Captive cable audience —Susan Crawford

Affordable high-speed Internet access would bring us jobs, community, “online commerce and services, the ability to reach world markets, to invent and innovate, to learn and communicate” and “a wealth of economic activity and information” writes Susan Crawford, a very savvy and experienced communications law professor who has been recommended by many as a potential chair of the FCC, who also explains why we aren’t currently getting it.

The Diane Rehm Show 10 January 2013, Susan Crawford: “Captive Audience”, and that’s the title of her book, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, excerpted here:

The sea change in policy that led to the current situation has been coordinated over the past twenty years by legions of lobbyists, hired-guneconomists, and credulous regulators. The cable companies have no incentive to upgrade their core network hardware to ensure that advanced fiberconnections are available to every home throughout the country. Communications companies describe globally competitive high-speed access as aluxury, just as the private electricity companies did a century ago.

Yet communications services are now as important as electricity. Today if you asked American mayors what technology they most want for their city, the majority would say, “affordable high-speed Internet access.” And they want these networks not simply for the jobs created to construct them but because the Internet brings the world to their community. High-speed Internet access gives towns and cities online commerce and services, the ability to reach world markets, to invent and innovate, to learn and communicate. It brings a wealth of economic activity and information. But despite these manifold benefits, Americans continue to treat such services as the exclusive domain of private monopolies and as luxuries obtainable only by the wealthy.

Not coincidentally, the United States has fallen from the forefront

of new developments in technology and communications. It now lags behind countries that long ago defined communications as a public, and publicly overseen, good. America is rapidly losing the global race for high-speed connectivity, as fewer than 8 percent of Americans currently receive fiber service to their homes. And the country has plateaued: adoption gains have slowed sharply, even though nearly 30 percent of the country is still not connected.

Not surprisingly, cost is the most commonly cited reason people in America do not subscribe to high-speed Internet access, and nonadoption is closely tied to economic status; lack of data access reinforces other inequalities. Meanwhile, the future of start-up businesses, independent programmers, the computing industry, the quality of life of many Americans, and free expression online are all in jeopardy; neither businesses nor people can count on fast, open access to new markets, new ways of getting an education, new ways of obtaining health care, and new ways of making a living.

It is clear from extensive evidence around the world that this publicly supervised infrastructure should be made available to everyone and provided on a wholesale basis to last-mile competitors in order to keep speeds high and prices low. Yet vertically integrated incumbent monopoly communications providers have every incentive to discriminate in favor of their own information and content—to the detriment of innovation coming from the rest of us, and to the detriment of the flow of information generally. America has emerged decades after the breakup of AT&T with a communications system that has all the monopolistic characteristics of the old Bell system but none of the oversight or universality.

Yet this inequality is not irrevocable. It is not a product of “market forces” absent human intervention. But to fix it, a new approach is needed…

For what she recommends, see next post.