Archive for April, 2010

 

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Friday, April 30th, 2010

So I was listening to WBUR this morning on the way into work and they were talking about these new restrictive fishing rules being set up, which take effect tomorrow. I tried to find an article on WBUR’s website on this to link to but failed. So far as I can tell, the new rules do three things:

  1. Restrict the total catch for fishermen to 1/10 what they were previously allowed.
  2. Force fishermen into groups (shares, they called them) where the restrictions on how much fish they could catch was allocated to the group, not the individual fishermen. This means that potentially the first fisherman out for the season can catch all the allowed fish for the season and the rest of the members of the group go belly up (no pun intended).
  3. Make fishermen who accidentally catch a fish that they’re not licensed to catch lose their license for the season. So if you drop a net and pull up one fish that you weren’t supposed to catch, you’re toast.

The guy they interviewed said he thought the new rules were designed to put fishermen out of business, and its hard to disagree. WBUR then interviewed someone from the state fishing board, who proceeded to say some pretty incredible things. He acknowledged that these measures would cause fish prices to rise at the supermarket, but he also went on to say that we here in New England have been spoiled by the general availability of fresh fish like cod and haddock, and that people in Nebraska didn’t generally have access to fresh fish like that, and that we would have to just make due.

The worst part about it all s that the fisherman they had been interviewing said that stocks have been replenished, and that there is no risk of extinction or depletion off the coast of Massachusetts any more. He cited some scientific study. WBUR reporters never put someone on to refute that claim, so I would have to guess he was telling the truth.

So this is asinine on too many levels to count. Frankly, one of the reasons I like living in New England, despite the high costs, is because we can get fresh seafood. I eat fresh fish maybe twice a week. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what the results of this will be… increased imports from Canada? Black markets for illegally harvested fish? I don’t know. What I do know is that that fisherman on the air had $400k in loans out to support his business, and he’ll no longer be able to catch the fish to support those loans. He’s done for.

I also know that despite having an all Democrat delegation in a Democratically controlled congress for the last 5 years, nobody has seen fit to do anything about this other than offer some words of condolence. It’s like the health care bill, where nobody in the congressional delegation tried to stop this stupid tax on medical devices, a tax that will adversely impact the Massachusetts economy disproportionately. Yet none of our supposedly powerful democrats tried to do squat to stop it. Scott Brown campaigned against it and got elected, but by then it was too late.

So I feel bad for the Gloucester fishermen, but I also have to wonder how they’ve been voting all these years.

In any event, the local paper has a decent editorial about the issue:

Remember those promises to get the economy moving again?

Forget it. Not here. Not in Gloucester — not in any New England community that’s economically tied to the proud fishing industry; not anywhere in the nation where small-boat fishermen go about their trade to supply the nation and the world with seafood — and protein.

Around here, and across Ocean Nation, the Obama administration, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is all about destroying jobs and driving small business into bankruptcy in the name of protecting fish stocks that, in many cases, no longer need protection.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Found the WBUR article.

 
 

Mind Over Money

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

So I caught this Nova episode on television last night. They were basically trying to use science to make a political point, namely that since people aren’t always rational, particularly in making business decisions, then capitalism can’t possibly be right, or at least unregulated capitalism can’t. Left implied (I think, I didn’t watch through all the way to the end) is the idea that the better approach is to let the calm, rational philosopher kings intervene in the market to stop people from behaving emotionally and non-logically.

To prove their point, they showed lots of lab experiments of people being induced to act “irrationally”. I put that in quotes since some of the experiments were a bit silly. One asked people if they would accept $100 one year from now, or $102 one year and a day from now. Everyone took the $102. Then they asked if they would prefer $100 today, vs. $102 tomorrow, and everyone took the $100. But that’s not irrational. Is the extra $2 worth the risk that the money won’t in fact be there tomorrow? Of course it is.

Regardless, they were able to show lots of experiments where people made financial decisions that did not maximize their wealth. There are three points to be made regarding these experiments:

  1. All of these experiments were one-offs. Nobody was given the opportunity to learn from their errors. But in the real world, people DO learn from their errors. Which is why it’s easy to find people who exhibit bouts of irrationality. But over the long term, the market tends to correct and behave rationally.
  2. People who don’t learn, ought to be relieved of their wealth according to a rational market theory. Wealth sitting in the hands of morons is wealth that is not working to generate more wealth. So just because some very small minority of people cannot learn from their economic mistakes does not mean that the system is flawed. It may mean that such a person isn’t suited to live an independent life, but from an efficient markets perspective, everything is working according to plan. Megan McArdle writes about this today.
  3. Irrationality can overcome a group in a herd mentality for a period of time, but there is a limit as to how long that can last. The fact that it happens is precisely why technical analysis can be good at predicting stock moves over the short term. But technical analysis fails over the long term. Conversely, value investing works extremely well over the long term, but rarely works over short periods of time. The evidence that most people eventually behave rationally is in all the wealth that has been created in the free world since the writing of Wealth Of Nations. Meanwhile, no planned economy ever came close to producing such wealth.

