10-6-14 – Idling In Net Neutrality

Posted by Chris Campion

Megan Epler Wood, board member of the Keep BT Local Co-Op, has taken the broad leap of faith required to justify public expense to keep the Internet “neutral”.  In other words, she wants to re-animate the corpse of Burlington Telecom, in the form of yet another mixed-revenue enterprise that will, through the magic of good intentions, not only give everyone access to critical free speech platforms like Facebook, but will ensure both access and something very vaguely stated as “neutrality”.

“Neutral” means nothing of the sort.  It means subsidization, it means regulation, it means oversight, it means political capital earned and spent on propagating a “neutrality” that will do nothing but protect the interests of those who are able to get politicians to care about them.  Which is a difficult enough task, since most politicians seem only to care about themselves and re-election.  It’s always refreshing to hear Vermont’s best-known senior, and senior Senator, Patrick Leahy, crafting new “rights” out of the whole cloth of the Bill of Rights, but he’s off to the races:

“Over 1 million concerned citizens wrote the FCC to demand equal access to the Internet over a 5 month period ending this July. In Burlington, Senator Patrick Leahy held a public field hearing on July 1 for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to explore the importance of preserving a neutral Internet environment to protect our local businesses, civil society and local services. Senator Leahy stated at this hearing that ‘open-Internet principles correspond to the U.S. Bill of Rights.’”

Leahy’s claim is helping to serve local re-distributionists, again, since by claiming that Interrnet access is a right, then there must be public funds made available for it.  The Keep VT Local Co-Op is a group that’s looking to acquire the remnants of Burlington Telecom, because they, and only they, can keep an Internet local.  Let me just pause here as the top of my head is lifted off in an explosion of astonishment.  The whole premise of the Internet is that it is not local.  It is global.  Are they planning to cut Ethernet cables at the Chittenden County line?

But let’s let lunacy explain itself here:

“Local ownership is a viable means to protect Net Neutrality according to many leading experts. Municipal fiber networks not only foster competition with the ISPs, they create citizen empowerment. According to Christopher Mitchell director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self Reliance municipal fiber networks “ensure open access to the Internet regardless of what tolls the big cable companies charge.”

Neutrality is a cover phrase for nationalizing (or, in BT’s case, localizing) the internet, because, apparently, a profit motive runs against how Leahy, et al, interpret the Bill of Rights.  Since we all know how well government of any size manages projects large and small – because they are mercifully free of the bounds of costs and revenues, as long as tax dollars keep flowing in one form or another – we can just simply rest assured that not only will our Internet become Switzerland, in terms of its undying neutrality, access will be granted by our patriarchy and costs for this blessed benefit will somehow magically evaporate, and people will pay less for it.

I hate to break it to the Co-Op, but that’s been tried.  Right here in Burlington.  And what was the result?  Disaster.  Even with all the breaks possible, including placement of BT’s routers in city buildings to reduce footprint costs, and with a $17 million taking from the taxpayer slush fund, er, “cash pool”, BT crashed like a plane without wings.

Worse, not only does the Co-Op have the wrong idea about how markets work (if they have any idea at all about markets), but they are re-writing BT’s history along the way.

We must not forget that BT’s funding came from a vote of the citizens. We have invested $17 million already, and one of the only viable options to retain local ownership, which is not concentrated in the hands of the private sector, is by supporting a Co-op solution. It is highly unlikely the city can retain ownership according to all reliable sources.

We must also not forget that BT’s funding did NOT come from a vote from the citizens.  It came from the city’s “plan” to have a profitable enterprise in place, not one that had public funding to fall back on.  There was no” investment” of $17 million.  This is such a bald-faced claim that runs contrary to reality I’m wondering if Wood is unaware of the facts or simply misrepresenting them in order to further a cause.  Oh, and the $33 million in an equipment lease/purchase from Citibank was kind of a big deal, too.

The $17 million wasn’t exactly stolen from taxpayers, but it was taken without their knowledge and approval, and thrown at BT behind the scenes to keep the failing enterprise afloat a while longer.  This is not an investment.  It’s a taking, one that was purposefully hidden.  Worse, it’s a taking for something that Burlington did not need.  Internet access was and still is available to all Burlingtonians at the same or better pricing than what BT offered, as has been repeatedly demonstrated.

As it turns out, the only people who believe in  the free lunch are the people who aren’t paying for the food.  So look forward, Vermont, to more publicly-funded debacles that you will pay for in one way or another.  You will be paying for them in your taxes, in additional fees, or when another “investment” is required, and the funds you have already paid to the city in the form of taxes will need to be replenished with yet another taking.

Oh, and it seems that some minor details – like how many subscribers are needed to keep the thing afloat, which was the original selling, and failing point, for BT – is not something the Keep BT Local FAQ seems to consider.  Or it’s omitting that small detail for a reason, because they don’t know.  They don’t know how many customers they will need because the price they will charge per customer will vary until they can cover costs, the same problem BT had, and the same problem every other provider of a service or product in the world has to address, every day.

But hey, it’s neutral, so don’t sweat the details.

And one last line of incredulity-generating nonsense from Ms. Wood:

“Little did we know that BT would become a vital safety valve in the fight to ensure Free Speech for our people, and there can be nothing more important than preserving our citizens’ access to a level playing field in business and politics.” 

Little did Burlingtonians know that BT would become a money pit that they were forced to throw their own hard-earned dollars into for the public aggrandizement of self-loving politicians and the unworkable and socialist ideals they love to curl up with.  It’s unclear how a valve analogy applies here, unless it’s more of a spigot that’s attached to the wallets of taxpayers.  There is no restriction on free speech if you don’t have access to a megaphone, either, but that’s the analogy being made.  Your taxpayer-funded free speech megaphones should be arriving in the mail shortly.

Oh, and if anyone wants access to the Internet, go to your local library.  After all, you’re already paying for it.  Better yet, go to City Hall on Church St. and ask to use one of their computers, since your free speech rights are obviously being curtailed, and you’re paying for everything in that building, too.


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