Ashland internet pioneer Jim Teece told a Chamber Forum audience Monday it’s not a good idea to politicize internet access.
On the same day Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a net neutrality bill to countermand the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the 2015 rules, Teece took to task all political assaults on his bread-and-butter business.
“The government regulates everything that is important and critical, and they stayed away from the internet for a long time,” Teece said in response to a question from the audience at Rogue Valley Country Club. “It allowed us to have this wild, wild West growth with the internet. The government for several years has been fighting to find a way to regulate the most important communication mechanism we have as a country and the world. We’re going to be fighting it, we’re going to be fighting it, and I don’t care what party is in office, we’re going to be fighting it.”
For Teece, CEO of global e-commerce digital agency and software developer Project A, operator of Ashland Home Net, and part owner of Art Authority, the issue isn’t left or right, but about obstructing entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Some of us are born, and come out of the womb thinking I don’t like government to regulate anything, and others come out of the womb thinking I Iike government regulating everything,” he said. “Well, the internet has been in this free zone, it’s been out there. The government, it doesn’t matter what side, R or D, they’re coming after it, they want to change it, they want to control it, they want to protect it, if you will.”
Just as 20th-century electronic mediums were federally regulated, the internet has been in the crosshairs, despite protestations from its developers.
“It’s the most important way that every organization communicates,” Teece said. “Telephone was regulated, right? Radio was regulated, television is regulated, it’s what the government is going to do to the internet.”
Carey Cahill of fiber provider Hunter Communications, who shared the platform with Teece at the Chamber session, said cord-cutting — where customers bypass traditional media and select from offerings such as Netflix — is going to catch-up with consumers, who will eventually find themselves paying just as much.
“Everybody buys Netflix for $9.99, (or $14.99 a month) and cuts the cord and says this is great,” Cahill said. “The problem is that you’ve had service delivered to your house either through the phone line or cable line forever. Now these other companies are using that service to sell (their programming) and the revenues are going down.”
He likened internet access to water lines, noting the cost is fixed.
“You’re going to pay a certain amount for that internet connection,” Cahill said. “If everybody cuts the cord, and says I’m going with the $9.99 Netflix, all the sudden you will see the internet prices rise to cover that cost.”
As a result, he said, the out-of-pocket costs will be generally the same depending on usage.
Teece said internet data speeds already vary depending on a customer’s willingness to pay.
“If you have this mindset that nothing should be touched and it’s all open, well, the reality is if you can afford higher-speed internet, you have an advantage,” Teece said. “If your community supports higher-speed internet, you have an advantage. That’s why I’ve been working 25 years to make sure Southern Oregon has the highest speed internet ... . All of us are incredibly successful because we have this infrastructure in place.”
The companies that can afford more, better and faster transmission got it, he said.
“Will you have to start paying for the newspaper (online), to read it because it’s not free information?” Teece asked rhetorically. “That’s already happened.”
In the end, Teece says, internet regulation is a play against digital development.
“We tend to politicize everything, and I think of this as how do we make sure that Southern Oregon has every tool it needs to be sustainable in the future, that there would be no reason for anyone to say, ