Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Walmart even killing American flag business... this is so symbolic

Red White and Screwed: How Wal-Mart is Killing the American Flag Business

The American flag-making business is dying. But those cheap, Chinese-made stars and stripes? They're not to blame.

By Julia Reischel  : Esquire  May 23, 2014
atriotism used to be good business for Murray Fenwick, the owner of Stucki Embroidery, a small Catskills factory that embroiders shiny white stars onto the blue part of the American flag.
Not so much anymore. 
Stucki got into the star business in 1973. After World War II, Stucki was one of hundreds of American companies manufacturing embroidery and lace for bras, curtains, garments and other textiles using enormous Swiss Schiffli embroidery machines. The 15-yard metal-and-wood behemoths have to be anchored in four feet of concrete and are controlled by Swiss watch guts programmed with long spools of punchcard paper. 
As garment makers left New York and New Jersey in search of a cheaper labor in the 1970s, Stucki stayed behind in the one embroidery niche that could be both domestic and profitable: stars.
"The stars saved our business for many years there," Fenwick says. "The other embroiderers went out of business as soon as the garment business left New York."
Fenwick joined Stucki in 1962 and knows every aspect of the business, including the embarrassing task of market research.  
"The only thing I didn't like was going to Macy's with my brother-in-law, the owner of the company. He'd go into the ladies department and look at the embroidery on the brassieres," Fenwick says. 
The flag business did well for 30 years. The bicentennial in 1976 and the time around the first Gulf War, 1991, meant good business.
But 2001 was spectacular. 
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, Fenwick says, Wal-Mart sold a million American flags in just two days. Every single one of them contained Stucki stars. 
Stucki responded by expanding—extra shifts, a new machine. By 2002, the company was making 30,000 star fields—a set of 50 stars—a week. The company created a profit-sharing plan for its employees, and chartered buses to take them to Broadway shows. 
Those boom times are gone. This year, Fenwick sold two of his embroidery machines. Trenches full of gravel pock the factory floor where they stood, and their missing bulk looms around the thirteen employees who work here—a skeleton crew compared to the salad days of 2002, when Stucki's employed 65 people. 
"We have had six bad years in a row," Fenwick says as he walks the factory floor with Tiffany, his Yorkshire terrier, following behind by scent, nose to the ground. She's a factory fixture, with special affection for the UPS man.
The factory feels more artisanal than industrial. Young men slice stray threads from stars while pacing wooden walkways hung on the hulking embroidery machines. A woman sitting at a sewing machine checks each star for defects and fills in missing points by hand, Betsy Ross style. 
Fenwick points out his company's efforts at diversification away from stars: screen printing, embroidered patches, vinyl decals, and even some fancy work for clients like churches (metallic embroidery on priests' robes) and Walt Disney theme parks (a gauzy embroidered train for Cinderella's gown). 
But the factory is made for big embroidery jobs, and the pressures that killed the bulk of the American embroidery industry in the 1960s—globalization, ever-dropping prices controlled by ever-fewer mega-retailers—are killing the star business. Especially for small shops like Stucki. 
"We're going down, down, down," Fenwick says. "That's what we're doing." 
mall flagmakers are being squeezed enough to attract the jingoistic attention of politicians. 
Inspired by a small flag factory in his district, Mike Thompson, a Democratic congressman from northern California, sponsored legislation in 2013 to require the U.S. military to purchase only American-made flags. The legislation was passed as part of an omnibus spending bill this February. 
Flush with that victory, Thompson is now lobbying president Obama to require the entire federal government to buy American-made flags. 
"It's a big issue to the little guys," said Thompson's press secretary, Austin Vevurka. 
Although it's tempting to blame foreign-made flags for killing the flag business, it's not quite the truth.
In 2012, $3.6 million of the American flags available in the U.S. were made in China, according to census statistics compiled by the Flag Manufacturers Association of America (FMAA). But the domestic flag industry is worth $300 million, which means that foreign-made flags are only 1 percent of the market.
Reggie VandenBosch, the chairman of the FMAA, says that that's down from a whopping 20 percent just after 9/11, when American flag manufacturers, caught off guard after the end of the traditional summer flag season, didn't have enough American flags to meet the post-9/11 demand. Foreign flags—$52 million worth—filled the gap.
Thirteen years later, however, most retailers are too PR-savvy to take on the attention of waving a flag made in China.   
"By and large, I can't think of a retailer off the top of my head now that will purchase imported U.S. flags," VandenBosch says.
So don't blame Asian manufacturing for killing the star business. Instead, blame the American love affair with cut-rate consumer goods. 
ven when we Americans are patriotic, we can still be cheap. 
"The trend in America is dollar stores," says Fenwick, sitting at his desk, which is strewn with brochures from a defunct embroidery industry association. 
"You get a customer like Wal-Mart, and you think it's great," he says. "But they kill you." 
The retail price of a standard nylon three-by-five-foot American flag with embroidered stars has hovered between $19 to $24 for over a decade. But the price Stucki got for its stars from its largest customer, Annin Flagmakers, which had a contract with Wal-Mart, kept falling.  
Annin once paid Stucki $2.15 for each flag field. Then Wal-Mart demanded a price cut. The price dropped to $1.95, and then $1.85. 
"They're trying to compete because Wal-Mart is chiseling them every year," he says. "We just got squeezed and squeezed." 
Finally, Annin bought its own embroidery machines to make its stars in-house, cutting Stucki out entirely.
VandenBosch says it's the same across the entire industry. Only the big flagmakers like Annin can absorb the ever-falling prices. The little guys are left out. 
"The flag industry in general has been going through a consolidation since 2005," he says. "As demand trickled off, supply was greater than demand, and as a result, pricing pressure started becoming a real issue."
It's not just consumers that want cheap flags. The government does, too. 
Bruce Baley, a Democratic congressman from Iowa, has repeatedly sponsored a bill called the "All-American Flag Act," which would require the U.S. Federal government to purchase 100% American-made U.S. flags. Unlike the narrower legislation that passed this year, which only applied to the Department of Defense, the "All-American Flag Act" has repeatedly failed.
"They voted it down," says Fenwick, who has been following the bill with interest. "They said American-made flags are too expensive." 
Fenwick knows that it's pure economics that is forcing his company out of stars. That doesn't make it any easier. 
"I once read an economist who wrote that anything cheaper in some other county should be made there and not in America," he says. "I'd like to find that guy. I'd be very tempted, but I'd probably get arrested for assault if I met him." 

Monday, May 26, 2014

End mass incarceration now - NYT editorial board

SundayReview | EDITORIAL - New York Times

End Mass Incarceration Now

For more than a decade, researchers across multiple disciplines have been issuing reports on the widespread societal and economic damage caused by America’s now-40-year experiment in locking up vast numbers of its citizens. If there is any remaining disagreement about the destructiveness of this experiment, it mirrors the so-called debate over climate change.
In both cases, overwhelming evidence shows a crisis that threatens society as a whole. In both cases, those who study the problem have called for immediate correction.
Several recent reports provide some of the most comprehensive and compelling proof yet that the United States “has gone past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,” and that mass incarceration itself is “a source of injustice.”
That is the central conclusion of a two-year, 444-page study prepared by the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the Justice Department and others. The report highlights many well-known statistics: Since the early 1970s, the nation’s prison population has quadrupled to 2.2 million, making it the world’s biggest. That is five to 10 times the incarceration rate in other democracies.
On closer inspection the numbers only get worse. More than half of state prisoners are serving time for nonviolent crimes, and one of every nine, or about 159,000 people, are serving life sentences — nearly a third of them without the possibility of parole.
While politicians were responding initially to higher crime rates in the late 1960s, this “historically unprecedented” growth is primarily the result of harsher sentencing that continued long after crime began to fall. These include lengthy mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses that became popular in the 1980s, and “three strikes” laws that have put people away for life for stealing a pair of socks.
And even though the political climate has shifted in recent years, many politicians continue to fear appearing to be “soft on crime,” even when there is no evidence that imprisoning more people has reduced crime by more than a small amount.
Meanwhile, much of the world watches in disbelief. A report by Human Rights Watch notes that while prison should generally be a last resort, in the United States “it has been treated as the medicine that cures all ills,” and that “in its embrace of incarceration, the country seems to have forgotten just how severe a punishment it is.”
The severity is evident in the devastation wrought on America’s poorest and least educated, destroying neighborhoods and families. From 1980 to 2000, the number of children with fathers in prison rose from 350,000 to 2.1 million. Since race and poverty overlap so significantly, the weight of our criminal justice experiment continues to fall overwhelmingly on communities of color, and particularly on young black men.
After prison, people are sent back to the impoverished places they came from, but are blocked from re-entering society. Often they cannot vote, get jobs, or receive public benefits like subsidized housing — all of which would improve their odds of staying out of trouble. This web of collateral consequences has created what the National Academy of Sciences report calls “a highly distinct political and legal universe for a large segment of the U.S. population.”
All of this has come at an astounding economic cost, as tallied by a report from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project — $80 billion a year in direct corrections expenses alone, and more than a quarter-trillion dollars when factoring in police, judicial and legal services.
Many of the solutions to this crisis are clear, even if the political path to them often is not: Reduce sentence lengths substantially. Provide more opportunities for rehabilitation inside prison. Remove the barriers that keep people from rejoining society after they are released from prison. Use alternatives to imprisonment for nonviolent offenders, drug addicts and the mentally ill. Release elderly or ill prisoners, who are the least likely to re-offend. And since more than 95 percent of inmates are eventually released, rate prisons on their success in keeping former inmates from returning — which as many as two-thirds currently do. Some states have already takensmart and effective steps in these directions, but there is a long way to go.

The insanity of the situation is plain to people across the political spectrum, from Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to former House SpeakerNewt Gingrich, who agree on the urgent need for change. The research is in, and it is uncontestable. The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social, and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough.

Friday, May 23, 2014

I Don't Wanna Be Right

MAY 19, 2014


Last month, Brendan Nyhan, a professor of political science at Dartmouth, published the results of a study that he and a team of pediatricians and political scientists had been working on for three years. They had followed a group of almost two thousand parents, all of whom had at least one child under the age of seventeen, to test a simple relationship: Could various pro-vaccination campaigns change parental attitudes toward vaccines? Each household received one of four messages: a leaflet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that there had been no evidence linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (M.M.R.) vaccine and autism; a leaflet from the Vaccine Information Statement on the dangers of the diseases that the M.M.R. vaccine prevents; photographs of children who had suffered from the diseases; and a dramatic story from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about an infant who almost died of measles. A control group did not receive any information at all. The goal was to test whether facts, science, emotions, or stories could make people change their minds.
The result was dramatic: a whole lot of nothing. None of the interventions worked. The first leaflet—focussed on a lack of evidence connecting vaccines and autism—seemed to reduce misperceptions about the link, but it did nothing to affect intentions to vaccinate. It even decreased intent among parents who held the most negative attitudes toward vaccines, a phenomenon known as the backfire effect. The other two interventions fared even worse: the images of sick children increased the belief that vaccines cause autism, while the dramatic narrative somehow managed to increase beliefs about the dangers of vaccines. “It’s depressing,” Nyhan said. “We were definitely depressed,” he repeated, after a pause.
Nyhan’s interest in false beliefs dates back to early 2000, when he was a senior at Swarthmore. It was the middle of a messy Presidential campaign, and he was studying the intricacies of political science. “The 2000 campaign was something of a fact-free zone,” he said. Along with two classmates, Nyhan decided to try to create a forum dedicated to debunking political lies. The result was Spinsanity, a fact-checking site that presaged venues like PolitiFact and the Annenberg Policy Center’s factcheck.org. For four years, the trio plugged along. Their work was popular—it was syndicated by Salon and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and it led to a best-selling book—but the errors persisted. And so Nyhan, who had already enrolled in a doctorate program in political science at Duke, left Spinsanity behind to focus on what he now sees as the more pressing issue: If factual correction is ineffective, how can you make people change their misperceptions? The 2014 vaccine study was part of a series of experiments designed to answer the question.
Until recently, attempts to correct false beliefs haven’t had much success. Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Bristol whose research into misinformationbegan around the same time as Nyhan’s, conducted a review of misperception literature through 2012. He found much speculation, but, apart from his own work and the studies that Nyhan was conducting, there was little empirical research. In the past few years, Nyhan has tried to address this gap by using real-life scenarios and news in his studies: the controversy surrounding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the questioning of Obama’s birth certificate, and anti-G.M.O. activism. Traditional work in this area has focussed on fictional stories told in laboratory settings, but Nyhan believes that looking at real debates is the best way to learn how persistently incorrect views of the world can be corrected.
One thing he learned early on is that not all errors are created equal. Not all false information goes on to become a false belief—that is, a more lasting state of incorrect knowledge—and not all false beliefs are difficult to correct. Take astronomy. If someone asked you to explain the relationship between the Earth and the sun, you might say something wrong: perhaps that the sun rotates around the Earth, rising in the east and setting in the west. A friend who understands astronomy may correct you. It’s no big deal; you simply change your belief.
But imagine living in the time of Galileo, when understandings of the Earth-sun relationship were completely different, and when that view was tied closely to ideas of the nature of the world, the self, and religion. What would happen if Galileo tried to correct your belief? The process isn’t nearly as simple. The crucial difference between then and now, of course, is the importance of the misperception. When there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur.
In those scenarios, attempts at correction can indeed be tricky. In a study from 2013, Kelly Garrett and Brian Weeks looked to see if political misinformation—specifically, details about who is and is not allowed to access your electronic health records—that was corrected immediately would be any less resilient than information that was allowed to go uncontested for a while. At first, it appeared as though the correction did cause some people to change their false beliefs. But, when the researchers took a closer look, they found that the only people who had changed their views were those who were ideologically predisposed to disbelieve the fact in question. If someone held a contrary attitude, the correction not only didn’t work—it made the subject more distrustful of the source. A climate-change study from 2012 found a similar effect. Strong partisanship affected how a story about climate change was processed, even if the story was apolitical in nature, such as an article about possible health ramifications from a disease like the West Nile Virus, a potential side effect of change. If information doesn’t square with someone’s prior beliefs, he discards the beliefs if they’re weak and discards the information if the beliefs are strong.
Even when we think we’ve properly corrected a false belief, the original exposure often continues to influence our memory and thoughts. In a series of studies, Lewandowsky and his colleagues at the University of Western Australia asked university students to read the report of a liquor robbery that had ostensibly taken place in Australia’s Northern Territory. Everyone read the same report, but in some cases racial information about the perpetrators was included and in others it wasn’t. In one scenario, the students were led to believe that the suspects were Caucasian, and in another that they were Aboriginal. At the end of the report, the racial information either was or wasn’t retracted. Participants were then asked to take part in an unrelated computer task for half an hour. After that, they were asked a number of factual questions (“What sort of car was found abandoned?”) and inference questions (“Who do you think the attackers were?”). After the students answered all of the questions, they were given a scale to assess their racial attitudes toward Aboriginals.
Everyone’s memory worked correctly: the students could all recall the details of the crime and could report precisely what information was or wasn’t retracted. But the students who scored highest on racial prejudice continued to rely on the racial misinformation that identified the perpetrators as Aboriginals, even though they knew it had been corrected. They answered the factual questions accurately, stating that the information about race was false, and yet they still relied on race in their inference responses, saying that the attackers were likely Aboriginal or that the store owner likely had trouble understanding them because they were Aboriginal. This was, in other words, a laboratory case of the very dynamic that Nyhan identified: strongly held beliefs continued to influence judgment, despite correction attempts—even with a supposedly conscious awareness of what was happening.
In a follow-up, Lewandowsky presented a scenario that was similar to the original experiment, except now, the Aboriginal was a hero who disarmed the would-be robber. This time, it was students who had scored lowest in racial prejudice who persisted in their reliance on false information, in spite of any attempt at correction. In their subsequent recollections, they mentioned race more frequently, and incorrectly, even though they knew that piece of information had been retracted. False beliefs, it turns out, have little to do with one’s stated political affiliations and far more to do with self-identity: What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? All ideologies are similarly affected.
