Editorial: Healthy competition

“You can’t fight city hall!” That used to be old adage expressing the powerlessness of the individual, whether resisting compulsory military service or contesting a parking ticket. Nowadays, however, it seems everybody is fighting a metaphorical City Hall, as political candidates compete to convince voters who’s the most anti-government and a crusty old rancher out west becomes a folk hero for refusing to pay grazing fees on taxpayer-owned land.

“You can’t fight Comcast!” seems much more appropriate today. Nightmarish, bureaucratic entanglements are as likely to occur over your cable bill as your real estate tax assessment. And just as dealing with Big Government, a single individual’s disputes with Big Monopoly seldom end happily.

Here in Rappahannock only a few lucky residents and businesses have high-speed access to broadband, often necessary for success in today’s digital world. That’s because Comcast says it’s not profitable to invest in cable on sparsely populated secondary roads.

While the economics are certainly understandable, what’s not understandable is why Comcast is granted essentially monopoly status in what should be considered a public utility, little different from the way telephone landlines once were.

Comcast’s proposed merger with Time-Warner Cable — now under consideration by federal regulators — would only solidify the Comcast monopoly. Merging the two biggest cable companies, which dominate the nation’s most lucrative, urban markets, would only provide further disincentives to invest in rural broadband.

At the same, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering new rules that would effectively eliminate so-called “net neutrality,” whereby Comcast and other broadband providers are not supposed to discriminate against Internet traffic to certain sites. Under the new rules, a content provider like Netflix could pay Comcast an extra fee to ensure faster connections.

That might ultimately mean that video downloads on smaller content providers, like RappNews.com, would be much slower by contrast — so slow that impatient, frustrated viewers eventually wouldn’t even bother. Innovative start-ups would never have a fighting chance to compete in this monopolized environment.

Sprint, which now covers Rappahannock County with cellphone service, is apparently aiming to eventually turn its wireless network into a substitute for fixed broadband. And that’s exactly what’s needed! Finally, some healthy competition!

Walter Nicklin