators running your internet? If you do, or you don’t care, then you deserve the service & price you’ll get.
Ah, yes, (sips brandy) my well-targeted influence campaign is paying off (tents fingers)