It’s the realization that persistently false beliefs stem from issues closely tied to our conception of self that prompted Nyhan and his colleagues to look at less traditional methods of rectifying misinformation. Rather than correcting or augmenting facts, they decided to target people’s beliefs about themselves. In a series of studies that they’ve just submitted for publication, the Dartmouth team approached false-belief correction from a self-affirmation angle, an approach that had previously been used for fighting prejudice and low self-esteem. The theory, pioneeredby Claude Steele, suggests that, when people feel their sense of self threatened by the outside world, they are strongly motivated to correct the misperception, be it by reasoning away the inconsistency or by modifying their behavior. For example, when women are asked to state their gender before taking a math or science test, they end up performing worse than if no such statement appears, conforming their behavior to societal beliefs about female math-and-science ability. To address this so-called stereotype threat, Steele proposes an exercise in self-affirmation: either write down or say aloud positive moments from your past that reaffirm your sense of self and are related to the threat in question. Steele’s research suggests that affirmation makes people far more resilient and high performing, be it on an S.A.T., an I.Q. test, or at a book-club meeting.
Normally, self-affirmation is reserved for instances in which identity is threatened in direct ways: race, gender, age, weight, and the like. Here, Nyhan decided to apply it in an unrelated context: Could recalling a time when you felt good about yourself make you more broad-minded about highly politicized issues, like the Iraq surge or global warming? As it turns out, it would. On all issues, attitudes became more accurate with self-affirmation, and remained just as inaccurate without. That effect held even when no additional information was presented—that is, when people were simply asked the same questions twice, before and after the self-affirmation.
Still, as Nyhan is the first to admit, it’s hardly a solution that can be applied easily outside the lab. “People don’t just go around writing essays about a time they felt good about themselves,” he said. And who knows how long the effect lasts—it’s not as though we often think good thoughts and then go on to debate climate change.
But, despite its unwieldiness, the theory may still be useful. Facts and evidence, for one, may not be the answer everyone thinks they are: they simply aren’t that effective, given how selectively they are processed and interpreted. Instead, why not focus on presenting issues in a way keeps broader notions out of it—messages that are not political, not ideological, not in any way a reflection of who you are?
Take the example of the burgeoning raw-milk movement. So far, it’s a relatively fringe phenomenon, but if it spreads it threatens to undo the health benefits of more than a century of pasteurization. The C.D.C. calls raw milk “one of the world’s most dangerous food products,” noting that improperly handled raw milk is responsible for almost three times as many hospitalizations as any other food-borne illness. And yet raw-milk activists are becoming increasingly vocal—and the supposed health benefits of raw milk are gaining increased support. To prevent the idea from spreading even further, Nyhan advises, advocates of pasteurization shouldn’t dwell on the misperceptions, lest they “inadvertently draw more attention to the counterclaim.” Instead, they should create messaging that self-consciously avoids any broader issues of identity, pointing out, for example, that pasteurized milk has kept children healthy for a hundred years.
I asked Nyhan if a similar approach would work with vaccines. He wasn’t sure—for the present moment, at least. “We may be past that point with vaccines,” he told me. “For now, while the issue is already so personalized in such a public way, it’s hard to find anything that will work.” The message that could be useful for raw milk, he pointed out, cuts another way in the current vaccine narrative: the diseases are bad, but people now believe that the vaccines, unlike pasteurized milk, are dangerous. The longer the narrative remains co-opted by prominent figures with little to no actual medical expertise—the Jenny McCarthys of the world—the more difficult it becomes to find a unified, non-ideological theme. The message can’t change unless the perceived consensus among figures we see as opinion and thought leaders changes first.
And that, ultimately, is the final, big piece of the puzzle: the cross-party, cross-platform unification of the country’s √©lites, those we perceive as opinion leaders, can make it possible for messages to spread broadly. The campaign against smoking is one of the most successful public-interest fact-checking operations in history. But, if smoking were just for Republicans or Democrats, change would have been far more unlikely. It’s only after ideology is put to the side that a message itself can change, so that it becomes decoupled from notions of self-perception.
Vaccines, fortunately, aren’t political. “They’re not inherently linked to ideology,” Nyhan said. “And that’s good. That means we can get to a consensus.” Ignoring vaccination, after all, can make people of every political party, and every religion, just as sick.
Illustration by Boyoun Kim.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Net Neutrality and Libraries

