I am probably going to get kicked out the United States for saying this, but I think private companies are the worst possible stewards of our information infrastructure. Our household was without DSL for five days. Five days. If you’re a writer who works mainly on the Internet, communicates via email with 95% of friends and family, and, well, enjoys and prefers reading online publications, five days is ridiculously long.
While I believe everyone on the customer service food chain for our telephone company was sincere in their desire to do something, overall, the response was abysmal. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to outsource your support to India, stop with the scripts already and give the call center staff some ability to actually resolve problems. It isn’t the off-shoring that is the problem: it is the resultant frustration because problems aren’t being resolved. Five days is too long for any utility to be out of commission, barring a major natural disaster.
After a lovely break for a summer vacation, Congress is returning to work this week. They are going to take up a slew of bills designed to shore up their voting base — presumably, the thought process is something like, “Okay, if we’re real busy for the next six weeks, people will think we’ve been working for the past several years.” Okay, sure, underestimate voters. I know I’ve been paying attention.
One item on the agenda is Net Neutrality. There are other who can discuss the arcana of this issue far better than me. What matters most is the idea that service providers — like my phone company — will be able to regulate the flow of traffic over their lines. This means, very simply (possibly too simply), that if AT&T decides to implement its own search technology, then it can slow down the results from Google and MSN, thereby encouraging customers to use its faster service. Except, of course, people will prefer Google because Google is a known brand.
Other examples? You like the YouTube, don’t you? What if Verizon says, “We like our VTube better. And we think you should only watch ours.”? Then they slow YouTube down and speed theirs up.
As a consumer, I do not have a choice when it comes to the phone line coming into my home (and, as we learned during the great DSL Blackout of 2006, our cable company is not winning awards for service). And, as a consumer, I should not have to go through the hassle of comparing and weighing network speed options when it comes to deciding how I will get the Internet. I pay for a certain speed from my service provider — I expect all traffic to come through at the speed, regardless.
Alaska Senator Ted Stevens is currently pushing legislation that will, effectively, eliminate the principle of Net Neutrality. A proposed overhaul of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 will not have neutrality protections. Stevens has has exhibited shaky understanding of how the Internet works, and has demonstrated that he doesn’t really use the darn thing anyway – somehow, it takes Stevens five days to get the Internet (I believe he meant an email). That’s his justification for eliminating neutrality protections.
To me, it’s proof that his tech staff isn’t doing something right…either than, or someone’s printer was broken. This is not “commercial” activity clogging up the tubes, sir, this is an in-house issue. When my emails are held up, it is rare that the entire Internet is down. Sure, it happens when a major virus is unleashed on the world, but eliminating neutrality won’t help that. Sorry.
Major telecommunications corporations are not focused on customer service. They are focused on share price. This means, as we’ve learned far too often, that critical infrastructure fixes are often delayed because they are expensive and the financial boost will not be immediate. Look at oil refining capability in this country — people complain about regulatory hurdles, and they are indeed high — but nobody has stopped the oil companies from moving forward. It’s an issue of capital outlay, and when it comes to maintaining the pipes, the tubes, the wires, the repeaters, the circuits that make modern communications effective, I am less-than-confident in the ability of private companies to make the right decisions.
Five days. No DSL.
Even more importantly, I do not trust those companies to make the right decisions regarding what web traffic will be delivered to me in a timely manner and what traffic won’t. By virtue of going to a particular website, I am making that decision for myself. I do not want a gatekeeper making my decisions for me. And as long as I pay for my service, then I should not have to be beholden to corporate deals being made without my input — and it will be without my input unless I somehow get a couple of billion dollars that will allow me to buy so many shares of my phone company that they’ll be forced to listen to me.
We need to protect Net Neutrality — this is a consumer issue. And you’ll notice that consumers aren’t begging for the elimination of this concept. No consumer is saying, “Yeah, slow down those websites, would ya?” It’s the phone companies and cable companies who are fighting for this.
That should tell you something.
Other sources and how you can help yourself: