Archive for Legislation
I need to tell you up front, there are really only three types of people that I usually take an instant dislike to. The first are bigots. If you think that certain people have less value, or are less worthy than you of living the American dream just because you were born with certain characteristics and they were born with different ones, you and I are not going to get along. I was having a conversation with a guy who lives near me one day and he started dropping the “N” word into his conversation. I instinctively decided he had an I.Q. somewhere below that of a lump of coal, and have gone out of my way to avoid him ever since.
The second group I tend to dislike are the people who think that the only thing that matters in life is how much money you make. I see money as a necessary evil, and I do mean evil – the love of money drives people to act in a very inhumane manner toward their fellow human beings. I realize we are stuck in a world where money is a necessary evil (which is why I sometimes think we actually live in a reality as close to hell as most of us will ever see), but the type of person that really turns me off is the excessively greedy; the one that measures the worth of people solely by how much money they make, and of things by how much they cost. One reason I don’t like large corporations is because by design, they are solely focused on making money, and therefore tend to have all the bad characteristics of the greediest people you’ll meet.
There are other people that I tend to dislike, but am willing to cut them a break to some degree. For example, fundamentalist religious types — I think they are seriously deluded, but as they are, I once was (at least to some degree), so I can’t judge them too harshly. I may avoid them, but only because I realize they are not yet at a point where they are willing to explore the problems in their beliefs, and until they reach that point, any debate on the subject would result in a lot of heat being generated, but not much light. Such people have a path to walk, and sometimes they just really need to see the logical outcomes of their beliefs (turning into a really mean, hateful, ugly person with a very black soul) before they begin to seek the true light.
But the people that I most immediately take an instant dislike to are smokers. With a bigot, they usually won’t let you know they are a bigot right up front (there are exceptions, of course, but I haven’t run into too many of those). It’s the same with the money-grubbers — even clues such as how they dress or talk don’t always tell you what’s really in their heart; so it takes a while to figure them out. But with a smoker, you know the moment they pull out that cigarette and light it up. What do you know about them?
Well, you know they don’t care about their own health, and you know they don’t care that those they love might have to watch them get sick and die from a totally preventative disease. You know they don’t care that the medical bills associated with keeping them comfortable during the last days of said disease might drain their family’s savings, leaving them nearly destitute. You know that they don’t care that the money they spend on cigarettes could be used in far better ways, for the care of themselves and/or their families. You know they don’t care that those they live with have to at very least smell the stench of nicotine on their clothes, and that anyone that kisses them will be kissing an ashtray. You also know that at least some of those folks are spending money on cigarettes even though their children are living below the poverty level (sorry, kids, you aren’t getting Christmas presents because mom and dad need their smokes) and you know that some of them smoke inside the house while their kids or pets are present, damaging their own kids’ lungs.
You know they don’t care about their own appearance – nothing can make a person start to look ugly like a few years of smoking. And if they smoke at home, you know they don’t care about their home’s appearance either – maybe they don’t notice the yellowed ceilings and walls, or that all their furniture stinks to high heaven, but non-smokers sure notice.
You know that most of them smoke inside of their vehicles, not caring that this lowers the resale value of the vehicle, and that at least some of them do that when their kids, or their non-smoking family or friends are inside the vehicle. I have often said, and I firmly believe, that if a police officer sees an adult smoking in a car where children are present, they should have the authority to call child protective services and make sure those kids will never be put in that situation again, and the adult should be prosecuted for child abuse to the fullest extent of the law. Okay, if you think that’s too harsh (and I really don’t, given what we now know about the dangers of secondhand smoke), then give the adult one shot at rehabilitation – mandatory smoking-cessation classes under a doctor’s supervision, for which they have to pay (if they can afford the smokes, they can afford the classes). But if, after going through that program they are again caught smoking with a minor child in the car, they get mandatory prison time.
And when someone lights up in my presence, to me that is as personally offensive as if they’d walked up and urinated on my food. It means they don’t give a damn about me as a person, that they don’t care that they are damaging my lungs, making my clothing smell bad, and generally making me nauseous. I’d rather smell a skunk at moderately close range than a smoker (in fact, if there were such a thing as street justice, a fitting punishment for an unrepentant smoker might be to lock them in a room with an angry skunk, until the skunk does his thing. Then make sure he know that this is exactly how some non-smokers feel when he smokes around them).
Now, I do realize that not all smokers are inconsiderate. Some realize they are fighting a filthy habit. They don’t smoke inside their home (unless they live alone, and are prepared to pay the cost of having a professional company try to clean up after their habit when they are ready to move), and they don’t smoke in their car if kids or non-smokers are riding along. If they smoke at work, they do it outside (even if it is -30 degrees) and move far away from the doorways, so that others who need to enter and exit don’t have to breathe their smoke. They try to be aware of which way the wind is blowing, and stand so that their smoke doesn’t drift toward others. If they are with a non-smoker, they don’t even ask if it’s okay to smoke (would you ask someone else if it’s okay to spit on them, or urinate on them?), they just don’t, unless they can get far away from (and downwind of) the non-smoker(s). They don’t go into a public bathroom to sneak a smoke and then leave it reeking of smoke for the next user. That kind of unselfish smoker is unfortunately all too rare, in my experience, but to the extent they exist, I sincerely hope they can find effective help in kicking the habit. I realize that such folks are the victims of the big tobacco marketing campaigns (and in some cases, cigarettes “spiked” with added nicotine to make them even more addictive), so for those folks I have some sympathy. For the selfish smokers that (at least in my experience) seem to comprise the majority, I have little sympathy — once you start inflicting your nasty habit on others, you are no better than a common thug that goes out and assaults people at random.
There’s one other point that needs to be made. Some people, even some non-smokers, have somehow come to believe that this is a matter of personal freedom. Well, as the old saying goes, your freedom ends where my nose begins (and not just my nose, but my clothes, and the interior of my car or my home as well). However, the argument is sometimes made that if the government gets away with restricting the “freedom” to smoke, they will feel emboldened to attempt to regulate other “unhealthy” activities. Of course, if you think about it for a couple of seconds, that ship has already sailed and is now ancient history. Our government has deemed that many drugs, including those that are nothing more than the natural byproducts of plants that have been around for centuries, need to be regulated. Viewed that way, tobacco is just one more dangerous and addictive drug that should have been banned long ago, if there were any consistency in the law.
Still, I could have some sympathy for that argument — I happen to think that the government in the United States is very overbearing on the personal freedoms of Americans (and regularly treats our Constitution as something akin to toilet tissue in the process). You know something’s wrong when wealthy Americans are, in increasing numbers (and especially when nearing retirement age), choosing to leave the United States and move to other parts of the world, where their freedoms are not so put upon — and many of those destination countries have anti-smoking laws as well, so that’s not the issue. I don’t want my government to keep me absolutely safe — that should be my responsibility. If, for example, I want to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet (something I personally think would be a very stupid thing to do), that should be my choice, since I have long since passed the age of 21 and am past the years where peer pressure by my stupid teenage friends might unduly influence me to do stupid things. And I don’t like automobile seat belt laws for the same reason.
But the major difference is this: If I choose to sit and gulp down spoonfuls of white sugar instead of eating healthy food, or eat nothing but artery-busting hamburgers with enough grease to saturate the bun, or do anything else that adversely affects my health, it mostly affects just ME. Smoking is one of the few things I could do — deliberately exposing myself to an airborne disease and then coughing right in your face would be another — where my lack of care for my own health could directly affect your health negatively. In that case, you have every right to hope and expect that the law will protect you from my attempts to ruin your health (and more so if I were a minor child in your care). Otherwise, it’s none of your business (or the government’s) what I choose to eat, or how I choose to protect myself.
I know someone’s going to bring up the argument about “yes, but if you get sick or hurt, others have to help pay.” Well, please remember that the next time YOU choose to engage in an activity that’s even the slightest bit hazardous. If you can restrict others from eating “junk food”, maybe they will restrict you from swimming (people drown and nearly drown), boating (people fall overboard), fishing (people fall off piers, and there’s mercury in fish), any form of winter recreation (people fall and break bones on the ice, and while skiing, snowboarding, etc.), paragliding, parasailing, skydiving, mountain climbing (people fall from heights and get killed, or in the mountains they die of exposure), hiking in the woods (people get lost, run into bears and other dangerous wildlife), surfing (people drown, or get bitten by sharks and other nasty sea creatures), or even golfing (people get hit by golf balls and even falling tree limbs!). I’m sure that some insurance companies would prefer you live in a rubber-lined room and eat nothing but bland, organic vegetables. My point is that part of the human experience is doing things that aren’t completely safe — otherwise roller coasters wouldn’t exist — and that adults need the freedom to choose how much they wish to live life on the edge in order to gain experiences, whether that means occasionally eating unhealthy but tasty food, or engaging in an extreme sport such as auto racing.
So, I am definitely NOT for restricting personal freedoms as a general rule. But smoking is the exception, precisely because when a smoker smokes, he pollutes the air (and sometimes the living space) of others. Viewed that way, smoking (as practiced by most smokers) is one of the ultimate acts of selfishness. In my opinion, a nicotine addict should be viewed in much the same way as a sex addict – yes, it’s an addiction that needs treatment, but first and foremost, the addict needs to be stopped from hurting others. And that is what this new Michigan law (along with similar laws in several other states) is intended to do – stop the nicotine addict from hurting others because of his addiction.
This new law could be better – I totally disagree with the exemption for the casinos, and I also think that a companion law should be passed that protects minor children from having to breathe secondhand smoke in all circumstances, but especially in vehicles (where the secondhand smoke is concentrated in a very small space). I’d like to see a vehicular smoking law, that states the following:
- It’s a misdemeanor (first offense) or felony (subsequent offenses) to smoke in a vehicle where anyone under the age of 21 is present. First offense requires either jail time or completion of smoking cessation program. Second offense requires reporting to Child Protective Services to assess whether children’s health is being endangered by being confined in vehicle with smoking adults.
- Assault charges can be brought against a driver or passenger who smokes in a vehicle after being requested not to by a non-smoker. Also the non-smoking passenger could sue the smoker in small claims court and receive $300 in statutory damages per incident ($5,000 per incident if required to ride in the vehicle as a condition of employment, and the employer could be held jointly responsible if there is no policy against smoking in vehicles during work-related trips).
- Employers would be forbidden from firing or otherwise penalizing an employee who refuses to ride in a vehicle with smokers (it would be a criminal offense if the employee is under age 21).
- Smokers would not be allowed to participate in publicly funded carpooling or ride-share programs, unless such programs do not place smokers and non-smokers in the same vehicle under any circumstances.
- It would be an offense to use a carpooling lane while smoking (if we even have any of those in Michigan).
- Smoking while driving would be considered a separate chargeable offense if it can be proved that smoking, or an activity related to smoking (such as searching for a lighter or matches) is a proximate or contributory cause of a traffic accident.
- Any business that sells gasoline may not sell tobacco products (nor may a store that primarily sells tobacco products, such as a “smoke shop”, be opened within 250 feet of a gasoline pump, though existing businesses would be grandfathered in as long as they are not owned by the same company that owns the gas station). (And yes, I know what the chances are of getting that one passed, but it would remove a lot of temptation).
- Used vehicles offered for sale by a dealer must be tested for nicotine buildup in the headliners and other fabric parts of the vehicle (such as seats). If nicotine residue above a certain concentration is detected, that must be clearly disclosed at the time of the sale (it would be permissible to attempt to clean the residue and retest, or to replace contaminated surfaces, but prospective buyers must still be informed of the before- and after-cleaning test results). Cars more than 15 years old would be exempt from this required testing, as would private vehicle sales or auto auction sales.
Note that nothing above would stop a person from smoking in their own car when there aren’t any children or non-smokers riding along. In an ideal world, tobacco would be treated as it really is, a far more addictive drug that other drugs that are now totally illegal to possess. For example, tobacco is more addictive than marijuana (especially when the tobacco companies “spike” the nicotine level), yet unless you have the clearance to smoke marijuana for medical reasons, they’ll throw you in jail for even possessing a little pot. That, to me, seems totally ridiculous – at least marijuana arguably has some medical uses (and I did vote to legalize it for medical purposes, in case you were wondering) but tobacco is only still legal because the big tobacco companies have had so much influence in government, even though we know how dangerous it is to both smokers and those that have been forced to inhale second-hand smoke, and has virtually no medical benefits (certainly none that outweigh the damage it does to the lungs and to other parts of the body).
Now, I know that some smokers that read this will think I am the world’s biggest ass for even daring to write this (even though I’m probably saying something a lot of your non-smoking associates would like to say), and if that’s how you really feel, then I assure you that if I ever met you the feeling would likely be mutual (I know this because I’ve run into your kind before). On the other hand, many people who read this, smokers and non-smokers alike, will know exactly the type of smoker that causes non-smokers to react this way – the inconsiderate moron that doesn’t care how many non-smokers he offends with his habit, even if they are members of his own family. It’s similar to the guy who gets drunk and then says all sorts of nasty and offensive things to the people around him – even if he’s a nice guy when he’s sober, he’s still a jerk when he drinks. The same is true of smokers – I don’t mean to categorize them all as evil people, but when they smoke, many of them seem to forget all about others and think only of themselves. I truly do have sympathy for those who are trying to quit and having a hard time, but if you have any love at all for those around you, don’t let the fact that quitting is hard stand in the way of doing it. Talk to your doctor, or to a hypnotherapist, or to the American Lung Association, or to someone else you think can help, but just do whatever it takes to quit.
And if you have kids, and if you love them, don’t let them ever start! Check them for tobacco use the way you’d monitor them for illegal drug use. Smell their clothes and the inside of their vehicle, if they have one. If you find out that one of their friends smoke, react the same way you’d react if you found out that friend was using a dangerous drug. Make it very clear from the time they are about five years old that you have zero tolerance for smoking. Of course, if you smoke you’ll have no moral authority in the matter, so that’s another great reason to quit!
EDIT: It’s been less than 24 hours since I posted this and even though it’s a Sunday, it appears that someone who’s acting as a sock puppet for the tobacco industry found this post and attempted to leave a comment (which I rejected primarily because it had almost no original content, but included three links to pro-smoking propaganda sites!) . So let me make it clear – if you want to attempt to refute anything in this post, please do not send links to propaganda pages (you will note all of the above is my original writing; there are no links to any other page in this article). Instead, respond to the points I made in this post (not points that some “straw man” anti-smoking group supposedly made somewhere else – I didn’t quote them, and I’m on to that trick). I’m willing to discuss anything I’ve written, but I’m not willing to try to refute some ridiculous argument that some (possibly non-existent) anti-smoking group supposedly made – if you have an issue with someone else, take it up with them.
And just so you know, in order to refute this post, you’re going to have to prove that secondhand smoke isn’t harmful to others (and especially children, and especially when they’re riding in a vehicle with a smoker) — good luck with that — and you’re also going to have to prove that the stench of tobacco smoke isn’t repugnant to the majority of non-smokers, and the only way you could make that argument is if you’re totally oblivious to the reactions of non-smokers when you light up in their vicinity (particularly those that don’t have to try to get along with you for one reason or another) — or if you’re a shill for the tobacco industry!
It appears some of Michigan’s smaller phone companies are upset about House Bill 4257, which has been passed by both the Michigan House and Senate, and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. From the Great Lakes IT Report:
A group of small Michigan-based telecom providers is complaining that a bill passed by the House and Senate would create a new telecom tax and favor large companies such as AT&T and Verizon over Michigan-based companies.
In the latter document, you can see the fatal flaw in this legislation:
Require the restructuring mechanism to be supported by a mandatory monthly contribution by all providers of retail intrastate telecommunications services and commercial mobile service.
It’s not surprising at all to me that AT&T again gets what it wants from the Michigan legislature. I certainly would not be opposed to seeing the terminating charge ripoff by some of the small independent phone companies (especially the ILECs) phased out, and at first glance it looks like that’s what the legislature is trying to accomplish. Except, as you read further, it looks like they are simply trying to eliminate a very visible ripoff and substitute a different kind of ripoff, one that would pick the pockets of more companies (and, ultimately, their customers) in the end.
The interesting twist is that due to federal law and court ruling, the state cannot force VoIP providers to become unwilling contributors to this scam. And I doubt the other companies are just going to quietly accept this, any more than AT&T or Verizon would quietly accept new legislation that picks their pockets. If the Governor signs this bill, it will wind up in the courts, and the state will be forced to spend tax money to attempt to defend this legislation — and my guess (I’m not a lawyer, so all I can do is guess) is that the state will probably lose, and the taxpayers will have to eat the legal bills.
The other possibility is that, as the CEO of ACD.net suggests, all the CLECs will suddenly become VoIP companies. That’s not a farfetched notion – all they have to do is figure out some way to get broadband service to their customers, then put them on a VoIP switch.
If this bill does pass, I have a suggestion for the independent CLECs: Pool your resources and form a cooperative to build your own statewide fiber-optic broadband network, initially to reach your existing customers, but feel free to branch it out to the rest of us so we have another alternative to DSL and cable broadband. Then provision your customers using VoIP only. Maybe you could even get some of the smaller cell providers to participate with you in building this network. Build it with plenty of capacity from the start, so you never have to ration (or meter) bandwidth, and don’t let an ILEC anywhere near it (unless they want to become a VoIP-only company, too).
Interesting side thought: I wonder how will this would impact a company like Allband Communications, which probably benefits greatly from rural subsidies and terminating charges (and is one of the few companies that might not be able to survive without them, given the sparse population of the area they serve), but delivers all their telephone service using what is essentially VoIP (if the cable companies can call their service VoIP, then so could Allband, since it’s totally delivered over fiber to the home!). Would they get the sweetest deal of all, being able to receive funds from the “restructured mechanism” but not having to pay into it? I don’t know the answer to that, but the thought crosses my mind that if this legislation passes, Michigan could potentially become the VoIP state, as every provider attempts (insofar as is possible) to avoid paying into this screwy scheme.
DSLreports.com: Wisconsin Data Shows AT&T’s ‘Franchise Reform’ Was A Joke – Now consumers get higher prices AND no consumer protection laws…
A long time ago, this blog had a somewhat different direction than it does today. Part of what I tried to do was expose the abusive practices of the large phone companies, and (among other things) try to stop them from basically writing the communications laws that were supposed to regulate them. One of the reasons I shifted directions was because, basically, we customers lost, and I don’t enjoy beating a dead horse. And only now, it seems, is the reality of what happened finally dawning on state officials, as indicated in Karl Bode’s article on the BroadbandReports.com/DSLreports.com site:
We’ve discussed how a significant number of states passed new state level video franchise laws at the behest of phone company lobbyists, but didn’t really realize what they were signing up for. Bills that consumers were told would result in lower TV prices by making it easier for phone companies to jump into the TV business, in many cases were little more than phone company wish lists — aimed at legalizing the cherry picking of next-gen broadband deployment, eliminating local authority (even eminent domain rights) and in some cases eliminating tough consumer protection laws.
The one thing the laws were supposed to do — lower TV prices — never actually happened.
One of the worst of these bills approved by duped lawmakers was in Wisconsin, where AT&T both wrote and lobbied for a bill that essentially gutted all consumer protections in the state under the auspices of cheaper TV. State residents used to have the right to prompt repairs, saw ensured refunds for service outages, mandated notice of rate increases or service deletions, and carriers had to provide a written notice of disconnection. Not any more. Now a new Wisconsin state audit shows that basic TV prices continue to skyrocket:
One Wisconsin legislator (Representative Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie) has introduced a new bill that, he says, “puts people first, not corporations.” Well, if that’s really true, it’s about damn time (pardon my expressiveness, but it is!). All laws ought to do that. Our Constitution ought to do that. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Rep. Hebl’s bill ever gets passed into law.