Why the death of net neutrality would be a disaster for libraries

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15:  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler (C) speaks during a news conference after an open meeting to receive public comment on proposed open Internet notice of proposed rulemaking and spectrum auctions May 15, 2014 at the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC. The FCC has voted in favor of a proposal to reform net neutrality and could allow Internet service providers to charge for faster and higher-quality service.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks during a news conference Thursday at the FCC headquarters in Washington. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The Internet's eyes turned to the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday, as the panel approved a plan to consider allowing Internet service providers to charge Web sites like Netflix for higher-quality delivery of their content to consumers. In the lead-up to the vote, tech companies, venture capitalists and even celebrities all expressed opposition to the proposal, arguing that it would effectively end the open Internet.
But another group who cares deeply about this issue is the library community. The Switch spoke to Lynne Bradley, the director of government relations at the American Library Association's Washington office, about how net neutrality affects libraries, the people who rely on them and public institutions at large. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 
Where do libraries stand on net neutrality?
Net neutrality is really important for libraries because we are, first of all, in the information business. Our business now is not just increasingly, but dramatically, online, using digital information and providing services in this digital environment. That means that we need to have solid and ubiquitous Internet services.
We’re interested in network neutrality for consumers at the home end, but also because it's key to serving our public. And that means the public libraries, the academic libraries from two-year community colleges to advanced research institutions, as well as school librarians in the K-12 community.
Network neutrality issues must be resolved, and we hope to preserve as much of an open Internet policy as we possibly can. The public cannot risk losing access to important services provided by our libraries, our schools and other public institutions.
And what specifically do you see as the role of the ALA in the debate over the FCC chairman’s net neutrality proposal?
ALA is working with the Association of Research Libraries, EDUCAUSE, and other tech-oriented higher education organizations, as well. We'll participate in these proceedings in the coming months, pointing out the needs of library and our users as well as the unique role that public institutions in particular and education entities in general serve for the American public. We'll explain how we use the Internet and why the risk of bring slowed down or, worse yet, being denied access is going to be a real problem for our institutions and for the people we serve.
We can't afford to pay more [to ISPs]. As public institutions, we're being threatened with limited resources and are trying to provide the best possible service we can given the access we currently have. Being slowed down hurts the American public because our institutions will not be able to compete, if you will, and the American public will not have comparable or equal access to the resources that are provided by libraries or other public institutions.
We'll be participating in the rule-making, working with other organizations and working with our members to figure out how any reports of slowdowns can be reported and determining the best way to proceed.
Who are the types of consumers who rely on libraries for online access or services? 
We find in library land that we are one of the main places that the public who does not have access to the high-speed Internet in their homes can go online. Use has been growing for many years, and now our online services rival more traditional services like book lending. Access to the Internet in general is a major component of how we serve the public.
Even with those who have Internet at home, we know they come to the library and, depending on different arrangements, have access to databases and other services -- sometimes from their homes or work because we provide virtual services, as well. So you can see why slowing down public access to our services is not what we want to see in public policies.
How did libraries react to the January court decision striking down the FCC's 2010 net neutrality order? Do you have a position on what you think would be the best solution? 
The library community was obviously disappointed, along with our colleagues in higher education and K-12 education, by the court decision. We would most prefer to have the Internet labeled as a common carrier in the Class II category. Given that, and if we end up with some other alternative, as appears likely to be in the case with notice yesterday, what we will still be doing is fighting for an open Internet by working with our members and others to identify slowdowns because that has a direct impact on our users.
We work every day with students of all ages, with adults, with families, with researchers, with small businesses, with advance reserach in our academic institutions -- and we see every day the impact that an open Internet can have. The arguments that we see [from Internet providers] that this is going to deny creativity and investment? We just don't see that. We see what it does for real people, like students needing distance-learning. And we know that most of our users and our institutions cannot afford the higher speeds to be able to provide our services along with those that I will euphemistically call the "big guys."
Take a local community college. What is it going to have to pay to compete with Kaplan or other for-profit schools? It's just not going to work. We don't just have connections like individual homes. We need major pipelines and major speed to provide the services that we do. So we were very disappointed in that court decision.
We'll have to see how the current policy debate works out, but I know the American public and certainly the ALA is going to be advocating for policies that ensure that we're not going to be stuck in the slow lane or denied access. And it's not just for us or our staff. We are serving the public. We're serving consumers.
Are their other aspects of this debate that you think are being overlooked?
One of the big questions that gets left unasked in the debate between Silicon Valley and the big ISPs is the bigger issue about how this affects the public interest and public institutions. This has not been addressed in the debate on net neutrality through the years: What are the costs to public libraries, to state colleges, to K-12 schools, to local governments and other not-for-profit organizations that provide significant public services?
And what we as librarians and as educators in our communities see is that subtle differences in these speeds can make a great difference in how a user receives and uses the information. Even slight slowdowns will have an impact and can potentially limit public access to public schools, to public libraries, to public education.
In a way, not having a truly open Internet is like privatizing all of the Internet. Our nation was built on the concept of public schools, and public libraries are part of that, even the universal service fund at the FCC. These are part of our nation's public policies that say as all educated, as all can have public libraries, as all can have public phone service, it's best for the country as a whole.
And now we're segmenting that and giving those who are able to pay more different access than the general public can have. I think we haven't explored the impact this is going to have on public institutions and the real way this will deny access.
We see users every day, both virtual users and in-library users, and we can see how these subtle changes are going to impact the public's access to information and the right to know.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The ISPs Have a HIstorical Pattern of Abuse

