Steve Lunetta: Uncle Earl and a neutral net

Steve Lunetta: Right About Now

I was working on the TV the other day with Uncle Earl. My uncle, as many of you know, can be rather cranky at times and says things that are not too politically correct. But we still love him.

My problems on the TV are fairly common. We have to tell the TV by remote which input to look at (HDMI 1, HDMI 2, or “video”). With our flat screen being a little older, there are only two HDMI ports so the Chrome occupies one port while a splitter handles the cable/Blue Ray player conflict.

The Spectrum unit we have handles the TV duties but also handles the wireless demands of our household, which include five smart phones, four laptops, three pads, two towers and a partridge in a pear tree.

At least, I think that is what all the little blinking green lights are telling me.

Add to that, we have kids who like to unplug the HDMI cables and plug them into their computers or PS4s or whatever. It creates a big, stressful headache. I often hate technology.

So when the TV does not work, I flip into detective mode to figure out why. Fortunately, Uncle Earl is there to help me. Or perhaps that’s “unfortunately.”

Earl started, “Does your Spectrum device screen the content coming into your house, Steven? I hear all about this ‘net neutrality’ stuff and how it prevents these big companies from messing with your data.”

“I am not so sure, Earl,” I replied. “Frankly, I have too much on my plate to be worried about YouTube being slowed down. I suppose that there are many folks who are worried about it.”

I fell into his trap. “It’s a whole lot of hogwash, my boy! It’s propagated by people who think that more government interference is always better and that freedom should be curtailed.”

He went on. “The internet was a free and open place up until 2015 when President Obama put these ‘net neutrality’ rules in place. Basically, there was a fear that some internet service providers (ISPs) and big companies were interfering with services provided by other companies, thereby favoring their offerings and services.”

“I get that, Unk. It’s a dirty, rotten trick that Verizon (or any other big company) could manipulate its customers. The internet should be a free and open place.”

“But I was before 2015!” Earl said as the veins on his temple began to bulge. “The internet grew just fine in the 20 years before 2015. There were some isolated cases of interference but, for the most part, it was a non-existent problem.”

He continued. “The internet was and is a free space. That means the buyer must always beware, just like the real world. There are bad people out there who sell, say, and do bad things. Again, just like walking down the street.”

“But shouldn’t someone be watching out for us and protecting our interests? Isn’t that what government is for? If someone is messing with my service, I want that stopped!” I observed.

“Steven, if you notice that your ISP is slowing down your access to YouTube, you have every right to change providers. A plethora of companies out there would be happy to take your business. Further, if your ISP is reported in the press as slowing service (‘throttling’), customers will react badly and vote with their feet. Government regulation is not needed.”

It was beginning to make sense. Earl was on a roll – again.

“And don’t think for a minute that some small ISP start-up won’t start advertising its services as ‘throttle-free.’ Customers who want this will flock to that new company. The market will decide who lives and dies.”

I retorted, “But Earl, aren’t you worried that a handful of large companies will be controlling the flow of information on the internet and could potentially raise fees and stop free internet?”

“I don’t recall ‘free internet’ being a right in the Constitution,” he countered. “If an ISP starts charging $4.99 per month for a service, you have a choice. Either pay it or find another comparable service.

“Or, better yet, read a book. This is just another scare tactic that extremists use to manipulate the public.”

Had to admit, he had a point there.

“In conclusion, Steven, net neutrality is an illusion. There are always those who will attempt to manipulate you for commercial or other purposes. We, as a society, need to do a little growing up and be more selective and critical when consuming digital services. Let the market decide who lives and dies. It’s worked well for 241 years. Let’s keep that going.”

More sage words from my dear uncle.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and longs for the days of adjusting the bunny ears and having only three channels. Wasn’t it so much easier? He can be reached at [email protected].

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