That is all.

 
 

Verizon FIOS Part IV

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

So I decided to wade back into the swamp and attempt to order FIOS from Verizon again. Last time they wouldn’t accept my order because I refused to give them my social security number. This time they accepted a workaround.

I got on the Verizon chat line with someone named “Upton,” who directed me through the sign-up process. The most interesting thing he said was that I shouldn’t spend too much time reading the legal agreement because the sign-up process would time out if I did. I roughly skimmed it in time, but it’s interesting to note that Verizon instructs their representatives and evidently designs their software to hurry you past the contract you’re agreeing to (that in addition to putting it in an unnaturally small window).

So this time, the sign-up process again said I didn’t need to give my social, and I could also decline to have them look at my credit report. They offered to have me answer questions about myself gleaned from somewhere, but I declined, as I suspected it was from my father’s credit report as mine was locked down and I already told them I didn’t want them looking at my credit report.

This was followed by an email from Verizon instructing me to send in one piece of photo identification and one piece of non-photo identification to a fax number along with a form. The funny thing is that the form had one fax number on it and the email had another. Genius. So I sent in a photocopy of my drivers license and a paper copy of my electric bill to both fax numbers. A few days passed and I heard nothing.

So I called the number on the Verizon email to follow up. It turns out that they had indeed received my paperwork, everything was in order. And the woman on the phone asked me if I was aware that a deposit was required because I hadn’t given them access to my credit report. I informed her no, and she told me that it was $125 deposit for Internet, but had I ordered television service, it would have been $400. Unbelievable.

This, after they claimed that the purpose of looking at my credit report was to determine if I actually lived there.

Now I can see why they want a credit report/deposit if they’re putting a cable box in your home, but for Internet service it’s just silly. Besides, they’re requiring me to pay with a credit card, so they’re not really extending me any credit which needs to be secured with a deposit!!! Extending credit is what the credit card company does. Whatever. I told them fine since it’s not much money. I just think it’s interesting that the apparent price for your privacy is the carried interest on $125.

So they come out to install on May 1, which I realized is when I’m throwing a Cinquo de Mayo party that evidently nobody is coming to. Whatever. If people are there I’ll send Verizon man into the basement to do the install while we eat burritos and stuff.

UPDATE: So one of the ancillary benefits of this FIOS Internet service is I supposedly get access to Verizon’s wi-fi hot spots. Unfortunately, their hotspots are rather useless to me:

Verizon Wi-Fi is not available for PDAs, phones, desktop PCs or Macs.

Uh huh, so forget about using your shiny new iPad with Verizon’s hotspots. Should I assume that it works with Linux though, since they don’t say otherwise?

Previously:
Switching to Fios
Ordering Verizon FIOS, Part II
No Fios For Me

 
 

5 Years Ahead Of The Big Name Pundits

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Rob Sama, in a blog post that originated in a letter to Bob Cringely, back in July 2005:

Apple is clearly coming out with their own office suite. But the question is why? I had originally made nothing of this, thinking that it was just a gap in their product lineup that they were looking to fill, that they couldn’t afford to be reliant on MS for an office suite as they had been in the past. Now I think that they may be doing two things: enlarging the halo and kicking the box.[...]

As I mentioned at the start, MS gets 1/2 of their bottom line from Office. Microsoft has been harvesting profits from a product that they basically have 100% of the market for, and which has been around long enough that it should be something of a commodity. And MS has been way too reliant on this source of income for far too long, with nothing new to replace it. I can almost imagine a guy standing on a rickety old box, reaching for a jar on a shelf, only to have someone walk by and kick the box. That’s what Apple needs to do. If they came out with a version of iWork for Windows (Ok, that’s a sentence, so maybe they’d call it something else), at a low price point of say $99, they may not take the market, but they would force the price of office suites down. That’s kicking the box, destroying the 1/2 of MS’s bottom line, and opening the way for other companies, the MacTel alliance included, to better compete.

