The Lack Of Internet Neutrality May Be A Crippling Factor For Entrepreneurship
Nearly everything about the Internet and the way it's structured today is admirable: the virtually infinite amount knowledge for all to enjoy, the ability to connect with anyone in the world, the efficiency it has provided to every facet of life, the opportunity it offers for anyone to create.
There is nothing not to love about the Internet, except its price — particularly in America, where a sizable portion of users face an ultimatum: pay a provider or have no Internet at all.
As a report by Quartz showed this week, using data compiled by the FCC, 28 percent of Americans only have one broadband provider to settle for in their network, while another 2 percent have no broadband providers, at all.
Overall, 67 percent of the country has two or fewer options to choose from when it comes to broadband service, a fact that is a contradictory to the anti-monopoly ideals of capitalism.
It's one of the gripes that Reddit cofounder and open-Internet champion Alexis Ohanian has with the state of the World Wide Web in America.
“There are still millions of Americans, right now, who are using dial-up Internet,” said Ohanian, who hopes the Internet avoids the failed democratic promises of past communication platforms. “They can't get broadband — this is the same Internet I was using ten years ago — just because they live in rural America. There are millions more of Americans who have to take their kids to McDonald's to use the free wireless, because they can't afford it. If we believe every American should have a reasonable right at electricity, shouldn't we believe everyone in America should have a reasonable right to Internet?”
Ohanian's overall speech, delivered last week at Rutgers University, glorified the value of the Internet and the abundance of resources it encompasses, resources that provide a fair and free chance at acquiring skills that can help people achieve their dreams quicker than generations past.
The net allows everyone to be entrepreneurs, he said, people who simply have ideas and act on them.
However, during the week of the Internet's 25th birthday celebration, there are reasons to reflect on just how much of a danger the greed of broadband service providers pose on our ability to become entrepreneurs.
At the center of those reflections would have to be Comcast, the company which recently announced plans to acquire Time Warner Cable.
Such a deal would combine the two largest cable providers in the US, and make an industry look more like it belonged in the regulation-less early 1890s than one that belongs in the 21st century where the FCC (supposedly) presides.
It's a future that Wired's Art Brodsky mapped out in the bluntly titled article: “Here's how Comcast plans to rule American cable and internet.”
“The combined company would span 70 million subscribers — about 40 percent of all broadband subscribers and 30 percent or so of cable subscribers — and it would have access to 19 out of the country's top 20 markets, including New York and Los Angeles, where Time Warner is the local cable company,” wrote Brodsky.
The most dangerous implication to fear, though, of Comcast's plans is an increased ability to bully smaller entities in ways that it has quietly, but ruthlessly, already done.
Internet service providers, or ISPs, already have the power drag or quicken speeds for certain sites. The fact that they have such controversial abilities has resurfaced after Netflix reported an increase in its speeds following an agreement to pay Comcast.
Moreover, Brodsky highlights Comcast's history of handicapping certain channels, leaving them with less viewers and potential for advertising dollars.
Even worse is the fact that those instances have come in situations where Comcast has had a clear conflict of interest, like its dispute with Bloomberg TV, a news channel that threatens Comcast-owned MSNBC.
The questions to ask, then, become clear: In a country where companies that employ a my-way-or-the-highway policy against smaller businesses are permitted to monopolize, is the spirit of equal opportunity that the net promotes compromised?
With access to more customers, is Comcast encouraged to persist with their anti-capitalistic ways? What happens, then, to the entrepreneur who wants to compete with Netflix, but can't afford to hand payouts to quicken its speeds?
More importantly, what happens to those who don't have quality access to the Internet in a world of providers that becomes less diverse?
Admittedly, there are no concrete answers towards which we can lean. After all, the future is not meant to be predicted.
If the past is any indication, though, the type of situations in which large companies strengthen, consolidate and abuse their power come at the cost of the potential of smaller businesses being undermined.
History repeating itself would only mean that the power of everyone to create and act on ideas would be crippled, severely so.
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