Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gessing's Game: Same Old Right-Wing Rap

The New Mexico stepchild of the far right-wing Cato Institute has come thundering into the discussion about the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan and related efforts to protect internet neutrality.

Predictably it's on the side of the telecoms. 

Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, which is generously funded by Cato,  has sent op-eds to New Mexico newspapers, including the one in my home town, resurrecting that evergreen right wing bromide: "you can't have it both ways."

You can't have environmental protection and economic growth.

You can't have regulation of big banks and a healthy stock market.

You can't have a country safe from terrorists and abide by every little jot and tittle of the Bill of Rights.

Or, as Gessing puts it, "We cannot expect companies . . .(which "companies?" Why, your altruistic friends, the telecoms.  AT&T.  Comcast.) . . .We cannot expect companies locked in regulatory prisons to be free-market pioneers."

"Regulatory prisons?"  He's talking about the internet neutrality bill. 

The FCC broadband plan wants to set goals for faster, cheaper internet service in the United States -- goals which, if met, would enable the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the world.  The United States is now 15th, behind France, Sweden, Canada and a dozen other countries in broadband penetration.  It ranks 19th in average download speeds. And it pays more for its slower service.

Mr. Gessing's litte piece of right-wing propaganda purports to be "all for increasing broadband usage and speed" -- sort of.  The telecoms, poor souls, can't possibly make improvements if they're subject to "onerous regulation."

And what, pray, is this "onerous regulation,"  also known as internet neutrality?  It means that internet service providers -- your pals at AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable -- would be prohibited from discriminating against different kinds of content and applications on line.  It protects the consumer's right to use any equipment, content, application or service without interference from the network provider. With Net Neutrality, the network's only job is to move data -- not to choose which data to reward with higher quality service,  and which to deny.

This is the way the 'net operated from its very inception until 2005, when George Bush's FCC tried to rewrite the rules on behalf of the big ISPs.  They want to put up tollbooths for access to the internet,  deciding which web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all, and charging them a toll to deliver their data. Of course they want to be able to favor their own search engines, internet phone services and streaming video, and to slow down or block services offered by their competitors.

Now the telecoms are spending millions to lobby against restoring internet neutrality through congressional action, and Mr. Gessing is happy to oblige them.

Why, look, he says, at what wonderful things the ISPs are doing for you!  "Right now, wireline broadband is avilable to 95 percent of the American population, and when you add 3G wireless, that number goes to 98 percent. Internet speeds of one megabyte per second are available through satellite providers who charge about $70 a month.  All of this happened without any Big Plan from the federal government."

Er, Paul, good buddy, if I lived in Japan I'd get broadband at  30 megabytes per second!  I'd get 10 Mps in Taiwan; 50 Mps in 95% of South Korea; 50 Mps in 75% of Germany; and universal coverage at speeds from four to 100 times faster than the U.S. in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the U.K.

Free market?  Competition? You've got to be kidding, Paul. In the U.S., 96 percent of households have access only to two or fewer wired broadband services providers. The situation will only grow worse as demand for higher speeds grows. By 2012,  only 15 percent of households will have a choice of even two providers offering world-class broadband service.

As Gessing himself acknowledges, it can cost you up to $70 a month in the U.S. to get one megabyte per second service.  To get a world-class 50 Mps, you'll pay about $145 per month.  The same 50 Mps costs $28 per month in South Korea.  In the U .K. it's even cheaper: $26 per month for 50 Mps. 

And nobody's manning toll booths over there to decide who gets to ride on the internet, or what fee they'll pay.

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