Point being, Apple is trying to destroy Microsoft’s ability to charge what they do for MS Office. Doing this grinds down Microsoft’s cash reserves and will eventually turn them into roadkill.

Now here‘s Bob Cringely today:

What Bill Gates didn’t count on when he declared Jobs a loser back in 1998, was the Californian’s tenacity. It took 12 years to do it, but Apple is well positioned now to take Microsoft’s crown.

I mean it. Look at the downward price erosion of Microsoft Office caused by a combination of Open Office and iWork, which is down to $30 on the iPad.

How long will it be until Apple is giving iWork away to sell hardware — an option Microsoft doesn’t have? Not long. By then a bit more of Redmond’s goose will have been cooked.

Digital market leadership is now Apple’s — not Microsoft’s — to lose.

I’m 5 years ahead of the big name pundits. Don’t you forget it.

 
 

Online Movie Pricing

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

The central problem with movie pricing today is that it’s buy before you try. This is probably unavoidable in the pre-online world of visiting theaters and buying and renting discs. But in the online world, this is entirely unnecessary.

Because you can not try before you buy, people are inclined to pirate content in order to try it out. But once they’ve pirated it, they have no incentive to go back and pay for what they already got for free. What’s needed is an easy and convenient way to try a movie and get sucked in (assuming it’s good).

So here’s what I propose: Online services such as iTunes should make watching the first 20 minutes of any movie free. Sort of like how listening to the first 30 seconds of a song is a free sample on iTunes. If you like what you’re watching, go ahead and continue watching, uninterrupted, and you’ll automatically be billed for a rental. If you like it a lot, upgrade your rental to a purchase and keep a downloaded copy.

That’s a billion dollar idea right there, given away for free. SJ can thank me later.

 
 

File Management On The iPad

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

So I finally worked my way through John Gruber’s 7,300 word review of the iPad. What interested me most is that in all his lead-ups to the iPad, touting how it was a revolution in personal computing, the one thing that really stood out was that Apple had dispensed with the file manager. Managing files in the background was the wave of the future, Gruber proclaimed.

So isn’t it interesting that his principle complaint regarding the iPad in his review is… FILE MANAGEMENT! Basically, it would appear that the iWork suite of applications requires you to manually move files back and forth between your iPad and your Mac, mostly by means of syncing through the dock connector. Gruber is right that this is madness, and that the correct model is for the iPad to wirelessly keep documents up to date on iWork.com and even on your Mac at home, kind of like how Google Docs works today. Gruber also links to this good essay on the subject which is worth reading.

I just think at the end of the day that my original assessment of the iPad was right. It’s still suckling at the teat of iTunes, and for the iPad to grow up, it really needs to learn how to live in the cloud.

BTW, none of this means I won’t be getting one. I will be, as my old 12″ iBook is on its deathbed. I’m just waiting for the 3g versions as I think that that new data plan is pretty hard to beat, and will be a killer app on vacations and the like. Moreover, my wife had a co worker who brought one in to work and even my Android using wife was extremely impressed with the device. I’ll be sure to post my own review when I get mine.

 
 

Proud To Have Canceled My WSJ Subscription

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

So I canceled my Wall Street Journal subscription some time ago, shortly after they redesigned their website, which was shortly after Rupert Murdoch bought it. Canceling is probably the wrong word. Really, I just let my subscription lapse; I didn’t renew. I did this for the following reasons:

  • I HATED the new layout of the Wall Street Journal, a layout that was so complex and loony that it would regularly crash my iPhone.
  • They started giving their editorial page away for free, which was a major reason why I bought in.
  • I would only ever really read 5-6 articles a day in the WSJ, and I could get those by searching through Google while paying nothing.
  • NONE of the content I received, including the editorial page, was so unique as to be worth paying for. Generally speaking, I could get content of equal or superior quality that was free on blogs or advertiser supported on other websites.

Now I hadn’t specifically been proud of canceling my subscription until now, simply because it was something I’d given little thought to. I stopped subscribing to something, and reallocated those dollars in my budget. No big deal, certainly not anything to make a public deal about.

But lately, I’ve been feeling differently. To begin with, Rupert Murdoch has been making a giant public stink about how he wants to put all his content behind pay walls, how Google is supposedly stealing all his revenues, and other such nonsense. Frankly, I don’t feel comfortable financially supporting such silliness, but one could conceivably take the position that he’s just an old coot, and that when he passes on or retires his media properties will wind up in saner hands.

