Should we mandate open source Internet access?

Should we mandate open source Internet access?

Summary: Internet access is becoming an unregulated, government-mandated duopoly.

TOPICS: Browser

Bruce KushnickWhile most U.S. technology markets are gaining the benefits of open source, one market has become closed to competition.

Internet access.

Internet access is becoming an unregulated, government-mandated duopoly. Increasingly, if you want "real" service (over 64 Kbps) you have only two choices, your local Bell company or your local cable operator.

It's a false choice. Worse, according to Bruce Kushnick's new ebook, $200 Billion Broadband Scandal, it's a rip-off which you paid for, with your money, that you earned.

I was recently permitted to join a closed mailing list celebrating the upcoming arrival of Bruce's book, filled with heavy-hitters, respected names, honored seers of the telecomm landscape. What they are saying, in effect, is we could get much better, fairer, cheaper, faster access to the Internet if the Bell stranglehold on policy were broken -- even at the risk of their bankruptcy.

Moore's Law is driving down the cost of last-mile Internet access, yet the Bells continue to squeeze massive profits, through government regulation, off unfulfilled promises, and now they want to extort money from content providers, claiming that if that is given they will finally deliver.

Too late.

For me, however, the scope of the scandal can be summed up in a factoid:

Already, just in the last few years, we've fallen to 19th in broadband penetration. We're about to be passed by Slovenia, for God's sakes! Slovenia! Slovenia was, in the 1990s, part of Yugoslavia, a country which destroyed itself in civil war. Now Slovenia is passing us in the access its citizens have to the Essential Resource of our Time.

The Internet is not a right, but it is becoming a necessity, like roads, water, and electricity. Yet unlike those goods, there's plenty of capital out there to improve Internet access, if we simply replaced the current proprietary structure of the access market with an open source structure.

Bells should be required to wholesale their capacity again. Phone poles should be made available to WISPs. Anti-trust laws should be strictly enforced. More opportunity for the little guys may mean less for the big guys, but that's how open source grows markets.

Topic: Browser

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  • So, are you going to pay for it?

    I mean all that hardware is not going to be free or install itself so are you willing to foot the bill?

    Or GAWD FORBID are you talking about taxing people even more to pay for it??? If so I'd have ya shot at sunrise... :-)
    • We already did

      Several times over.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • Really? Show me.

        I see no tax on my annual tax report indicating this is true. Or are you saying those that use the internet pay for it? If so, that is as it should be.
        • Did you see the line item...

          ...for roads and bridges on your annual tax report?

          Or maybe the ones for police, fire, and military.

          A couple of things you might actually see:
          Federal Universal Service/Access Fee - This money was originally for making sure the TelCo's wired everyone up not just the easy runs.

          There was a program that paid for internet access at schools. This was funded with Federal tax dollars that went to the TelCo's to provide service.

          We also donated a good chunk in lost value from stocks in varous TelCo and networking equipment companies. Right now we have an over-abundance of fiber run around the US (heck, around the world).
          Robert Crocker
        • Check your Phone Bills.....

          ....we get charged a whole bunch of fees and taxes, whether it a land line or wireless. If you have both I guess you are being charged twice.
          • How is that different...

            from any other good or service purchased.

            There's taxes. There's fees. There's taxes on fees. There's fees on taxes.

            Unfortunately that's life.
        • Yes, there is a universal TELEPHONE fund

          For those with phone service, but not for internet. Now if you have an internet connection it is indeed being taxed, but that means those using it pay for it.
          • No, it's the Universal SERVICE Fund

            The charge is assessed on the telcos (who pass it along to us -- they're not completely stupid!) and goes to the federal government. THEY can pretty much spend it however they wish. It does subsidize basic phone service in rural areas, as well as those $200.00 T-1 circuits at your kids' schools, public libraries, public colleges and universities, etc.

            However, that is all irrelevant. The gist of the article is that if the telcos and cable carriers were forced to share their last mile local loop connections and open access up for true competition (at a realistic price) then we ALL would pay LESS for BETTER and FASTER internet access than we currently do.

            The telcos are regulated by the various state public utility commissions who set the rates for basic services. The rates are set at a point that the telco gets a reasonable return on their investment in the physical plant needed to provide classic TELEPHONE service. Fair enough, so far. An essential service -- voice telephone -- is provided and the company makes money while he customers pay a reasonable (controlled) price.

            Now, enter modern technology that allows UNREGULATED high speed internet access to be provided over that REGULATED last mile. The expensive infrastructure (the outside wiring to your house) was paid for in provisioning a regulated monopoly and the telcos are riding the biggest GRAVY TRAINS of all time selling unregulated services. That's were every one of us is being RIPPED OFF and competition is being stifled.

            Since the local loop was provided for by a regulated monopoly, it is very much a public service and should be open for anyone to use for value-added services.

            Cable TV companies are even worse. They have a monopoly hold on the local loop but local communities are BARRED BY FEDERAL LAW from regulating rates. OK, the cable loop is considerably less expensive to roll out -- you don't need a dedicated wire pair from the CO to every single building but that's not the point. The agreements that they have with the local commmunities generally prohibit the community from leasing space on the same poles or in the same trenches for competing services. Again, the local loop is paid for in exorbitant cable TV fees and the cost per customer of providing internet access on top of that is probably less than $7 ir $8 per month. How much is YOUR cable internet bill?

