The First and Last Mile, and Net Neutrality

The hardest part about installing public transportation in a city not built for it is the first and last mile. That’s the mile one has to go to reach the nearest stop, and the mile they have go on the other end to reach their destination. People just plain won’t walk a mile anymore. Older, denser cities don’t have this problem; there is a tram stop nearby no matter where you live.

If Net Neutrality is torpedoed, we will have a new last mile problem. At least in urban areas, near where you live is The Backbone — the actual internet, the information superhighway. Your ISP is an on-ramp, but they’re about to be given the right to control your access to the highway. If you live in a rural area, the last mile might be more than a mile but the concept is the same.

The ISPs are just an on-ramp, but because they control the last mile (they have wires connected to your house), they control your access. That’s why there are currently laws to prevent them from abusing that power. If net neutrality goes away, we’ll have a new first-mile problem. So much information, so close, but held hostage by the wire-owners. That first step.

Some will pay the ISP’s extortionate fees. Some will be cut off from one of the key assets that decides who gets ahead these days. The rich will get richer. To be more specific, the rich people who floated this whole idea will get richer, and they don’t give a crap about anyone else. It’s not that they want the poor to remain poor, that would be evil. They simply don’t care what happens to those people.

Already here in Silicon Valley there is a company promising to be a neutral ISP, no matter what the law says. They solve the last mile with a radio dish pointed at a tower (if I’m reading their propaganda correctly), but at the moment cost/performance is not close to the guys with wires connected to my house. Even so, if the guys with wires make the slightest move toward controlling my access, They should know now that I will not remain their customer for long.

A Step Forward for Freedom – And a Reminder for Myself

By now you have heard that the Supreme Court of the United States has said that it is illegal to deny marriage to the citizens of this mighty nation simply because they want to marry someone of their own gender. This makes me happy, but not nearly as happy as it has made some people around me.

“I’m a person! I’m a person in my own country!” one friend said, before jumping in his car to drive a few hundred miles to celebrate with his partner in Texas. Man, that was cool. I’m no constitutional scholar, but I have to think this decision will have other, also-awesome echoes. “You can’t limit someone’s rights because of…” just got a lot stronger. A libertarian’s dream*.

So, I’m celebrating freedom, and I’m celebrating a magnificent milestone in the lives of some of my friends. It’s all good. But there’s a little part of me that asks, “Why did it even have to come to this?” Here is my rather tortured metaphor:

Imagine you’re in a big room with a lot of people. Everyone seems to be getting along just fine, but after a while you notice something: some of the people in the room are on fire. No one seems to be doing anything about it. You turn to your friends and say, “Jesus, shouldn’t we be putting out those fires?” You talk amongst yourselves and it quickly becomes clear that the people in question would rather not be on fire. The solution seems pretty obvious.

But a few wing nuts actually think we should not put out the fires, claiming those people chose to be on fire. Huh. So we talk some more, some people louder than others. Personally, I wasn’t talking that loudly, or at least only to people who already agreed with me. That’s why I don’t feel the right to crow as loudly today. I could have done more. Some of the let-them-burn crowd ended up lighting their own pants on fire (liar, liar)** and finally we decided that it was time to put the fires out. The joy expressed by those no longer burning was heartfelt and heartening.

Watch that joy. Participate in that joy. Maybe you can get a feel for what it is like to have a burden lifted.

Then look around the big room. Do you smell smoke? So do I.
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* Oddly, those who self-identify as conservative voted in this case to give the state power over the individual. It happens pretty often. The word just doesn’t mean what it used to.

** A teachable moment for the leaders of the groups who, for their own political gains, wanted to continue to deny homosexuals their rights: if you go on about the “sanctity of marriage”, DON’T COMMIT ADULTERY! We are fortunate that the opposition couldn’t keep its dick in its pants.

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