Also, word is that the Wall Street Journal is trying to charge something close to the paper subscription price for the iPad version of their publication. I’ve written before about why that approach is folly. So I feel good about not sending my money to people whose thinking about digital media is so badly clouded.

But then there’s this net neutrality thing that the Journal keeps harping on. Now I don’t mind honest disagreement on an issue, but I do mind demagoguery. And the Journal seems to have taken the position that Net Neutrality is some lefty Google hippie sort of conspiracy, and that right thinking people ought to oppose it on that basis alone. Hence wild and weird misstatements as to what Net Neutrality is by the likes of Rush Limbaugh. They also engage in name calling, referring to the proposals as “Network Neutering” or “Net Neut” for short. All in all, it’s disgusting, stupid, and particularly short sighted for conservatives.

So I’m going to fisk Holman Jenkins column in the Journal today. It will take some time, but it’s well deserved, and frankly, somebody has to do it.

Jenkins writes, in a column obnoxiously titled, “End of the Net Neut Fetish?” :

Hooray. We live in a nation of laws and elected leaders, not a nation of unelected leaders making up rules for the rest of us as they go along, whether in response to besieging lobbyists or the latest bandwagon circling the block hauled by Washington’s permanent “public interest” community.

Look, even proponents of Net Neutrality like Techdirt and yours truly think that giving the FCC free reign to regulate the Internet, particularly when congress never gave such authority to the FCC to begin with, is a bad idea. It is good to live in a nation of laws, and procedure matters. But that isn’t to say this battle is over, not by a long shot. Congress clearly has the right to regulate the Internet as it is almost by definition interstate commerce. What is required is what I believe was always required here, for congress to pass a law.

This was the reassuring message yesterday from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals aimed at the Federal Communications Commission. Bottom line: The FCC can abandon its ideological pursuit of the “net neutrality” bogeyman, and get on with making the world safe for the iPad.

This is Jenkins’ basic thesis: that the FCC should spend its time on wireless spectrum issues. Frankly, I think the FCC should be disbanded or otherwise scaled back by quite a bit, but it’s a different issue to me.

The court ruled in considerable detail that there’s no statutory basis for the FCC’s ambition to annex the Internet, which has grown and thrived under nobody’s control.

Correct. A law would need to be passed.

Winning was Comcast, which transgressed the commission’s arbitrary “net neutrality” boundaries when it—oh, about a thousand years ago—slowed a certain bandwidth-hogging application used by a handful of antisocial customers.

It seems like ancient history now, but BitTorrent—a program used to exchange everything from TV shows to motorcycle shop manuals, often in violation of copyright laws—gave rise to one of the two episodes hugged to the breast of the net neut campaigners. The other was the now-thoroughly forgotten Madison River episode of 2004.

Shorn of these two incidents, the dread behind the net neut campaign would lack a single talking point from the real world. As it is, these exceptional cases actually prove the rule: Competition is more than enough to keep providers honest in delivering consumers access to the content they want. An iron curtain of Internet censorship at the hands of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon et al. is not about to descend.

He’s talking about Bit Torrent here, which isn’t so much an application as a protocol (there are many Bit Torrent clients out there). To call Bit Torrent users “antisocial” only reveals the extent of Jenkins ignorance and contempt for learning about his subject matter.

Bit Torrent works by taking a very large file, such as a video file, and breaking it up into millions of tiny pieces, and spreading them around to thousands of clients. Each client then exchanges the various pieces they received with each other, until everyone has a complete copy. You can read a more detailed description here.

The point being, Bit Torrent only works in a social atmosphere. In fact, it works better the more people are using it. Which is precisely why it works so well for downloading popular pieces of content, but is terrible for finding esoteric content enjoyed only by a few. Bit Torrent is the precise opposite of antisocial. It is, in fact, hypersocial.

But let’s take Jenkins at what he really meant, that it’s an activity engaged in by people who dislike the current social order with respect to copyright. By that measure, using Bit Torrent is a form of protest, of civil disobedience. Yes, I know that most people think of the civil rights movement when they think of civil disobedience, but that was well before my time. I think of violating the speed limits, particularly when they were 55 MPH everywhere we went. NOBODY obeyed those limits. Highways were a scene of mass civil disobedience. But back then, Republicans and conservatives didn’t call those people “antisocial”. They called those people “voters” and courted them with a provision in the Contract with America.

