A Third Party And The Internet “Pipes” Providers’
Planned Strike Against Political Freedom
Lawrence R. Velvel
On Thursday morning, in The Wall Street Journal online, Peggy Noonan (of all people) favorably discussed the possibility of a third party. Her most basic point was that there is a gulf between the polls in Washington -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- and the people of the country. The polls, whatever their differences, she says, see things pretty much the same way regardless of party, while people in the country see things very differently indeed.
Well, happy as one may be that another journalistic big foot has now written respectfully of the possibility of a third party, I nonetheless do not know that she’s got the basic discrepancy (or discrepancies) right. Washington isn’t totally divorced from the country (though a divorce, with Washington moving to a different continent, might be a fine idea). Rather, Washington reflects the views of the monied class of the country, who can afford to and do buy Presidents, Congressmen and Senators. And that monied class is largely out in the country, among us hoi polloi (though a surprising number of big companies now are headquartered in Washington, which has little to offer them except ready access to polls and consequent convenience of entertaining, grafting, bribing, etc.). And since the monied class is largely out in the country -- with most of their highly-paid lawyers and other highly-paid intellectually (and personally) sycophantic minions – any split is not mainly between Washington and the country. Rather, the basic split, if there is a basic split, is between the monied -- in Washington and out -- and the rest of us. In Washington, everyone is bought and paid for, and reflects the interests of their payers.
Of course, there are in reality lots of splits, over lots of issues. It’s not just the monied versus the others, although that is a big part of it, and maybe would even be all of it but for the so-called lifestyle and/or morality issues, e.g., abortion, marriage, religion, stem cell research, etc. In these regards, maybe it is fair to say that one split, or maybe even the split, is between the whacked out right wing and the rest of us.
With regard to differences of views, let me now bring up an issue which, being ignorant and behind the times, this writer had hardly heard of before yesterday. The issue is so-called internet neutrality. This was discussed on Thursday, June 1st by some very competent people -- one of whom is a famous law professor I have often heard of and whose views are often described -- on Tom Ashbrook’s NPR radio show, called On Point. The idea is that the owners of the “pipes” over which Internet messages and content travel -- the cable companies, the phone companies, et. al. -- want to be free to charge creators of content more money to have their content sent faster than to have it sent slower. Thus, for example, large companies would pay more, no doubt a lot more, in order to have their messages, videos, audios, and any other content transmitted rapidly. The rest of us peasants, who could not afford to have our content move fast, would pay less and have it move more slowly.
Now, as with almost all issues, especially ones that have legal ramifications -- the legal issues here involve some degree of regulation of the “pipes” companies versus letting them charge whatever they want -- one can cite analogies on one side or the other. For instance, an analogy on one side is that a seller who wants to send its product faster can pay more and use Federal Express instead of surface mail. On the other side, a caller’s phone call is transmitted when it is made; you don’t pay more in order to avoid having it delayed. Etc., etc., etc. on one side and the other. So, having been around the law, where analogies are a way of life, for 46 years, and being familiar to a fare thee well with the fact that there always are analogies on both sides of an issue, the arguments by analogy don’t move me. Except for one point. The shill who was arguing for the “pipes” companies’ right to charge more to the rich to get their messages transmitted faster, kept saying, and seemed able to say only, that internet denizens are already familiar with the concept of paying more for greater speed. Someone who can’t afford to pay more, he said, uses dial up. For more money you get DSL, which is faster. For still more money you get broadband or its equivalent, which is faster still. But as the famous law professor pointed out, the shill was talking about differential amounts for speed that are paid by consumers of content, not by providers of content. While I listened, the shill had no internet analogy to offer for making the providers pay more for speed. Purely in terms of legalistic-type analogies, his argument might be germane if the pipes companies were asking consumers to pay more to get content faster over the internet. But so far, they’re not. They’re seeking to have the provider pay more (although in theory I suppose it could be possible to have the consumer pay to get a message more quickly, which would make the shill’s consumer analogy at least relevant).
But beyond analogies lies the really important point. What the capitalists who own the pipes are seeking -- whether they intend it or not -- is a ten pin strike against political freedom. The average guy can’t be published in a newspaper, and cannot afford the money to pay to be on radio or television. His voice is limited. The great benefit of the internet, the reason it bade fair to be the new version of the poor man’s printing press (which is what picketing and marching once were called), is that it gave everyone a chance to have his or her say in a way that was immediately available to anyone who found it or knew of it and wanted to read it. That is why tens of millions of blogs sprang up, with (at least) many thousands of them being on political subjects, and with blogdom sometimes having major political impacts. That is also why it has been suggested here that the internet provides a low cost vehicle for creating a new party to try to cure the horrible situation created by our two current parties, who are beholden to big money, to the wealthy. If the owners of the pipes, who already are paid for use of the pipes (and whose high officers make millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars annually), can begin differentiating between producers, as to speed of transmission, on the basis of how much the producers pay, then one can rest assured that the wealthy -- and their trash commercial content -- will quickly take over the high speed transmissions, just as they completely monopolize radio and TV, and just as their incredibly greedy profit seeking has had a very deleterious effect on print journalism. One can be sure that the average guy with something he wants to say will be relegated to lower speed transmissions. (It is, after all, far more important that some idiot be able to quickly send, or to watch, Tarzan than that we hear political views. Right?) Blogdom, and the use of the internet by average people for political purposes, will likely be as good as dead.
Are there any reasons why this might not be true? Abstractly, one can think of some, although in practice they, like lots of abstract possibilities, are unlikely to prove true. For example, maybe the difference in transmission time will be minimal -- a matter of a few seconds at most (rather than hours or days). Maybe the costs of differing speeds of transmission won’t be very much. Maybe other pipe providers will ultimately arise who are dedicated to giving high speed at low cost (at least until they decide or are forced to join the monopolists’ cartel (technically the oligopolists’ cartel).)
Maybe this, maybe that. But I wouldn’t bet on any of it. For what we have here is a bunch of unregenerate capitalists, who think that nothing else is important except trying to make as much as they can conceivably get away with. As with the oil companies and the investments banks, huge profit margins and scores of millions annually for their Chairmen and CEOs isn’t enough for them. They want more. Always more. Nothing else matters to them. The pipes companies are no different.
One gathers that there are people up in arms -- even many money-lusting Congressionals -- who object to the budding attempt to stack the internet in favor of the wealthy, just as newspapers, magazines, books, movies, radio and television are all stacked in favor of the rich. One would strongly urge that denizens of the net should let the Congressionals know that this attempted stacking is not to be countenanced. And that their reelections will be at stake if the net people have anything to say about it. Their reelections, you know, are all that the Congressionals care about.
One last point. In the posting of March 26, 2006, in which this author extensively discussed the need for a third party, several issues were mentioned as ones that a new third party will have to address. The attempt by the wealthy to make the internet into yet another repository of their power, and to thereby strike at other people’s political freedom, has to be one of those issues if the abominable attempt has not yet been buried.
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