At the dawn of the 20th century, the oil pipes defined America; as the 21st century emerges, the information pipes define America and the world.
A century ago, a courageous muckraker, Ida Tarbell, wrote a series of articles that lead to the break up of Standard Oil – which had become a trust controlling the energy and associated industries to fix prices, restrict competition and harm the nation.
Today, the “communications trust” — AT&T, Verizon and the major cable companies of Comcast and TimeWarner – controls the two wires and the wireless networks that link the nation’s homes, businesses, schools and other institutions. The communications trust has failed America. A couple of examples illustrate this failure:
America is now 15th in the world in broadband. While Hong Kong and other countries are rolling out 1 gigabit speed services, America’s average is a mere 5 mbps (i.e., 1,000 mbps = 1 gigabit).
Americans paid over $340 billion for broadband upgrades that never happened; by 2010, America should have been completely upgraded with fiber optic services to every home.
The FCC approved Comcast’s acquisition of NBC-Universal foreshadowing a likely wave of integration of transport or carriage and content.
Together, AT&T and Verizon control 80 percent of all wireless services and AT&T is now attempting to close down one of the only remaining competitors, T-mobile.
AT&T has proposed a major rate increase, known as “broadband caps,” on high-volume video distribution targeting initially heavy movie users. This sets the stage for a two-tier pricing model that could effectively end net neutrality. The full effect of these and many other actions by the trust, working through “captured” FCC and state public utilities commissions (PUCs), will be the erosion of Universal Service, further harming those most vulnerable.
This is the first in a series of articles to recapture the muckraking spirit pioneered by Tarbell and her compatriots. This spirit needs to infuse 21st century journalism with a sense of critical engagement. It targets the telecommunications trust and has three explicit goals: