Thursday, September 13, 2012

“Douglass, Discovered”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Internet research has provided lots of material and inspiration for this column. But recently, an unexpected detour from my work occurred while searching for information about erstwhile friends in New York State.

A link appeared for the Federal Communications Commission website. There, I found citizen comments that had been filed on the issue of ‘net neutrality.’ Several posts had been written by Douglass B., a fellow I knew while studying television broadcasting through a Cornell University program, between 1978 and 1980.

A street address included with his user profile confirmed that he was indeed my one-time compadre from Ithaca.

Douglass had been a librarian for many years, and also collected vinyl records and comic books. We were from opposite ends of the social and political spectrum. But in yonder days, we co-hosted a show about local music. As time passed, our paths went in different directions. Yet suddenly, here he was, again:

July 3, 2009

(To) Ms. Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554

Re: A National Broadband Plan for Our Future, GN Docket No. 09-51

“Dear Ms. Dortch, An open and accessible Internet is essential to America's future. It will help revitalize our economy, improve our education and health care, engage millions more people in our democracy and give new meaning to freedom of speech. In crafting the national broadband plan, the Federal Communications Commission must protect Internet users from corporate gatekeepers who seek to keep prices high and speeds slow, limit access to content and stifle innovation and market choice. Net Neutrality must be a basic and enforceable rule of the Internet. The plan must also ensure that every American -- regardless of race, income or location -- can connect to broadband at prices everyone can afford. Allowing powerful corporate interests to dictate the future of modern communications is a mistake that cannot be repeated. Our nation’s health in the 21st century requires that the FCC puts a people-powered Internet first.”

January 6, 2010

Proceeding No. 09-191

“Note that I am writing to you, the Federal COMMUNICATIONS Commission.
And the fact that the FCC is involved means that COMMUNICATION is involved. Last time I checked we, as Americans, have the right to free speech, and a main component of speech is COMMUNICATION. Some companies are trying to set up a system where they may not allow you to access certain websites, and most likely some of those websites may very well be their competitors. As the FCC well knows, back in the days of radio, there were companies that both owned networks and manufactured hardware. A prime example of this would be RCA, whom for many years both manufactured radios, and owned the NBC radio network. I don't ever recall hearing that RCA radios were unable to pick up radio stations owned by CBS, Mutual, of any other stations competing with NBC. In a similar way, at the same time, both CBS and RCA owned record companies, and made record players. The 78 RPM discs that Columbia (CBS) released were playable on Victrolas (RCA), and Victor 78s were playable on Columbia record players. In the same way nowadays, one can buy a Sony DVD player, and it will not just play DVDs released by Sony Pictures, anymore than a Sony TV set would not allow you to watch TV shows or movies produced by Paramount, Warner Bros., or any other company. The idea that some companies are putting forth would essentially reverse this situation. It might mean that if I happen to have Internet service from Time Warner, they may make it hard for me to access content from sites owned by Comcast, another ISP. They might make the sites slow to load, or maybe not load all aspects of the site (for example media players that might be owned or sponsored by one of the ISPs). To look at it another way, say that Comcast someday takes control of NBC (something that I am against, by the way, but for the purposes of this argument, we will assume has passed
regulatory hurdles). Time Warner might make it hard to access websites from NBC, making it hard to watch TV shows online. Similarly, Comcast may make it hard to legally download movies from Warner Bros. Both of these ideas are unethical, if not immoral. Since so much communication is now done through the internet, it has become our de facto radio, TV and movie theatre all wrapped up into one. We cannot allow these corporations to make our decisions as to what we watch to hear and watch, what we want to read about, and how we want to COMMUNICATE. COMMUNICTAION - it's right there is the middle of your name. Please allow us to continue to have net neutrality, so that the United States can continue to have unfettered COMMUNICATION...”

January 14, 2010

Proceeding 09-191

“More than 1.7 million Americans have already called on Washington to protect Net Neutrality, the rule that keeps control over the Internet in the hands of the people who use it. The FCC must now act decisively in the public interest by enacting strong rules that keep the Internet free from blocking, censorship and discrimination... Stand with us in support of a strong Net Neutrality rule.”

I hadn’t corresponded with Douglass in almost a year. But reading these official comments brought a sense that somewhere, in the vastness of cyberspace, my old friend was still very much hard at work.

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