Today, copyright laws are an unreasonable length. Effectively, there is no free content that was made in the age of recorded audio and video. As a result, prices are driven up in the world of paid content, since there isn’t anything but paid content. Consequently, entertainers and those who work in the industry make obscene amounts of money. There is absolutely no historical precedent for the highest paid people in a society to be its entertainers but that is what we have today. The use of tools like Bit Torrent constitutes a massive protest against the entire industry and the laws they purchased, particularly the Sonny Bono act and the DMCA.

A better approach for the likes of Jenkins and other conservatives to take would be to propose 20 year copyrights, and an immediate revocation of any copyright for a work published over 20 years ago. Such a law would still leave plenty of room for great artists to grow plenty rich, but would end such absurdities as “Bowie Bonds” and companies like Disney re-releasing for “limited” times movies that were made generations ago, movies that have long since been part of our common cultural heritage, movies that were paid for and generated profits for their true creators well before most of our births.

It may seem like a digression, but these things are all interconnected. And besides which, that isn’t where it started, “oh, about a thousand years ago”. Net Neutrality as a movement started when Ivan Seidenberg accused companies like Google and Vonage of “chewing up his bandwidth” calling them “freeloaders” and the like. He implied that he may have to start blocking or impeding certain websites that didn’t pay Verizon for an “enhanced” delivery service. Vonage replied at the time correctly, “They want to charge us for the bandwidth the customer has already paid for.” Yep, that’s exactly what they wanted to do. Read my analysis at the time, back in January of 2006 here.

The primary issue is and always was that Comcast, Verizon, and their brethren, want to sell “unlimited” Internet access, but don’t want to have to charge for it. They want to be able to sell a false bill of goods. So rather than do what wireless companies do and charge differently for peak and off peak, rather than metering their customers or capping their usage and selling their plans as such, they’d like to sell you unlimited service that isn’t really unlimited. Anyone with a normal sense of justice would be offended by that, a group that evidently excludes Holman Jenkins.

But secondarily, Comcast, Verizon, and others are also in the business of selling content, or rather, access to content. They benefit from the jerry rigging of our copyright laws, the precise laws that so enrage so many people, who go online to engage in civil disobedience and hypersocial activity by using tools such as Bit Torrent. They fear people ditching their cable TV, as I have done, and acquiring content over the Internet alone, whether legally or illegally. This is precisely why they are colluding, illegally I believe, to prevent cable tv shows from being sold to people online who have not already subscribed to cable or satellite service, a scheme euphemistically called “TV Everywhere“.

If Jenkins wants to argue that these laws are a good thing, then he should by all means do so. But to argue that supporters of Net Neutrality are just a bunch of antisocial conspiracy theorists who have no cause to be worried about what their ISPs are up to is in plain contravention of the facts.

Back to Jenkins:

And here’s the really good news: The decision comes just as the FCC, at a cost of $50,000 per page, has put the finishing touches on its vaunted “broadband plan,” which inevitably discovers that only the FCC’s strong arm can save us from falling behind Albania in the race to a wired future.

That plan will now need rethinking (indeed, needs to be rethought in the direction of the circular receptacle). The agency should be thankful, because it actually has much more important work to do.

Laws such as a Net Neutrality law ought to be written by congress, not an unelected body. Here we agree.

We make no predictions about iPad sales, but the device surely heralds two things for the overlapping, archaically defined worlds where the FCC’s regulatory edict still prevails. First, it promises a flood of new demand for mobile and fixed broadband capacity. Second, it presages the utter obliteration of the distinction between print and electronic media.

The iPad does not portend the obliteration of the distinction between print and electronic media. It portends the destruction of print media alone, in much the same way that the lightbulb portended the destruction of the candle. See here for detail.

To both ends, the last thing the FCC needs to do is regulate the prices and services of network providers, since competition is doing a fine job of that, thank you. Faster than anybody might have expected, fixed and mobile are becoming competitive substitutes for each other. Ask any iPhone user who goes back and forth between WiFi and AT&T’s 3G network. Ask Abilene Christian University, which gives every student an iPhone and is building Wifi hotspots all over town and campus to share the load. Ask Line2, whose voice app lets iPhone callers bypass AT&T’s cellular network.

For that matter, ask Sprint, which apparently isn’t going down without a fight—it’s rolling out the nation’s first WiMax phone, on a network originally conceived as an alternative to fixed broadband.