Here in Michigan, our legislators have been sold a similar bill of goods. About the only thing that did not happen here is that we did not completely do away with quality-of-service requirements. But our wonderful Michigan legislators did pretty much eliminate all other consumer protections. They turned the Michigan Public Service Commission from an agency that was able to help consumers solve most any communications-related issue, to an agency that’s pretty toothless with regard to anything telecommunications-related. Unless you are subscribing to one specific landline service that virtually no one has or wants (PBLES), you now have very little protection against abusive practices by the phone company, unless you want to take them to court or file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s office (actually, I think aggrieved customers ought to complain to their state legislators – they made this mess, let them clean it up!).
(Just so as not to mislead anyone, I will say that complaints to the MPSC sometimes do still bring results, but only because the MPSC knows how to reach the top executives at some of the phone companies. The MPSC usually can’t force the phone companies to help you anymore, but sometimes they can present your case to a high enough official that you’ll still get the desired results. And, if you actually do have a quality of service issue – your phone doesn’t work and they tell you they can’t fix it for another month – then the MPSC does still have some authority in that type of situation).
One other point: For nearly two decades, the Michigan Telecommunications Act had a “sunset” provision, such that it automatically came up for a rewrite every four or five years. The phone companies always saw this as a chance to re-craft the law to be even more to their liking, while consumer groups and legislators that felt they’d been “hoodwinked” the last time around saw it as a chance to restore some previously lost customer protections. But a funny thing happened on the way to the latest rewrite – a couple of years ago, the Michigan legislature quietly killed the sunset provision, making the current Michigan Telecommunications Act the one we’ll probably be stuck with for decades to come. This indicates to me that the phone companies got what they really wanted last time around, and had no intention of letting the applecart be upset by disgruntled consumers or legislators in 2009.
Of course, any one of our legislators could, on their own initiative, introduce legislation that would attempt to undo the damage that was done in the last Michigan Telecommunications Act rewrite. But unless they receive enough complaints from affected citizens, I doubt they’ll want to poke that particular beehive (the bees being the big telco lobbyists and lawyers, which would probably come into the state in full fury if there were ever any serious attempt at reform).
One way consumers could make an effective statement is to “vote with their feet”, and refuse to purchase any service from a large company that abuses their customers (especially when there are any other viable options available). But most customers don’t have that kind of willpower – all the “evil corporation” has to do is dangle a shiny enough carrot off the stick (in the form of a great “limited time promotional offer”) and we, like a bunch of stupid jackasses, subscribe to their services.
Like I said, I’m not into beating dead horses – once they’ve been dead long enough, they really start to stink — kind of like our Michigan legislature (and, presumably, their brethren in Wisconsin) when the big corporate interests come around.
I read some consumer-oriented sites and blogs fairly regularly (if for no other reason than that telecommunications companies have been known to do decidedly consumer-unfriendly things at times, and those sites help me keep track of such abuses), but every now and then they take me down a path that leads to some real pearl of wisdom. And thus it was when I followed a link to a post entitled, The Consumer Overdraft Protection Fair Practices Act Needs Your Support – which is a site that encourages you to “Write your representative today to support Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s bill which will clean up this predatory lending practice that fleeces consumers of billions every year.” And while that’s certainly a noble cause, and one I hope many folks will get behind, it’s not the thing that caused me to write this post.
Rather, it was a comment (or “signature”) on that page, from one Ani L. Schwartz of Arroyo Seco, NM, which said (in part):
- If Consumers are not helped, the whole system will crash harder and faster. It is indeed what Jim Hightower calls “TERMINAL STUPIDITY” for Corporate Powers to kill their markets.Please work to END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD and the “legal person” status of Corporations which allows them to get away with Murder, literally and figuratively.
That was enough to cause me to click on the link associated with Ms. Schwartz’s name, where I found this posted on her “Comment Wall”:
I pledge to speak out to End Corporate Personhood as often as I have the ability & opportunity to do so. The “legal person” status of Corporate “entities” must be revoked before WE (LIFE) can gain any ground towards HEALING.
In my own view, THIS is “the most pressing issue facing the country today” that I “would make the centerpiece of the address if [I] were President” NOW:
END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD
Ultimately pols & govs must join the People in efforts to free ourselves and our planet from the Chains, Catastrophes & Anti-Life IM-Balances of Corporatism, which are systematically destroying all life, liberty, & PURSUITS OF happiness, health, peace, education, wisdom, creativity, love, spirit, & all the things that really count in life to all living beings. In order for vital changes to be possible, the “legal person” status of Corporate “personhoods” must be revoked. Until this is accomplished, Corporate “entities” will thwart all vital changes because these changes require that these “entities” GIVE BACK to the Universe upon which they depend for their inedible Profits.
One need not agree with me about what is “the most important issue” in order to sign this pledge.
I’m not entirely sure whether Ms. Schwartz came up with this on her own, or if this is a new Internet meme, or what, but it makes me wonder what is taking so long for people to realize this simple truth:
Back in olden times, following the “great flood” and for at least a few thousand years thereafter, royalty held most of the power. And therefore, most of the oppression of the common folk came at the hands of the Kings and Queens, or whatever the ruling monarchs were called.
Then, for a time, religion held more power than royalty. The Pope was more powerful than the Prince, and most of the oppression of the common folks came at the hands of religious leaders.
Neither of the previous two forms of oppression have totally gone away, but they are now being overshadowed by a third form of oppression – that is, oppression by large corporations, which operate largely above the law.
The problem is that we give corporations most of the rights and the legal status of an individual. But when a corporation commits a criminal act, they can’t be punished in the way an individual can. You can’t jail a corporation. You can fine a corporation, but because large corporations have so much more in the way of resources than any individual, fines are largely ineffective (and are often thought of as a cost of doing business). Part of the very purpose for the existence of a corporation is to shield any individual from personal liability for the corporation’s actions. So if a corporation does something that causes real people to be injured or killed, it’s extremely rare for any individual to go to jail (and when it does happen, it’s often whichever poor patsy the corporate masters decided to throw under the bus, rather than take any responsibility for their own actions).
I’ve heard it said that the sort of people who would have set up an organized crime syndicate back in Al Capone’s day find it much more convenient today to set up a corporation, and run their scams from underneath a corporate shield. It’s much more lucrative, and a lot safer for the people involved. Instead of mobsters with tommy-guns doing the enforcement, now they hire high-priced lawyers. Corporations sue each other (the upper-crust equivalent of mob warfare) but they also go after common people who don’t bend to their will. Indeed, certain four-letter organizations that end in “AA” have been compared with organized crime in the way they bring lawsuits against the most defenseless (they seem to pick their victims carefully, although occasionally they do screw up and pick on the wrong person) and then demand the equivalent of “protection money” to stop bothering the party sued. Since most of the accused don’t have the funds to mount a real legal challenge (they really DO seem to pick their victims carefully), it’s basically a choice between paying the “protection” or losing their financial life.
