People + Policy
= Positive Change for the Public Good
Thanks to Michael Copps, the model of a public servant.
I'm scrawford on Twitter. I wrote Captive Audience because life is short. Life is short; get in the way.
A hundred years ago, electricity was a luxury. When FDR entered office, 90 percent of farmers didn't have it. FDR took this on — took on special interests, drove towards affordable, world-class electricity for everyone. It wasn't easy. It took leadership.
Today, in America, we treat high-speed Internet access like a luxury. We've deregulated it entirely. And we're reaping what we have sown.
A third of Americans don't subscribe — 100 million of us — and we're stuck there. If you're poor, less well-educated, or of color, it's much more likely that you don't have a wired connection at home. Nineteen million can't get it at any cost. So we've got an enormous digital divide inside our country.
Globally, we're also in a hole — middle of the pack at best. Meanwhile, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Norway, Sweden, even Australia and China are creating industrial policy that makes sure that everyone gets a reasonably priced fiber-to-the-home connection. America is laughed at in other countries. In South Korea — like taking a rural vacation.
We believed 10 years ago that the magic of the market would bring us universal cheap connectivity. Instead, a few giant companies divided markets and consolidated. Here's the bottom line: Cable has won. In fact, Captive Audience is really a recommendation to buy cable stock. When it comes to wired internet access, cable has a lock — .2 percent of new high-speed Internet access subscriptions in the last three quarters of 2012 went to the local cable monopoly. Comcast is by far the largest, with $20 million; Time Warner Cable has $11 million. Verizon and AT&T, meanwhile, have backed off from wires, and are concentrating wholly on the separate wireless marketplace.
We are stagnating — no federal plan for the future. We have the worst of both worlds: both no competition and no oversight.
And Comcast and Time Warner Cable and Verizon and AT&T have the best of all monopoly profits, which is a quiet life.
We need to recapture the regulatory ideal. That ideal is that regulation of infrastructure, government intervention, makes free markets and free speech possible. We used to know this — we understood this with highways, electricity, and communications — Eisenhower and freeways. Our telephone network was the envy of the world when it was built.
This regulatory ideal unleashes human ingenuity; it's pro-competition, pro-growth, pro-innovation. It makes it possible for anyone to create value. All media issues, all communications issues, are secondary to this basic need for infrastructure that serves this public interest.
But the companies are going state by state, gutting regulations requiring them to serve users, and making it impossible for municipalities to do this for themselves (Chris Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance). They're taking our First Amendment and using it to claim that their speech is more important than that of 300 million Americans.
We are at a crossroads moment — we are paying more for less, and we're leaving a lot of Americans behind.
My name comes up in discussions about the new FCC chair. I'm on lists. In the world we thought we grew up in, my name shouldn't be a problem. But it is a problem.
They have to worry about what the telecom industry would think of me.
Mr. Obama got elected by 5 million votes. Why? Because he offered us a vision: He asks us to guide him. He says he's not a messiah. The president will say: Make me do it. That's what LBJ said to Martin Luther King. Make me do it.
So make him rise to the mantle of leadership.
This is a moment of crisis, a moment of change, an opportunity.
Fortune smiles on us tonight — we have so many like-minded and capable people in this room. And right now — right now — Julius Genachowski has announced he's leaving and the president needs to decide what to do. He has to decide whether this issue is important. These next two weeks are critical.
They're making calculations about Congress. They're making calculations about the industry.
No army of industry lobbyists can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come. This is not a right-left issue. Getting high-speed Internet access right will affect everyone in our nation — and many people in other countries who are watching what we do.
This country is supposed to be the land of opportunity. But we are being left behind, and in a time when information is power, when our intellect as a country is our source of strength. Internet access is like oxygen; it's necessary for life. But some people are breathing clean air and others in our country are deprived. They don't even realize how deprived they are. We're harming schoolchildren; we're causing suffering for future generations.
So let's call on the wisdom of the crowd, the consensus that this must change. We know what's right. We have the dumb luck to be together tonight.
What's important is not what I say here tonight but what we do tomorrow morning. We need to move as one. Tactics matter.
We need to make demands. Demands of principle, not demands of personality. Principles have real power. We need to say we won't yield until those demands are adopted.
Here are the three things we need to ask for:
1. Mr. President, we need an FCC chairperson who will push to preempt the state laws that now raise barriers to municipally overseen fiber networks. In cities across the country, more than 300 of them now, people are giving their mayors political support to call for the building of municipal fiber systems. But that's just a drop in the bucket. And in 21 states, there are barriers.
We need networks built by public and private actors that serve public values, like universal service and reasonable pricing, and, where there's enough density, competition. So let them be built.
2. We need a chairperson who will set high standards. This leader must say that every American — every American — must have access to a reasonably priced, world-class connection to the Internet. The whole country needs a fiber upgrade. The cable companies have zero incentive to do this, and so the FCC needs to set the standard — call it 100 MBps for everyone. Symmetrical, so we can publish. Fiber, so we can upgrade later, like all those other countries are doing. Subsidized for those who can't afford it. We need to make loans available to competitors to get this infrastructure built out. But the first step is high standards.
3. We need a chairperson who will recapture the regulatory ideal — high-speed Internet access is our new general-purpose communications network, our replacement for the telephone, and it needs to be treated that way.
This is not about me — it is about us. We need to make the president do this. This is an American issue. There is not a group of people it doesn't affect, not a group of people who won't be changed by this.
It is government's role to stand up against the ethic that might makes right.
Life is short; get in the way.
People + Policy
= Positive Change for the Public Good