I hate to descend into name calling, but after reading that one has to assume that Jenkins is either joking or a technological ignoramus. 3G maxes out at a speed of 14 megabits per second download, which is about the slowest speed available on a cable modem today. But good luck actually getting that speed on any cellular network today. Moreover, and this really shouldn’t have to be said, simple physics puts a cap on the amount of bandwidth that is available in any area for any given amount of spectrum. But there is no such limit using cable or fiber, because one can always lay more cable or fiber. One cannot lay more spectrum.

Again, the problem here is not that the FCC is needed to regulate prices and services, but rather that cable companies engage in truth in advertising. If they want to sell unlimited service, then it had better actually be unlimited. If they wish to sell a capped service, then by all means do so. But don’t sell a capped service as unlimited, and don’t sell something that attempts to modify Internet Protocol as if it’s the Internet.

So rather than focusing on new excuses to mess with network providers, the FCC should tackle two duties unambiguously before it: Figure out how to liberate the nation’s wireless spectrum (over which it has clear statutory authority) to flow to more market-oriented uses, whether broadband or broadcast, while also making sure taxpayers get adequately paid as the current system of licensed TV and radio spectrum inevitably evolves into something else.

I don’t disagree that freeing up more spectrum is a good thing. The best thing would be to stop regulating it at all, allow owners to buy and sell it like property, remove restrictions on what it can be used for, while reserving a large chunk for average citizens to use in their homes for wireless networking and the like.

Second: Under its media ownership hat, admit that such regulation, which inhibits the merger of TV stations with each other and with newspapers, is disastrously hindering our nation’s news-reporting resources and brands from reshaping themselves to meet the opportunities and challenges of the digital age. (Willy nilly, this would also help solve the spectrum problem as broadcasters voluntarily redeployed theirs to more profitable uses.)

This is utter uselessness. They’re old broken business models. It’s all moving to the Internet and devices like the iPad. And increasingly, writers will become freelance anyway, because who the hell needs Rupert Murdoch to be their publisher? I certainly don’t. And if columns like this one from Holman Jenkins are what results from “editorial discretion” then I can certainly do without that as well.

Now let’s get to the best part [emphasis mine]:

Alas, like all federal agencies that pretend to be brave when they aren’t, there’s a reason the FCC beats up on Comcast—because it’s easier than taking on the entrenched political interests (i.e., members of Congress) who never tire of having a foot on the neck of broadcasters and publishers back home in order to extort favorable coverage. This week was not the first time—or the second time, or third time—that the courts have rebuked the FCC for inventing authority over the Internet out of its hookah. Maybe now the agency will get the message and turn its attention to the regulatory morasses it actually has jurisdiction over.

See, now THERE IT IS, at least from a conservative perspective. For years, media ownership was limited by making spectrum artificially scarce to broadcasters. This artificial scarcity gave the government all the excuse it needed to impose “fairness” upon broadcast media to ensure that alternative opinions went unheard. This benefited politicians, who could use the gatekeepers of news and information to the public to work for them. The exchange was that congress would keep the medium scarce, limiting competition and in exchange broadcasters would give the government and those in power glowing coverage. It basically worked well for about 40 years. During that time, Democrats held congress pretty consistently.

With the repeal of the fairness doctrine, that edifice began to crack. Now the likes of Rush Limbaugh could bring to the forefront news that was buried on the back pages and was not being covered by the more prominent mainstream media. Cable TV provided another crack in the edifice, giving people a choice in news channels. It should be no surprise that during that time congressional elections became competitive once again.

But the genie was really let out of the bottle with the advent of the Internet. Now, we have a vibrant diversity of opinion again, and people question their government from the left and the right. Voter turnout is up, and people are more engaged in current affairs. None of this suits politicians, of course, who would like nothing more than to put the genie back in that bottle. Which means, of course, having a gatekeeper to influence.

Like it or not, that gatekeeper is your broadband provider, your cable company (DSL does NOT count as broadband in any colloquial or modern sense of the term). Your cable company got to be a gatekeeper by bribing local officials into giving theme exclusive deals. In other words, they’re coercive monopolies. That’s why Comcast is changing their name to Xfinity. Because their customers LOATHE them. And the only reason why customers buy from a company they loathe is that they are in a coercive relationship.

If you want to avoid Net Neutrality type regulations, bust up the coercive monopolies, starting with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. In the meantime, congress should enforce Net Neutrality the way they enforce GAAP, by saying in essence, “The IETF decides what Internet Protocol is, and if you’re not in compliance you’re not selling Internet, and you can’t say you are.” End of story.

 
 

Happy Easter

Sunday, April 4th, 2010