And I don’t want to pick on just one industry – the problem cuts across many industries. People die because pharmaceutical reps try to get (and too often, succeed in getting) doctors to prescribe the newest and most expensive durgs, rather than the old, tried-and-true drugs that work just as well (if not better), and have fewer toxic side effects. People can’t afford the more expensive drugs, so they skip doses, or they have life-threatening problems with some side-effect of the newer drug. Now many physicians are forming “professional corporations” to try and limit their personal responsibility to they patients, and of course, virtually all hospitals are incorporated and many are now a part of some large corporate chain of medical facilities. Nowadays almost all hospital bills contain errors (often very significant errors), and they are nearly always in the hospital’s favor, so at a time when you should be worried about getting better you are burdened with the stress of dealing with an uncaring corporate hospital billing department (or worse yet, the collection agency that gets your bill when you can’t pay, which is also a corporation).
I could go on and on, but the point is, today virtually every oppression of ordinary citizens comes either at the hands of some large corporation directly, or because government is acting to protect some large corporate interest(s). Think about it – is there some law that you really hate, that you think should never have been passed? Assuming it wasn’t passed to bring more revenue into, or accrue more power for the government itself, the next most common reason a law is passed is to protect some large industry or corporation. Our governments often act as lackeys for the corporations.
Which brings me back to Ms. Schwartz’s “Comment Wall” – she has the right idea, although that’s only one of many reforms that should be passed – not just as laws, but as constitutional amendments. I can think of three amendments that would go a long way toward ending most, if not all of the abuses of corporations:
1) All human beings are entitled to the rights accorded by this Constitution to persons, but such rights shall not be extended to non-humans. The government shall not grant the rights of a person, or convey the legal rights of a person to any corporation or similar entity, or to any entity other than an actual human being.
2) No entity other than a human being, or a group of one or more specific human beings which are individually named, shall be granted ownership of any patent, copyright, or any other form of “intellectual property”, with the sole exception of a trademark. A corporation or similar entity may own a trademark, but shall not be granted ownership of any other form of intellectual property. Nothing in this amendment shall prohibit the inclusion of intellectual property rights in the estate of a deceased person, provided that such rights may only be passed to other named individuals, and the inclusion of such rights in an estate shall not extend the term of the patent, copyright, or similar form of intellectual property.
3) In any case where a corporation or similar legal entity brings a lawsuit against one or more individual human beings, and does not obtain a judgment against that individual or individuals, the corporation must pay double the attorney fees incurred by the defendant to the attorneys that represented the defendant, and in addition must reimburse the defendant for any costs and lost income incurred by the defendant while defending the case. If the individual’s life has been significantly altered as a result of the lawsuit, the defendant may petition the court for an additional award to compensate the defendant for any losses incurred. This amendment shall not be applicable in a case where a corporation or similar legal entity has brought a lawsuit against another corporation or similar legal entity.
I’m not a constitutional expert, so my wording might need to be polished a little. I’d also like to see included prohibitions against undue influence by corporate lobbyists, and the use of “sock puppets” (individuals or non-profit organizations that are compensated in some way to represent the views of a corporation as if they were their own, usually without disclosing the Quid pro Quo), but have no idea how to word that sort of amendment in such a manner that it would not trample individual rights.
I seriously doubt there is any chance I will see any of these amendments passed in my lifetime, but who knows – if enough of these corporate abuses keep occurring, maybe one of these days we will see an anti-corporate backlash turn into a strong enough movement to get some very strong protections against corporate abuses passed into law.
In closing, I want you to think about this:
When our country was founded, we knew about the abuses of kings, and our constitution contains protections against giving any one individual too much power.
When our country was founded, we knew about the abuses of religious leaders, and our constitution contains protections against government unduly influenced by religion.
Neither of the above work perfectly, and they are sometimes ignored by Congress and the courts (to our detriment), but at least they are there.
As time went by, we’ve added other amendments to protect people (most notably forbidding slavery, and enacting civil rights, and giving the vote to all adults regardless of race, gender, etc.). What we did not seem to realize, when our country was founded, was how powerful large corporations could become, nor how devoid of empathy and human compassion they could be. It is now time to reign in their power and to protect people from the abuses of large corporations, but they (the corporations) will not give it up easily.
Please don’t give the me the old bromide about how corporations are just individuals joined together for a specific purpose – in the first place, there are all sorts of studies that show that people behave much differently in large groups (particularly when they do not feel any individual responsibility for the actions of the group). Think about suicide jumpers that are sometimes encouraged to jump by onlookers – chances are that if any of those onlookers was the only person there they would not open their mouth, but once one person yells “Jump!”, the crowd takes up the chant. Large groups of people are often devoid of the compassion that individuals would exhibit when alone, and this seems just as true (if not more true) when people think they are simply following the directives of their corporate employer. And also, don’t forget that the specific purpose for which these individuals join together is to make a profit – in large corporations, everything else is secondary to that, specifically including the health and happiness of the people they deal with, or who deal with them.
I hope you will remember this article the next time you are feeling truly oppressed by forces outside your control – very often, there’s a large corporation (perhaps more than one) somewhere in the background, trying to advance their own financial interests. Even in cases where government is the oppressor, if you dig a bit deeper you’ll find corporations pulling the strings.
Take our drug laws as an example. The alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries all have a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal – they fear the competition from another drug that’s probably every bit as safe as at least some of the substances they sell. And just so you know, I’ve never smoked pot in my life, not even once – but I still think the current laws against it are ridiculous and protectionist. There is no valid reason anyone should serve a long jail sentence over marijuana usage or possession for personal use – especially when our jails are so overcrowded that truly violent criminals are being released early. I don’t want anyone to use marijuana or tobacco, and I don’t want anyone to drink alcoholic beverages and drive (or drink to excess), and I’d rather not see anyone take dangerous but legal pharmaceuticals just because some corporation managed to get them approved (perhaps by withholding negative tests, and only showing the FDA the ones that didn’t indicate a problem). But only ONE of those substances is illegal, and classed as a felony to even possess – and it’s not the one that makes money for the large corporations!
I won’t even get into the corporate influence on organized religion – but think about what houses of worship were like a century or two ago, and what they are like today (especially the big super-mega-churches that have sprung up in the suburbs). There are large corporations that make huge sums selling goods both to the houses of worship themselves, and directly to the “sheep” – and a lot of that is the books and other literature (and in the modern age, DVD’s and other forms of media) that help shape people’s religious views, starting with Sunday School. I’m just waiting for one of them to start teaching that Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple because that space was better suited for a big box store – we’re not quite to that point yet, but I can pretty much guarantee you that the big corporations that publish church literature are not going to say anything negative about large corporations, so if you are involved in an organized religion you might want to give some thought about who is shaping your family’s views on modern life.
