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I'm remaining neutral on Internet neutrality

April 07, 2010|By TIM ROWLAND

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I would like to give you a private peek into the world of a newspaper opinion writer, just to show you -- lest you think this is a gravy job -- what I have to put up with on a routine basis.

At some point Tuesday morning, I received a "breaking news" alert from the Washington Post, which indicated that the courts had sided with a cable provider over the FCC on the issue of "net neutrality."

This provided me with one of those "now that I know that what do I do?" moments and I was prepared to give the issue no more thought, ever.

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Except my e-mail inbox would not let me. For the next two hours, every special interest communications group on the face of the planet weighed in on the issue, calling it everything from a blow to a "net neutrality bogeyman" to an "existential crisis" for the FCC.

I don't know how I get on these people's mailing lists, but I can assure you that the teenage spammers in former Soviet Bloc nations have nothing on the American public relations industry.

They are so earnest in their appeals and seem so certain that they are supplying crucial information that it's hard for me to tell them that, a) I don't care, b) even if I did care I wouldn't write about it in a million years and c) I don't have the faintest idea what the issue involves in the first place.

That an opinion writer should appear so ill-informed about net neutrality will shock those for whom the issue is a big deal. I know that for a lot of people it is a crucial, life-or-death matter that they wake up and worry about in the middle of the night.

But as someone who is right on the brink of concluding that this whole Internet experiment was a bad idea in the first place, my sympathies remain well-muted.

Besides, there are a limited number of topics that I can stay current on. If my brain is crammed with net-neutrality stuff, how will I ever be able to keep tabs on the search for the Higgs boson?

Just as a philosophical thing, I might be tempted to take the side of the FCC over a large, faceless utility. But Comcast has been knocked around pretty hard in those Fios commercials where the burley, red-haired cable guy is cut to the quick by the hunky Verizon technician. So Comcast could use a win.

None of the media releases I received answered that one crucial question that I always base my views upon: How does net neutrality affect me?

Hypothetically, analysts say, this means that Internet service providers might be able to block Hulu or YouTube video sites from their networks.

What, you mean I might no longer be able to watch two hoopies from North Carolina racing their belt sanders down a sheet of corrugated roofing tin? Oh, the horror.

The less-alarmist PR releases, however, say that this is poppycock and that "the power of competition" will prevent ISPs from blocking the content of sites that don't pay them protection money on the side.

Right. And I assume that would be the same "power of competition" that prevents credit card companies from charging 29 percent interest? Or the "power of competition" that prevents cell phone companies from chicanery such as insisting on two year contracts that lock you in to poor service?

Good, I feel better. Unfortunately, it is this power of competition, I fear, that guarantees that my e-mail inbox will continue to fill up with media statements that I don't want.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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