Some Bits are More Equal Than Others

Does anyone remember Jay Gould? He was one of the most notorious of the robber barons during the later 1800s. Today we are reacquainting ourselves with his progeny. They are named Comcast, Cox, Verizon, Charter, Time-Warner and CableVision. There are others, but these are the biggest, the new Goulds. With the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling the FCC did not have the authority to enforce its policy of net neutrality they have ushered America into a new Gilded Age.

The fleecing of Americans that created the first Gilded Age began to come under control with the passing of the Interstate Commerce Act, ending the special deals the railroads gave to favored customers (the ones they held interests in) and the business manipulations that created monopolies. This new court ruling legalizes the special deals and monopolies for America’s new robber barons, broadband Internet service providers. The FCC had tried to enforce a policy that service providers treat one bit the same as any other bit; to deliver these bits in the order they were requested and with the same zeal regardless of content. This policy is called net neutrality. The court has pronounced “policies” are just suggestions and not enforceable.

Breaking this policy brought Comcast before the House subcommittee to explain why they were not doing this; why they slowed down the bits that make up the movies and TV shows their customers requested from the information superhighway.

“Why do you do this?” the committee asked. Comcast said, “To improve our customers Internet experience.” Honest. The technology is very complicated. Follow this closely: Movies and TV shows from the Internet damage the experience of the entire customer base by hogging bandwidth, essentially clogging the pipe. Some customers selfishly ask for this programming to the detriment of their neighbors. Those customers are selfish pigs. Bad customers. They don’t deserve bandwidth. However, by applying the latest technology, these same programs can arrive over the same cable with no undo harm. To process the data an additional $60/month is sent to Comcast. This $60 is used to lubricate the pipe to let all the bits fit in, to fit in deep, to really pack it. Now that’s Comcastic!

This technology solution was also used to cure a similar problem Clearwire and Madison River were having when their customers tried Vonnage or other Internet based telephone services. Those alternative phone services ruined their customer’s experience. For their sake, they had to block those services, until they developed a phone service of their own that included the special lubricant for just $30 a month. No new wires, no serious infrastructure investment, just green technology – Now that’s innovation!

Think about it this way: You pay a company to deliver flowers to your special someone on an important anniversary. You buy those flowers from a shop down the street because you like their arrangements. The delivery service picks them up and puts them on the truck where they sit until they wilt because the trucking company has a deal with 800-FLORALS whose products will be delivered first. If you had only ordered from 800-FLORALS you wouldn’t be in the doghouse for sending crappy wilted flowers.

This is what the railroads did to the small farmer back in the day and this is what you’re cable/internet/telephone provider is doing today. The companies have negotiated monopolies in virtually every market they are in, so if you want to play you’ll have to pay. At least the last robber barons built enormous mansions with our money that we now can visit in awe. The only thing this new group is just providing is a larger bill for increasingly poor service. This is the cable version of “green” technology.

We pay on average $17 more a month than they do in South Korea and, for that, we receive slower connection speeds. The people of Greenland and Australia, along with 15 other countries, have better access to broadband Internet connects than do Americans. We are a gracious people and do not want to embarrass the world by showing off, but to hear these robber barons tell it, they can’t feasibly match this level of service without even more of our money. Want to see if your local retailer of has a product in stock and what the price is? Good luck, because only the national chains will have the money to assure their listing comes up first (hijacked browsers and search engines have also been documented). The small business with the better idea, the backbone of America, will be frozen out; stuck because they can’t afford the lubricant. This is just one of the many things that will be lost if we lose net neutrality.

(I’m not one for public service announcements, but this issue can be easily cured. Contact your representative and ask that they demand the FCC reclassify all these companies as being in the telecommunications business. With that change the FCC has clear regulatory power. Also contact the members of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet and let them know your concerns. – Thanks!)

UPDATE: 5/6/10 – Someone was listening! The reclassification has begun. Check out this article from CNET. Prepare for a propaganda campaign like no other. Remember, these are the folks who have recordings that thank you for “choosing” them while you’re on hold waiting to be hung up on by service people who deliver anything but service. Monopolies have such a wonderful sense of the absurd…

UPDATE 6/11/10 – The monopolies have won on an end around! Please contact your representative and voice your displeasure. You can also sign a petition here:


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