If you think there’s any truth in this article, please feel free to link to it. And, of course, you should feel free to comment (even if you disagree with me), as long as you don’t include any links that might make me think you are a spammer (if in doubt – leave the link out).
Reuters (and serveral other sources) are reporting that “A proposed Senate compromise to delay the nationwide switch to digital TV … would postpone the transition date to June 12 from the planned February 17, on worries that consumers are not ready.”
Had this action been taken six months ago, it would not be a problem. Had it been taken three months ago, there would only have been minor issues. But folks, it is only three and a half weeks until the scheduled transition date (and by the time any legislation is actually passed, it will probably be somewhere between two and three weeks).
The first point I would make, and which many have already made in various forums, is that anyone who hasn’t gotten the message about the conversion by now probably isn’t ever going to get it. In the last twelve months I think I’ve seen more ads about the DTV transition than political ads (and remember, last year was an election year). Anyone who’s ignored the ten gazillion ads they’ve likely seen already isn’t going to suddenly jump out of their La-Z-Boy and decide to do something, just because Congress gives them another four months.
But the bigger problem is that there are going to be a lot of unanticipated consequences if we delay the transition now. That is because many stations have already started to make preparations for the final transition. For example, several stations have already cut power to their analog transmitters, so people in fringe areas may not be getting a good signal on those stations in either analog or digital format until after the transition.
For example, WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids has already cut the power on their analog signal on channel 13. Their temporary digital signal is way up on UHF channel 39. The plan is that after the transition, they will move their digital signal back to channel 13 with full power. In the meantime, people in their fringe coverage areas may not be able to receive either their analog or digital signals reliably.
And it’s not just that one station. When I mentioned this on Twitter this morning, Twitterer @quetwo replied that “WILX, WXYZ, WYSM are all lowering power — WKAR had to turn off analog already.” And that’s just in Michigan, folks.
Here’s another example of why some of us have been waiting for the transition. The area where we live is sort of in between the GrandRapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek market and the Cadillac/Traverse City market. Depending on which way the antenna is pointed, we can (usually) get a watchable analog signal from either WWMT in Kalamazoo or WWTV in Cadillac, both of which are CBS affiliates. But WWMT’s transmitter is in the same general direction as most of the transmitters for the other stations we watch, so we tend to stay on that one. While we get a much clearer picture from their digital signal, the problem is that right now their digital transmitter is on channel 2, which if you know anything about how television waves propagate is the worst possible channel they could be on with regard to interference from and with other stations (especially in the spring of the year).
To compound the problem, there are existing analog transmitters on channel 2 in Detroit, Chicago, and Green Bay, Wisconsin. So, WWMT cannot run too “hot” with their digital transmitter power, in order not to cause interference with those stations, and at the same time all those other analog stations are causing interference to WWMT’s digital signal. The result in the outermost parts of their coverage area is complete dropouts in picture and sound, which can last as long as a half minute, or longer.
Now, the post transition plan is this: WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, which has their analog transmitter on channel 8 and their digital transmitter on channel 7, is going to stay on channel 7 post transition. That means that channel 8 opens up and WWMT is going to move their digital transmitter to that frequency. ANY channel above the FM radio band (which is between channels 6 and 7) is far less susceptible to co-channel interference from distant transmitters in the first place, but also there are far fewer sources of potential interference on channel 8. So we would likely get a far better signal from WWMT in two ways: First, the aforementioned reduced interference, and second, they could increase their power and not have to worry as much about stepping on another station’s signal.
And my point is, if you bought a converter box or a digital-ready television and are getting marginal signals on some of the weaker/more distant stations, reception may very likely improve for you after the transition. Don’t fall victim to those highly deceptive cable or satellite ads that imply that you must subscribe to their service to continue to watch television – at worst, you might have to get rid of that old antenna that your father (or grandfather) put on the roof back at the dawn of television, and get a decent antenna (but DON’T look for one that says “digital” or “DTV” on the box – that’s just marketing hype. Any TV antenna with similar specifications works equally well for analog or digital signals, even if it doesn’t say a word about DTV on the box. Oh, and it doesn’t have to say “color” for you to pick up color television signals, either!). In a fringe area you will need a larger antenna than if you are closer to the transmitters, but you can go to a site like TV Fool to help determine just what type of antenna you really need.
My only concern is that if Congress delays the DTV transition now, a lot of us who’ve already prepared for the transition are going to have four more months of marginal signals on both analog and digital channels, especially when watching those stations that have already started to decommission their analog equipment. If you share similar concerns, you may want to call your U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative first thing Monday morning. Let’s not put this off any longer just because some people have refused to prepare for the transition (and probably still won’t, until the signal on their analog TV turns to snow).
Besides, do you really want to be bombarded with four more months of those damn DTV conversion commercials and PSA’s?
Oh, and in case you think this is a good idea, consider that they may be taking your job. You think that your job has gone to Mexico or China? Maybe not… maybe it’s still being done by Americans, who would by almost any definition be living in slave conditions. Of course, federal prisoners lose most of their civil rights. Ever wonder why there’s such a pervasive push to make more and more common activities illegal?
Just a few excerpts here, but you really should read the entire article:
Just across the street from the hospital complex is a camp for minimum-security women prisoners who are not ill. They get most of the hot, hard jobs — cleaning boilers, welding, mowing. The pay is a lousy 12 cents an hour with no raises. That’s why a job that many on the outside would take only as a last resort is the most coveted in the compound: Ernestine the telephone operator.
So when you call directory assistance using, say, Excel Telecommunications, chances are good your inquiry might be answered by a federal prisoner. At Carswell, a fifth of the prison workforce — most from the camp but a few from the hospital as well — get to sit in cubicles in an air-conditioned building, start at almost double the pay of the regular prison jobs, and, if they behave and don’t make mistakes, get regular raises until they reach the maximum pay of — hold onto your hat — $1.45 an hour. Of course, they have to work seven and a half years to reach that maximum. And since this center hasn’t been open long enough for anyone to make the maximum, the highest pay at Carswell is $1.15 an hour.
With toothpaste at $5.95 in the prison commissary, inmates who take those calls for Excel have to work between five and 25 hours to earn enough for one tube. But by comparison, they’re lucky: Women who work at other prison jobs have to sweat out 49 hours for the luxury of brushing their teeth.
The math on the other end is even simpler, if grander in scale: Excel, a $2.5 billion global company, comes out the clear winner. If the 19-year-old Irving-based long-distance carrier had to pay no more than minimum wage to non-prison U.S. workers to field calls from its worldwide network, it would cost the company $900 a month per worker, plus benefits and payments to Social Security. The 370 prison workers in Excel’s call center at Carswell make $180 a month at most, with no benefits.