            Forcing the telcos and cable companies to open up the local loop -- THAT WE HAVE ALREADY PAID FOR -- to competitive carriers would drive all prices down and force the companies to compete on a level playing field. When that happens, the consumer wins.
    • We're either going to be taxed by Gov't or Ripped off

      by big corporations. i would rather see you, by virtue of your incredible thickness and ignorance, and greedy corporate schmucks who overcharge and don't deliver a value in their products, shot at dawn (or any other time of day for that matter).
      FACE IT DUDE. the broadband industry is just plain-and-simple; A MONOPOLY!!, and they are allowed to operate as such buy your elected officeals who profit off their investments in these monopolies....
      • TO: No Axe to Grind

        The liberal side vs the conservative side. Lets see... a group of scientists work for the government to guide and control new technology until REAL standards can be set using the best altruistic minds, OR... we allow BIG BUSINESS to drag as much in profits as possible from the monopoly controlling the technology only from the RESTRICTIVE viewpoint of not allowing anyone elses technology that may infringe upon profits (?DRM?) until the world passes us by and we have to catch up. Hmmmmm

        Why is business (read ENROM) so good and government (read Federal Home Loan Authority) so bad? Unless of course you are invested in the highest tiers of BIG BUSINESS or CONSERVATIVE PRO BUSINESS GOVERNMENT.
  • Overuse of language

    BTW, Dana, not everything "open" needs to be (or should be) compared to "open source." Competition and access to basic infrastructure have been "open" since long before Eric Raymond coined the term.

    Let's not ruin perfectly good linguistic distinctions. And, yes, I know the blog caption line.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Excelent point

      Actually after reading the article I was going to write something similar to your post.

      The article left me scratching my head as

      A) The internet protocols are already open.
      B) Many implementations of the protocols are already open source.

      My impression is that the author does not have a clue of what open source is or means, but what the heck, it's a "long word" eh?

      When people throws around "long words" trying to apear inteligent they invariably end up looking ignorant.

      Open source does not mean free (costless).

      Let's agree that the internet is already part of the infrastructure like water, electricity and telephone. Does the sugestion also include those?

      I agree, we are overpaying, there is no way that the "per customer" cost for High speed is the same now than 5 years ago.
  • Why is low internet penetration bad?

    Regarless of whether the cost of internet access to the consumer relects the cost of delivering it, how many U.S. households cannot afford high-speed internet access?

    Blogs like this are just examples of the self-declared intellectual elite blaming supposedly poor choices made by the illiterate masses on big business.

    Lack of internet penetration in the US is a reflection on typical American values - not American market structure.

    Personally, I could care about as much about whether my neighbor has broadband as I do about his race, religion, or sexual orientation.

    But then I believe people should mind-their-own-business and not try to force their own values on others.
    • Because, umm, well, ummm... BECAUSE!!

      Those poor people with no computer need it....
    • Re.: Why is low internet penetration bad?

      "Regarless of whether the cost of internet access to the consumer relects the cost of delivering it, how many U.S. households cannot afford high-speed internet access?"

      Mine can't. We aren't illiterate, either. We just don't have money to burn.
    • Low penetration

      Low penetration means that a lot of people who don't live Urban or Suburban settings, don't have internet access available. THe only choice is Satellite which generally sucks, and dial up, where the phone lines are so bad you're lucky to get over a 14k connection. This isn't happening in the boonies, it's happening 20 miles away from 1/2 million person cities. Now whether or not you care about who has internet, the more important subject is to understand the situation.
    • American Values...or Markets

      What is your claim based on? What "typical American Values" support this? When prices are kept high because of a lack of competition, then I would say that the market does play at least some part in broadband not being available everywhere. BTW, there are plenty of people out there who are very smart and a long ways from illiterate who do not have broadband, and it isn't always by choice.
    • Because Maximum Penetration Just Feels Better!!!

      Gosh, i thought everyone knew that!!!
      Except self righteous Aeomebas like yourself who spout wisdoms such as "But then I believe people should mind-their-own-business and not try to force their own values on others", but in reality, you really beleive you should call all the shots!! Reverse Eliteism......
    • Where is Broadband going?

      That question is why beginning now to make it more widely available and less expensive is important. Broadband is going to only grow more important in terms of delivering communications and services. What century do you think this is, anyway? As people work more hours but still need to find a way to further their education how important do you think online educational resources will be for this? And make no mistake, even for jobs that require good education and training, wages in this country are just going to stagnate if not decline thanks to outsourcing jobs and importing workers who won't complain when they work 80 hour weeks and don't get raises. So further increases in the price of broadband will continue to make a service that will become vital to people less available. Those countries that treat it as an important resource for education will have a larger pool of people using those services to contribute to their economy than we will.
    • It's not forcing our values on others

      It's trying to make sure that all Americans have access to this incredibly empowering technology. What use they make of it, is not ours to decide.

      It's like making sure schoolkids get a breakfast in the morning: it improves the odds that in a decade or two, we won't be surrounded by ill-educated and ignorant neighbors.