Consumer Tech for March
By Richard M. Sherwin
Warning clouds have been gathering for years threatening your access to phone, Internet and Cable TV. Two weeks ago, the storm erupted when the new FCC chief indicated that control over the internet is moving to the service providers. If you thought that Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, Charter, AT@T were killing your pocket book already, things could soon become a lot worse.
According to many consumer watchdogs, Net Neutrality or open Internet has been responsible for the creativity, innovation and access to knowledge and to other kinds of social, economic, cultural and opportunities across the globe.
The experts on both sides of the aisle say that the open Internet is endangered by powerful service providers seeking to become gatekeepers who decide how users can access parts of the Internet. “We don’t want to prevent these companies from using reasonable and necessary methods to manage their networks, but these acts cannot be a pretext to eliminate openness nor to police content,” is a statement issued by several groups.
A decision to kill the net neutrality rules would also result in the rise of already pricey cable, phone and Internet access bills.
According to many news accounts, Ajit Pai, a career lobbyist for the cable industry and new Federal Communications Commission chief, has been working hard to roll back consumer protection regulations created during the Obama presidency. The New York Times claims Mr. Pai took a first swipe at net neutrality rules designed to ensure equal access to content on the Internet. He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed Internet service to low-income individuals and scrapped a proposal to break open the cable box market. DFA has argued since 1980s that consumers should have the right to buy their own equipment.
And if you think that dumping the cable portion of your service bill will help you thwart the anti-consumer FCC, you are wrong there too. If you wind up choosing just Internet for your TV and browsing needs, the new FCC may be also limiting that plan, by allowing service providers to “slow down” your browsing experience, or “speed tiering” which would raise your bills as if you still had cable.
Mr. Pai has been no friend of the consumer and a very good friend of big service providers. But advocacy groups say consumers can fight back. This is one federal agency that your local congressmen can fight with, as it had many times since cable’s inception. Several times in the last 30 years, congress has convinced the FCC to protect consumers or at least forced compromises as new technology emerged..