The Great Debate

Net neutrality: A web of deceit

Wheeler testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on oversight of the FCC on Capitol Hill in Washington

Special-interest groups are calling for public-utility regulations to be placed on the Internet — the most innovative and society-shaping deregulatory success story of our time. These people are trying to exert control over the Internet through “net neutrality” regulations that will likely benefit only a few huge Internet companies and the top 1 percent of Internet users.

Net neutrality was developed to ensure that Internet users had the freedom to view all the legal content they wanted. Recently, however, there has been a shift in focus:  Some of the largest Internet companies are citing “net neutrality” as a reason to enshrine specific privileges that largely benefit them.

If these content companies get their way — and the Federal Communications Commission is now deliberating this — Americans will be forced to shoulder the costs for the high-speed networks and infrastructure upgrades needed to support high-volume Internet traffic generators, such as Netflix.

The Netflix logo is is shown on an ipad in Encinitas, CaliforniaWhether they use those services or not.

The math is simple. As a network carries more traffic, it has to grow or it will become congested. To expand a network requires significant investment and expense — tens of billions of dollars a year in the case of Internet service providers (ISPs).

These costs can be recovered in two ways: Either by charging all consumers equally or by having the large companies that use far more of the network resources pay their fair share.

The movie business is broken. Long live the movie business!

The movie business is melting down. The film theater is dying. It’s a terrible time to be a movie studio.

But it’s a great time to be a movie viewer.

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, on a panel in June, predicted this is just the beginning. Soon there will be no more classy movies in theaters. Except for the most mega of blockbusters, we will watch everything on home screens. Film tickets soon will cost as much as a Broadway show, anywhere from $50 to $150. Then last week, Spike Lee announced a Kickstarter campaign for his next film, an untitled gore-fest of some stripe. Lee’s $1.25 million crowd-fund-raising enterprise quickly incited critics wondering why one of America’s more famous directors was going to fans for money. And a string of the most expensive films of this summer all flopped. These were clearly apocalyptic signs. The end of traditional moviemaking, financing and viewing is underway.

But this future is something to celebrate rather than bemoan. For starters, consumers won’t need to go to sticky-floored, ad-laden multiplexes to watch films. Suddenly, a range of new distribution channels — neither television nor cable — are upon us. Spielberg championed the streaming company Netflix as the true wave of the future of moviemaking. And it’s true that we can now count Netflix as a first-rate creator and distributor of content. Consider Netflix’s new series Orange is the New Black, about inmates in a minimum-security prison. The 13-part series prominently features a very complex and honorable trans-female inmate, Sophia Burset, played by a real-life trans-woman, Laverne Cox, and a cast of predominantly black, Latino and gay female characters. The show easily bested most independent films and cable television shows in both quality and political freshness. (And House of Cards, while not as innovative, was as competent as any of the nasty Usual Suspects-era indie film that usually starred Kevin Spacey, anyway.)