One of the most divisive debates at the center of this year’s election is the role and value of government. How much regulation is too much? Have we crossed the line? Would our economy benefit from a few cuts?
You could probably find someone for every possible answer to those questions who would insist that they are right and everyone else is trying to ruin the world. And I would say that all of them are probably right, except for the last part.
It’s like our entire nation is caught up in an argument over whether ice cream sundaes are either delicious or unhealthy for you. Eat your ice cream, America, just be aware of the consequences.
I was confronted with the ridiculousness of these intense debates while researching this week’s column.
At first I wanted to write about an article I read a few weeks ago about AT&T catching heat from the FCC for breaking rules meant to encourage innovation while claiming that wasn’t what they thought they were doing.
The FCC has, over the past few years, attempted to preserve “Net Neutrality,” a concept I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned, but here’s an overview:
Imagine you went to the post office with two letters. One letter is to your mother, the other is to invite Burger King to open a restaurant in Havre. Now imagine that the post office and Burger King had a special deal, so that letter would cost two cents to send and would get there the next day. Your mother has no such deal with the post office, so that letter costs five dollars to send, and it might not get there until April.
The idea is exaggerated to highlight the difference in service, but that is basically what the FCC doesn’t want your Internet service provider to do to you. All Internet traffic has to be treated equally, whether it’s a video conference call or your nephew’s sophomoric blog.
The new iPhone, released last month, allows anyone to make a video call on your cellphone without needing to be near Wi-Fi. AT&T, obviously worried about their network’s ability to cope with people’s Jetson’s-inspired new wireless activity, said they would only allow the new feature for people who changed to one of their new shared data plans.
So they are treating one program on your phone differently than the others, which has not been popular with deaf customers who, for the first time in their lives, have an easy, affordable, attractive way to communicate in ways we take for granted.
It reminds me again of the AT&T guy who came into our office to convince us to support their foiled attempt to devour competitor T-mobile. When I mentioned net neutrality during the interview, he laughed in my face and told me that no one cares about that anymore. Judging by many of their recent decisions, I wonder how long it will be before no one cares about AT&T anymore.
On the other hand, Dish Network appears to suffering from a few cavities and cardiac problems, to continue the ice cream sundae metaphor.
The country’s second of basically two satellite TV providers has been eagerly pursuing new ideas it hopes will help it survive and thrive as TV profits continue to plummet.
Dish bought bankrupt video renter Blockbuster last spring to try and turn it around into a stronger Netflix/Redbox hybrid. This hasn’t really worked out how they thought.
“You make a lot of mistakes in business,” said Dish Network founder and Chairman Charlie Ergen in an interview with Bloomberg. “I don’t think Blockbuster is going to be a mistake, but it’s unclear if that’s going to be a transformative decision.”
You win some. You lose some.
One of the victories Ergen has been hoping to earn is a brand new ultra-fast wireless network, an alternative to the current offerings controlled tightly by cellphone companies.
Dish bought a few other satellite companies for a few billion dollars over the past couple years to get access to their portions of the radio wave spectrum that is rationed by the FCC.
The range they bought has traditionally been designated for satellite communications, but Dish asked for a waiver to use it for wireless broadband connections.
The FCC made a short process long, rejecting the waiver, but beginning the process of asking other companies, including angry competitors, whether Dish should do what it wants.
Just this week, Ergen said that the FCC process was progressing too slowly, ruining his company’s attempt to gain a competitive edge, and that their waiting may force Ergen to sell off the airwaves they’ve invested in to one of the cellphone competitors they were hoping to take on.
So it turns out that everyone is right. Can we stop arguing now?
(Zach White is a reporter for the Havre Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com.)