October 17, 2018

Marty Kaplan: Just Like the Internet You See in the Movies

No Web sites that choke your browser.  No waiting for YouTube clips to buffer.  No email attachments too big to send.  No files that take forever to download.  No “Loading – please wait” messages, or spinning beach balls, or slowwwwly lengthening bars meant to tame your mounting impatience.

That’s how the Internet works in the movies.  On laptops and cell phones and the rest of the small screens we watch on the big screen, the Internet is a tantalizingly perfected version of the hiccupping marvel we know now.

In a handful of years at most, the blinding speed and reliability we see in the movies will be available here in reality.  Too bad it won’t be available on the Internet.

Last week, Google and Verizon ” target=”_hplink”>touted their pact, which echoes what ” target=”_hplink”>Comcast also have in mind for us, as a plan to protect consumers from being shafted in precisely the way that Google and Verizon will be enabled by their plan to shaft us.

You would think that some consumer protection agency would stop them.  Federal Communications Commission to the rescue!  But George W. Bush’s FCC voluntarily gave up any authority over the Internet.  They voted to classify the Internet as an information system – something like the Associated Press wire service, or Bloomberg, over which they have no jurisdiction – rather than something like, well, the Internet.

But wait:  Isn’t there a new Administration in town?  Didn’t President Obama make an explicit campaign ” target=”_hplink”>top all-time donor to Congress, surpassing Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.  Verizon has given more to the campaigns of congressmen and senators than General Electric, Pfizer or the National Rifle Association.  It’s no surprise that a majority of members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike – have written to Chairman Genachowski demanding that he cave to the industry, and to leave the Internet’s future in their own well-greased hands.

This battle isn’t just about money.  Sure, the phone, cable and wireless companies stand to make a fortune if they can jack up the price that content companies and consumers have to pay in order to send and receive entertainment online; that’s why they’re spending a fortune to stop the FCC and Congress from stopping them.  But this battle is also about keeping free speech and free enterprise free.

Right now, the Internet treats all content – including all political and religious speech, and all e-commerce – the same.  You can be a blogger whose rants are read only by people you’re related to, or you can be pumping out videos riling up tens of millions of your followers, but the Internet is neutral; it doesn’t play favorites.  You can be a start-up with two employees, or you can be Amazon; the Net Neutrality that exists today means that all entrepreneurs are competing on a level online playing field.

Without the Net Neutrality we have now, there’s no guarantee that all content will continue to get the same fair shake.  Are you comfortable with handing over to Big Media the ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.