We Should Not Be Bargaining Chips

We Should Not Be Bargaining Chips

by Jamie Schuster

Contract squabbles between corporate titans in the entertainment industry are leaving consumers holding the bag. Trying to force Time Warner Cable into a better deal over fees for “retransmission”, CBS has blacked out its TV channel and access to its website for consumers of TWC’s services. The origin of the fight may be murky and technical, but the impact on consumers is immediate” all Time Warner Cable customers, Internet and television subscribers alike, are being held hostage and denied content because the two corporations can’t get along. ‘

Consumers should not be bargaining chips between stubborn media corporations. And there are supposed to be roadblocks in place to prevent exactly that from happening” the FCC’s Open Internet rules, first implemented in 2011. The rules are supposed to prevent media companies, like CBS and TWC, from blocking consumers’ access to lawful content. While the rules clearly leave a lot to be desired” they have not stopped companies from employing the tactic during hardball negotiations, after all” corporations would be free to make content blocking and blackouts a standard practice without them. They are a paltry but all-important line of defense against an Internet where applications like YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix are assigned a pricy premium above other content, or are regularly blocked and throttled by Internet providers with their own, competing services.

The battle between CBS and TWC is an unsettling reminder of just how easily corporate advantage-seeking can sweep the Open Internet away. Fortunately, it’s not going unnoticed in Congress. In reaction to the dispute, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) has written a letter to the FCC imploring the agency to enforce its Open Internet rules. Congressman McDermott, and others whose districts and states are home to tech startups that depend on unfettered Internet access, should understand how much is on the line. If these companies are free to block sites and services at their whim, any innovative Internet applications that cut into Internet providers’ bottom line can simply be forced out, no matter how much they improve consumers’ experience. At this rate, with FCC protections demonstrably inadequate, that reality is too close for comfort. To prevent that future from happening, it is essential that members of Congress follow Congressman McDermott’s lead, supporting the spirit of the FCC’s current Open Internet rules while further advocating for reliable protections so the Internet may remain the free and open environment so many have come to depend on.