SOLO-US Op-Ed: The Implications of ‘Free’ Filtered Wireless Internet Access

Lance's picture
Submitted by Lance on Wed, 2008-12-03 01:17

SOLO-US Op-Ed: The Implications of ‘Free’ Filtered Wireless Internet Access

By Lance Davey

The Outgoing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is behind a push from the FCC to offer free wireless internet access to “all Americans”. The service would be filtered to block access to pornography and “other material not suitable for children”. The plan is to perhaps allow adult users to opt-out of the filtering of content.

This plan would have a disastrous effect on private internet service provision and leave many Americans unable to afford the inevitable rise in cost of unfettered internet service. It would be naive in the extreme to think that because a ‘competitor’ has entered the market with a free service, private provision would fall in price. Broadband internet access works (and works well) by overselling usage (how much you can download) and bandwidth (how fast you can download). Very few customers actually need fulltime access to the speeds that they can get content delivered, but they are willing and do pay the price to have that access there whenever they want it. It is the bulk of the customer base that, in essence, subsidise the heavy users and lead to reasonably priced, high quality internet access for all. If that doesn’t make sense to you then think of it as a gym membership. You pay a flat monthly fee to access the gym and equipment; the gym relies on everyone not trying to be there at the same time all day every day. Some use it more, some use it less, but it IS there whenever they want it. This may seem unfair to those who use it less but pay the same price – but with that system you end up with reasonable rates for all.

So consider what would happen if all those users who (un-coerced) effectively subsidise the cost of internet service provision, found out that they could do all that they wanted, such as checking their email and viewing those insufferably stupid social networking sites, for free; in effect handed to them by the government with one or two caveats and addendums. No, the cost of broadband internet access would not plummet as ISPs desperately lowered prices to try and retain customers who were running to the new free service. After all you cannot compete with free. The ISPs would in fact RAISE prices as the “subsidisers” left; they would have no choice. They would have a niche certainly: faster connection, better service, no filtering of “unsuitable material” or requiring you to register to look at the naughty stuff (naughty stuff being whatever they deem pornographic, whatever is deemed “hate” speech and whatever else may be considered “unsuitable” in the future), no advertising (presumably how the FCC plan to fund their “free” wireless). There would be people who want such a service but boy, would it cost them because providing the service they do to fewer users, means that cost is also distributed amongst fewer users. Those who could no longer afford private internet service would then be stuck with choosing a government-controlled and -censored public internet service (which may or may not allow you to opt out of the censorial part and even then would require you to identify yourself to authorities as desiring to see the naughty bits), or none at all. The particularly cynical and paranoid amongst us may suspect that the FCC is well aware of all of this.

Then again, the price of liberty is eternal paranoia.

Lance Davey –

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For anyone interested in "why"

Lance's picture


§ 151. Purposes of chapter; Federal Communications Commission created

For the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio so as to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of the national defense, for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications, and for the purpose of securing a more effective execution of this policy by centralizing authority heretofore granted by law to several agencies and by granting additional authority with respect to interstate and foreign commerce in wire and radio communication, there is created a commission to be known as the “Federal Communications Commission”, which shall be constituted as hereinafter provided, and which shall execute and enforce the provisions of this chapter.

It's a stretch at the very least, but I'm assuming that is where they get the idea that this is within their scope.

As expected

atlascott's picture

Of course the government is the reason the US has few choices and slow connections.

Scott DeSalvo
FREE Injury Report and CD Reveal the Secrets You Need to Know to Protect Your RIGHTS!

You're surprised

kaiwai's picture

This all comes back to government and politicians unable to work out that the reason why internet is inaccessible for a large number of people is the stupid and ridiculous legislation that is passed under the guise of 'stopping technology ghetto's'. One also needs to look at *WHY* there is a lack of vigorous competition to drive down prices - the reason why? try setting up a wireless base station to service a community and the number of scare mongering dickheads who complain about so-called 'radiation' from these towers. Talk to Vodafone and Telecom at the almost impossible nature of trying to get anything achieved when there are ridiculous legislation that makes setting up anything next to impossible.

It annoys me that every time we have politicians identify a problem - the first thing they assume is that it can only be solved through more government intervention (as they ignore it was government intervention that cause the problem in the first place!). 

As most of you probably gather, I'm more a Friedmanite when it comes to these matters than an objectivist - but it amazes me when the first solution they come up with is government rather than the very last - on a very long list of possible non-government alternatives.

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