Remember, were it not for the use of forced labor, these corporations would have to pay at least minimum wage. And now the Michigan connection:
….. In 2000, Rep. [Pete] Hoekstra [from Holland, Michigan], chairman of the House subcommittee on education and the workforce, opened an investigation into the “racket” that Corum had witnessed, albeit a small part of it. The FPI “has been taking tens of thousands of items in excess federal government equipment, especially computer equipment, and using them to fuel an entry of unknown scope into the commercial marketplace,” he said at the opening of the subsequent hearing. In other words, they were selling used government equipment, improperly and in huge quantities.
According to Hoekstra’s office and transcripts of the hearings, Unicor acquired the computers through a process that allows federal agencies that are replacing equipment to pass along outdated but still operable items for use by other agencies. If other federal agencies don’t need the hand-me-downs, the equipment is supposed to be dispersed, free, to nonprofit groups, schools, or state governments. It is never supposed to be sold.
In this case the computers were destined to be sent to poor school districts under a presidential order of Bill Clinton. Somehow, FPI got to them first, hauled them out of the warehouses, and began a huge, illegal, garage sale, Hoekstra said. He noted that at the time the U.S. Department of Justice was conducting a criminal investigation of Unicor. “It is high time,” he said. “FPI has been out of control for years, exceeding its statutory authority and running wild through the marketplace without any Congressional … authority.”
The above small excerpts are really just to whet your appetite and hopefully induce you to go read the entire article. The basic idea of training prisoners so that they will have a marketable skill once released is not necessarily a bad one, but there is a not-so-fine line between job training and exploitation, and I would hope that after reading this article, most people would agree that line has been crossed. It’s all the more noxious when you realize that criminals from wealthy backgrounds, that can afford good lawyers, often get treated much differently (ever hear of “Club Fed”?). But I know that some readers will not be moved by any appeal that even prisoners should have humane treatment, so I will again note that this scheme may be taking away real jobs that are badly needed in these hard economic times.
Human rights activists have complained, probably with justification, that the Chinese government incarcerates people and then uses them as slave labor. So, it’s quite shocking to read a story like this coming out of the U.S.A. So much for the “Land of the Free” and that pesky old Constitution.
Looks like this is all but a done deal, for better or worse (better because VoIP companies will now have the legal right to have access to 911 answering centers, worse because it’s probably going to cost them, and that cost will be passed on to the customer, and I’ll bet most of that money will somehow wind up in the pockets of the incumbent telcos):
The Senate recently approved a bill requiring VoIP providers to ensure 911 access to customers. S428, the IP-Enabled Voice Communications and Public Safety Act, gives VoIP interconnection access just like the traditional phone companies have—making sure that 911 calls made over VoIP lines will reach a live operator every time.
Full story here:
911 Bill Passed by U.S. Senate | About VoIP
Just a small update to my article on the Cato Institute hypocrites – you know, the folks who proclaim to be for individual liberty, but not when it comes to freedom of speech by one of their employees, even when he’s not speaking in an official capacity nor about any matter of which the Cato Institute has previously expressed any interest. Mr. Armentano has now written an article giving his side of the story:
Telecom IS one of the areas in which the Cato Institute has weighed in with their opinions, and you get one guess whose side they are usually on. The next time they deem themselves worthy to pontificate about some matter, I hope someone reminds them that when you act in a manner that’s apparently contrary to your core principles, you shouldn’t expect people to take you seriously.
By the way, and for the record, I believe that Mr. Armentano is right on with regard to his views on UFO’s. I’ve never seen one, I don’t know what they are, I don’t know where they come from, and I’m certainly not so naive as to believe that if they are piloted by intelligent beings from elsewhere, those beings would necessarily tell the truth about their origins even if they did decide to land at the United Nations (however, it would be really interesting to compare their DNA to human DNA, and I suspect that’s exactly what some people fear would happen). But I do believe that the public deserves to be told the truth about what we know so far, and not be fed ridiculous stories about weather balloons and swamp gas (the latter is a local reference that will doubtless stir up memories for some southeast Michigan residents). I, for one, am so sick of our government lying to us about everything under the sun (and maybe things on the other side of it as well).
I have read a few articles and heard some comments that suggest that if the full truth ever comes out, a lot of current and former government officials could go to jail (in part because of the way certain “recovered technologies” were allegedly handed over to major corporations). I don’t know if there’s any truth to that either, but I believe that those who have a story to tell should be allowed to tell it, without being penalized for doing so. One of the big reasons that this country is in such a mess is that instead of putting a high value on telling the truth – a core value that most of us teach our children – we tend to penalize people who tell “the truth, and nothing but the truth” (even if it’s the truth as they perceive it) in any setting outside of a court of law or a Congressional investigation. In line with the topic of this blog, I wish someone would blow the whistle on how telecom-related legislation is actually created – I think I have a pretty good idea already, but I have no proof. It would be a lot more effective if, say, a former state legislator would go on the record about exactly how it came about that certain provisions got into the Michigan Telecommunications Act. But honestly, I expect we’ll see full disclosure on UFO’s before we’ll see that happen (which is to say, I’m not holding my breath).
DSLreports.com: Is Connected Nation A Phone Industry Sham? – Looking more closely at the oft-praised Connect Kentucky model…
From DSLreports.com comes a heads-up on another organization that may not be what it seems:
You may have heard of “Connect Kentucky,” a plan developed to bring broadband services to rural areas of Kentucky that’s being revamped as a national broadband cure-all under the name Connected Nation. It has the support of a number of key politicians (including President Bush and Hillary Clinton) and major incumbents like Verizon, whose policy men insist that the plan revitalized Kentucky and would do the same nationally.
Art Brodsky over at Public Knowledge paints a very different picture of the plan, noting that the Connect model was cooked up by aides to former Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher and representatives from BellSouth. Why are the phone companies so excited about the Connect model? Brodsky claims, and we’ve seen this claim supported by local ISP employees in the region, that the plan is little more than a political ploy aimed at lining incumbent pockets, killing regulation, and preventing any real work in the mapping of the nation’s broadband penetration.
I’m getting to the point that I’m suspicious of just about any organization that claims to represent (or in some way benefit) consumers – even when such groups start out with good people and the best of intentions, that’s no guarantee that they won’t be highly influenced, or even taken over, by the very corporation(s) they originally organized to oppose (or that corporation’s PR firm, or their sock puppets, etc.). Nowadays, you not only have to look at who founded the group and for what purpose, but also who leads them now, and who supplies the bulk of their support – and sometimes it’s like peeling an onion, if you stop at the first layer you don’t see who’s really pulling the strings behind the scene. Sorry if this sounds like conspiracy theory, but there have been too many documented cases where organizations have taken a position favored by a major corporation, and then it’s been discovered that the same corporation is in some way funneling money into the organization (in a simpler context, there’s a five letter word starting with the letter “b” that might be used to describe such activity – can you guess what it is? – and since that might be illegal in certain circumstances, they money is often sent via one or more third parties, such as public relations firms).
