Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Where's William H. Taft when you need him?

It appears that the Communications Trust is preparing to strike again with another plan to screw consumers who simply don't have any other realistic options.

Time Warner has plans to being testing a new metered bandwidth plan in Texas. I can tell you firsthand that there really aren't any other good options for broadband connection in Texas, so it's not surprising they'd choose that location to roll out this latest outrage.

Initially, the plan might not seem like a bad idea on its face. Other utilities are metered, right? So why not bandwidth? Well, the weaker but still relevant objection is the philosophical: it's wrong force people to pay for information. There are a hundred ways around this objection, most of which involve charging for the medium on which the information is distributed or for the effort of the distribution. This is just the latest bite taken out of Net Neutrality and the egalitarianism of the internet.

But like I said, that's the weaker objection. The stronger is this: Time Warner (and Comcast, which is guilty of its own anti-consumer sins) constitutes a strong regional monopoly, and when they suddenly change not only their own service offerings in this way, but the entire paradigm of the service offered, they essentially blackmail customers into accepting it - customers who did not seek out or sign up for this type of limited service. In most parts of the nation, you will find one cable broadband provider - almost always Time Warner or Comcast - and, if you're lucky, one DSL provider, and that's it if you want more than dial-up. Since these communications giants, along with the few other holders of major network brands, effectively run the FCC with careful lobbying and lots of lawyers, no one can be bothered to rein them in.

I really don't know what to tell you to do about it, I'm afraid. Support the EFF, maybe, or write your legislators. It's hard to oppose these kinds of forces, but give it a try any way you can.

Update: Apparently, Comcast is getting in on the game as well, not by charging more for bandwidth, but by deliberately slowing connections. Comcast's fight with P2P networks is old news, but it's new to me that they're instituting such a general crackdown on bandwidth use. It seems to me to be even more egregious to deliberately deny your customers what they're paying for than to ask more for your service. Both of them taking these actions recently and fairly suddenly, however, cannot help but reinforce the impression of collusion and price-fixing. It is to be hoped that the next U.S. administration lives up to its promise to be the polar opposite of both W. Bush and John McCain, and thus approves of and engages in vigorous trust-busting. I see little hope otherwise given the general apathy of the American public (whom I adamantly refuse to refer to in the general as "consumers," as there is much, much more to life than consumption).

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