The Whole Shebang

The Whole Shebang
by David Benjamin

“We bought the URL gofccyourself.com. If you simply go there, it will land you straight on this [FCC public comment] page, where all you have to do is hit ‘Express’ and ‘Comment,’ telling [FCC chief] Ajit Pai that you specifically support net neutrality backed by Title II oversight of ISPs… Once more unto the breach, my friends!”
— John Oliver

“Hello? Hello, this is Joe Sixpack. Am I speaking to Charter Cable? Or Spectrum? Or whatever you’re calling yourselves now?”

(A prolonged silence. Then…) “No.”

“No? I don’t understand. This is the number listed for billing problems.”

“Well, sir, you’ve dialed the right number, but — ”

“Well, great, because I just got this crazy-ass bill for $890. I mean, I thought it was pretty steep when you guys made me pay more than $150 for your so-called ‘triple play” package of TV, Internet and phone and I don’t even get HBO or, for some reason, the Tennis Channel. There’s gotta be a mistake, right?”

“Well, no, Mr. Sixpack. Your deluxe triple-play, without tennis, now bills out at a thrifty $890.”

“Oh my God. What’s going on? How did this happen?”

“I’m sorry you weren’t prepared for this, Joe. I guess you haven’t been following the news about the FCC.”

“FCC. What’s that stand for?”

“Federal Communications Commission — which in the new administration, under new Chairman Ajit Pai, is committed to ‘light touch regulation.’”

“Ajit Pai? What the hell kind of a name is Ajit Pai.”

“He’s an Indian, sir. An Arapahoe, I believe.”

“Oh, well, what does he mean: ’light touch’?”

“Well, Joe, it simply means the government is no longer meddling in how Americans use the Internet, as well as the vast network of increasingly complicated wired and wireless communications technologies that affect your TV and radio, landline, mobile devices, tablets, laptops — you name it.”

“So, nobody’s overseeing all that stuff anymore?”

“We are.”

“You are? You mean, Charter?”

“Ha ha. Excuse my mirth, Joe. There is no Charter, or ComCast, Verizon, AT&T, Newscorp, NBC, or even USA Today. Once Commissar Pai ‘took a weed whacker’ — in his words — to the rules that protect shmucks like you from conglomerates like us, we all got together into one huge company. We call it TWS — The Whole Shebang.”

“What about my account with US Cellular?”

“We got that, too, Joe. You can expect a revised bill any minute.”

“You mean, that’s not included in this huge bill I just got?”

(Muffled amusement)

“Okay then. So, for all this extra dough, I guess this means you guys — TWS — are gonna team up and streamline the system, right? People like me will get extra-good service? Better TV reception, faster connections, clearer phone — ”

“Excuse my drowning you out with laughter, Joe. But you don’t seem to get it.”

“Well, maybe I don’t. If the point isn’t better service, why do this?”

“Why? Because the FCC says we can. They clipped our shackles, Joe. They said, ‘Go ahead. Run amok. America trusts you.’”

“I’m not sure I do.”

“The feeling is mutual, Joe.”

“What does this mean for me?”

“Well, for example, let’s talk about streaming. You know what ‘bit-rate’ is?”

“Bit-rate? No.”

“Good, We don’t want you to. But let’s say, during a live football game, the screen freezes. You see this little spinning wheel, and the word ‘buffering’?”

“Yeah, of course. I hate it when that happens.”

“Well, get used to it, Joe. Because your measly $890 isn’t enough to buy you a ‘fast-lane’ bit-rate that can stream your game without a hundred maddening interruptions. You’ve just entered the Buffering Zone.”

“Why would that happen? Why are you doing this?”

“Because we can, Joe. You see, they call it ‘broadband,’ but it’s not all that broad, after all — especially with everybody streaming everything from the Super Bowl to 20 million cat videos to a billion hours every day of hardcore porn. Now that Commissar Pai has unleashed the market, spectrum will only be ‘free’ to those who qualify for the fastest bit-rate.”

“Okay. How much extra do I have to pay?”

“Oh, Joe. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

“Well, who can?”

“No one who actually gets bills in the mail, Joe. There are outfits and individuals who merit the TWS VIP Bit-Rate Express. We know who they are. You, Joe, sitting in front of your little spinning wheel in Peoria, trying to watch a game at on 720p at 1.2Mbps, will never be one of them. To put it bluntly, you’re SOL without a paddle.”

“But what can I do?”

“Let me put it this way. Now that Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 no longer applies to Internet service providers — that’s us, Joe — the ‘connected world’ is a jungle where huge unregulated cartels, like us, are the lions and the vultures and the laughing hyenas. You, Joe — you’re a newborn zebra with a birth defect.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Of course you don’t. You’ve never paid attention. We’re counting on that.”

(A sigh)

“Joe, we’re also counting on your addiction to Facebook, your wife’s Netflix binging, your daughter’s 18-hours-a-day texting habit, and your son’s gradual deterioration into a video-game zombie.”

“How do you know I’m gonna keep paying for all that crap?”

“Because you’re hooked, Joe. You know it. We know it.”

“Can I ask just one more question?”

“Quickly.”

“I thought the Internet was a public thing, not for profit, like highways or national parks.”

“Wrong, Joe. ‘Net neutrality’ is an outrage against the market freedom that every patriot cherishes. It undermines our right to charge as much — and beyond — as the richest son of a bitch on earth can bear to pay. That’s not just TWS. It’s America, my friend!”

(In the background, “God Bless America”)

“But if I can’t bear to pay — to call Mom, or watch a YouTube video of a waterskiing squirrel, or access my email — aren’t I less free?”

“No, Joe. That sort of selfishness would poach from the people you and I both work for, the ones who bought the lease.”

“On freedom?”

“Bye, Joe.”

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