ISPs are shamelessly trying to scare you away from supporting net neutrality

It was all going so, so well for American ISPs. Not only did they have a former cable lobbyist as head of the Federal Communications Commission, but he was even planning to push through a new proposal that would have given them the power to create separate Internet fast lanes where they could charge more to Internet companies to ensure their traffic got delivered faster. And to top it all off, many of them were planning to engage in a huge wave of mergers that would give them even more power over the broadband and/or pay TV markets, from Comcast-Time Warner Cable to Sprint-T-Mobile to AT&T-DirecTV.
But alas for them, it seems that America’s ISPs have finally overreached. FCC chairman Wheeler’s proposal to allow for Internet fast lanes has created an enormous backlash not just from net neutrality advocates but also from major tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, as well as major Silicon Valley venture capitalists and popular entertainers ranging from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder to actor Mark Ruffalo to director Oliver Stone.
Emboldened by this backlash, net neutrality advocates have started banging the drum to get the FCC to reclassify broadband providers as telecom companies, which would let the commission enforce strong net neutrality rules that would make ISPs keep the Internet a level playing field where both big tech companies and small startups would all get the same treatment when it comes to traffic prioritization.
This has unsurprisingly completely freaked out American ISPs, which is why many of their CEOs have just sent a letter to the FCC warning them of all the horrible, terrible, scary things that will happen if they get reclassified as telecom companies. In fact, the ISPs say that “even the potential threat of Title II [reclassification] had an investment-chilling effect by erasing approximately ten percent of some ISPs’ market cap in the days immediately surrounding” the FCC’s original attempt to reclassify ISPs as telecom companies, which the commission backed down on under heavy industry pressure. The ISPs also warn that “such an action would greatly distort the future development of, and investment in, tomorrow’s broadband networks and services.”
What makes this last “threat” particularly hilarious is that ISPs have already started slowing down their investments in network upgrades even without being reclassified as telecom carriers. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias notes, the National Cable Telecommunications Association’s own data shows that average annual broadband investment peaked in the period from 2005 through 2008 but has declined since then to levels that are just above the average annual investment we saw between 2001 and 2004 — and that’s without even adjusting for inflation.
The industry is acting like a low-competition industry, scaling back investment and plowing its profits into dividends and share buybacks and merger efforts,” Yglesias concludes.
And this is where American ISPs’ business practices over the last decade or so are really going to come back to bite them. While Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Verizon are able to influence lawmakers with millions in lobbying dollars, there is no way that they’re going to rally the general public to their side, especially when well-loved companies such as Netflix and Amazon are pushing back against them.
While I’d still rate it highly unlikely that ISPs will actually get reclassified as telecom carriers, I also think it’s even more unlikely at this point that the FCC will hand them the power to fracture the Internet into fast and slow lanes. The days when ISPs could get whatever they want just by greasing lawmakers’ and regulators’ palms appear to be over. If they want to wield more influence over the public in the future they might have to start doing something truly radical, such as making their customers hate them a little less.