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Professor Robert McMillen, MBA Microsoft Certified Trainer and Solutions Expert

Saturday, April 7, 2012

U.S. Government Takes Back the Internet

U.S. Government Takes Back the Internet

By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
An agency within the Department of Defense created the internet many decades ago, and then decided to give it away to the world. Although the U.S. controlled IP addresses and domain names up until last year, the technology itself was given away. At this point in most of our lives, we couldn’t imagine what it would be like without it.
Even if you don’t use it, you’re using it. Every company you buy from, including the biggest house to the smallest piece of cheese, is using the internet to create and distribute their product from end to end. This has been a boon to not only our economy, but the world’s economy as well.
Internet service providers (ISPs) bring us the data at very high speeds when compared to the dial up speeds of the 1990’s. But the Obama administration is not satisfied that they have made the right decisions by its customers. It’s too slow. We are 28th in the world for average internet speed despite having invented the technology. ISPs have come up with every excuse in the world as to why that is.
I can’t say I completely agree with either side. Both parties have their points. There was a mandate several years ago during the Bush administration that everyone should have at least a DSL connection that is always on by the end of 2006. It wasn’t really a law, but a very strong suggestion. Well, that year came and went, and we still have many people and companies that don’t have anything other than dial up or expensive T1 lines available.
And they wouldn’t even have that if it weren’t for the Universal Services Fund. This is the pile of money that phone companies collect from urban folks like us in the amount of a couple dollars a month. The government takes that money and subsidizes rural telephone service by paying the rural phone companies. Otherwise, the phone companies wouldn’t bother. It’s all economics.
Now President Obama has said that it’s time to take back some of the control the government gave away and do it themselves. Again, I’m not completely on either side here. I think the government is the only who has the money (even though it’s technically ours) and the power to make this happen. ATT, Comcast, Verizon, and other ISPs don’t want to take losses in order to reach the rural areas. The money is also going to be used to bring fiber to urban areas to increase our speed dramatically over the next few years (I like that).
So President Obama has earmarked up to $9 billion to make this happen. Last week we saw the first salvo fly over our bough with a big explosion that most consumers didn’t even hear. The FCC has been given some additional powers when it comes to the internet to now regulate the speed of the internet. Congress never voted on it, and no law was signed into existence. He just did it (that I have a problem with).
A new tool was created to test your internet speed, and if the speed isn’t what the ISPs promise it’s supposed to be, then fines will start getting handed out to the ISPs. You can go test your speed by visiting http://www.broadband.gov. Unlike most speed tests, you have to give your full address to be tested. Why do they need to know this? Other speed tests can locate your general area by the IP address you’re visiting from. They can lock it down to a 2 mile radius. Why do they need to know my exact address?
I put in a general address that was near me, but wasn’t exactly where I was and hit the test button. The test was very close to the same results I received from Comcast and Speakeasy.net. The technology does seem to work. But I am afraid for the ISPs. And also afraid for us as well. If the ISPs get fined due to arbitrary rules that aren’t even laws, it will take nonstop battles in court to sort them out. The FCC has a history of arbitrarily fining TV and radio companies without telling them ahead of time what they can and can’t say on the air. If it’s deemed obscene you get a fine, and to fight it would cost a lot of money that the media no longer has since the internet and the recession has sapped the industry.
Speed tests are notoriously inaccurate. We only use them as a general rule when testing the speeds after we go to a customer’s site and they have a newly turned on service. If it’s dramatically off from the speed they were promised, we call the ISP and they fix it. But if the test itself is way off, we have other websites we can use just to make sure it’s the test and not the connection that has the problem. If the FCC’s tests are off due to too many people using it at once, or there is a general slowdown nationwide because of a virus just being released, then ISPs could get fined a lot of money due to an imperfect technology.
So if there are court battles, we end up paying higher costs to the ISPs, and higher taxes for our government to wage speed wars. Who wins? I tell you that it won’t be us.
There is also a concern that the money that has been going to the Universal Services Fund to help pay rural phone companies to keep people connected by phone are now going to suffer as their money will get siphoned off to pay for high speed internet. I think I can accurately say that rural folks don’t likely have data centers in their basements, and phone service will be more important than being able to order something on Amazon.com. Of course you could argue that they could use the internet to make those phone calls instead of using old fashioned analog lines. That may be true, but will there be any overlap where the rural phone companies get caught holding the bills paying for it while the government gets this all set up?
The next bombshell came out on Sunday night that the Obama administration wants to give away wireless internet access to everyone in the country using the analog signals they sold in 2008. This would force those companies to lease back any unused spectrum and create a nationalized free wireless plan. If this becomes imminent, you will see companies like Clear and cell phone companies that provide internet access stop supporting and updating their infrastructures as they will become obsolete.
I agree that the government does need to push us into higher speeds. Commercial companies just won’t do it on their own. But let’s give them the money to make it happen just as we did with the Universal Services Fund for rural phone service almost a century ago. Making it a government project without the commercial interests that will end up supporting it is a recipe for disaster. Let’s not start a speed war where our ISPs get fined and growth slows to a halt as they fight each other using our money to pay the lawyers.
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Published Monday, March 15, 2010 10:05 AM by Katatkoin