There are days I think we need some sort of “truth in advertising” laws that require disclosure of all affiliations and funding sources for organizations, especially non-profits – and that such disclosures must be included in any printed or published documents advocating legislation, policy changes, or political action of any kind. Of course, if such a law were ever proposed, every lobbyist in Washington would doubtless oppose it. I wonder if we will ever again be able to elect honorable men and women as government officials, that will have the backbone to take on these lobbyists and gut their power, so that they can once again represent all their constituents fairly, without feeling the need to kowtow to the large corporations.
Quoting from the web site:
CommitteeCaller.com is a site that allows one person to target an entire congressional committee over the phone. The web application utilizes the open source Asterisk PBX system to connect you to every senator or house member on a particular committee. No more digging around the ‘net entering zip-codes to retrieve phone numbers of representatives. CommitteeCaller.com automates the tedium of finding and dialing your favorite politicians.
Select a committee, enter in your phone number and click “Put me in touch with democracy” and you’ll be called by our system and sequentially patched through to the front office of each member on that committee. You can even rate how each call went; information that will enable us to rank representatives on how accountable and responsive they are to their constituents.
For more information about how Committee Caller works, click here.
I would love to think that this will empower the average citizen, but unfortunately in today’s government it seems that one high-paid lobbyist delivering the right “favors” (or, in some cases, threats) has more influence on a congress-critter than thousands of letters and phone calls from constituents. Still, on many issues (especially ones where no one is throwing a lot of money/influence around, or where competing sides are both doing it), enough phone calls from concerned citizens just might make a difference. In any case, feel free to try it on issues of concern to you, but note that timing is everything – it’s probably best to use this when there is actual legislation (that you care about) under consideration by a particular committee, as opposed to using it just to blow off steam about some issue that’s not even on the table.
The 911 Modernization and Public Safety Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday. If enacted into law, this would require VoIP providers to offer enhanced 911 (E911) service. It would also make it easier for those companies to gain access to the 911 networks that are often controlled by the large telephone companies.
More details here:
PC World – Business Center: Congress Working to Improve VoIP 911 Service
Earlier this week, Jeff Pulver posted an analysis of two vastly opposite approaches to the regulation of VoIP on the state level. I’m including a few short excerpts below, but you really should go read the full article:
Last week two states – New Jersey and Missouri — took radically different approaches to VoIP regulation that could have far reaching consequences for the future of Internet communication.
New Jersey – helping consumers take advantage of new technologies. On the one hand, New Jersey’s Governor Jon Corzine (D) — joining a number of other forward looking states – signed into law new legislation prohibiting state regulation of many aspects of VoIP.
Missouri – stuffing tomorrow’s technologies into yesterday’s regulatory boxes. But last week the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) took a starkly different approach. After a year-long proceeding, the PSC found that Comcast’s fixed VoIP service, unlike Vonage’s service, is offering a telecommunications service in Missouri and therefore it is requiring Comcast to get certified by December 10th, or stop offering their VoIP service. …..
Implications: This decision is likely to set off a chain of reactions including a possible appeal, and if left in place, unleash a number of other state actions similarly adopting state regulation of fixed VoIP. These actions are like to raise rates for consumers and slow innovation as state seek to require Internet technologies to subsidize the 100 year old phone network through the application of state universal service contributions, and the application of state access charges. It would be like having the first automobiles subsidize horse and buggy’s, or e-mail subsidize postal mail, or PCs subsidize mainframes.
I again urge you to read Jeff’s complete post:
The Jeff Pulver Blog: VoIP in America: A Tale of Two States
The strange thing to me about this is that although the big phone companies often have their way with state legislators (because legislators sell their votes like cheap prostitutes, though often in non-obvious ways so they don’t run afoul of the poorly-enforced ethics rules), most of the larger phone companies are smart enough to realize that regulation on VoIP isn’t even in their best interest. The reason is that the vast majority of customers ditching landlines are going to cell phone service, not VoIP, and the day may come (and for some companies, already has come) when they will want to offer their own VoIP service.
My point is that I don’t think that the Missouri PSC type of regulation is something that the big phone companies have been pushing hard for – even if there might be a slight short-term gain (by making it more costly for the cable competitors to do business), in the long term it will hurt the phone companies as much as the cable companies. But I may be wrong – nobody ever said the big phone company executives were the brightest bulbs on the tree, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they would go for the short-term gain, and leave it to their successors to deal with the resulting mess.
So far, Michigan has taken a “hands off” approach to VoIP, but that’s consistent with their growing reluctance to regulate any aspect of the telephone industry except for “PBLES” (the “Primary Basic Local Exchange Service” that few customers are aware exists, and that even fewer actually subscribe to). So the fact that Michigan doesn’t seem to want to regulate much of anything having to do with telephone service anymore probably works in the favor of fixed VoIP providers.
The interesting thing is, the cable companies in Missouri could probably avoid regulation altogether by offering an associated “nomadic” VoIP service (the type where you have a VoIP adapter that you can take with you and use anywhere you have a broadband connection). If, for example, they were to develop a VoIP adapter and system that incorporates the best of both worlds – the reliability of fixed service combined with the portability of nomadic service, that might put them into the realm of providers that the states are unable to regulate.
(How would such a system work? Perhaps something like this: Normally, it detects that you are at home, and uses the “reserved” VoIP bandwidth of your local cable company – in other words, it bypasses the public Internet and essentially uses the frequencies reserved for local phone service. Should you unplug the adapter and take it to another location served by the same cable company – for example, you take it to a neighbor’s home and plug it in there – it will still attempt to use the reserved VoIP bandwidth, if technically feasible. If for some reason it can’t use the reserved bandwidth, or if you take it to a place served by another provider, it falls back and uses the public Internet to connect you to your cable company’s switch. Oh, and to make it a true “nomadic” service, the cable company would have to offer the ability to get a number from a ratecenter of the customer’s choice, rather than one dictated by the geographic location of their home. It seems to me that if that type of system were used, there would then be no functional difference, at least from the customer’s perspective, between the cable company’s service and the “nomadic” VoIP service offered by other VoIP companies).
Somehow, I doubt the cable companies will develop and use an entirely new type of technology just to bypass the backward-thinking regulators in a particular state. It’s probably a lot cheaper for them to lobby the Missouri legislature to get a VoIP-friendly law passed.
It’s about time – finally a lawmaker is taking aim at the early termination fees, and bogus “cost of doing business” charges that are added as line items on customer bills, in the hope that customers will think they are government-mandated taxes, and not just an added charge to fatten the provider’s bottom line. Wonder what the chances are of this getting enacted into law after the phone company lobbyists work their voodoo?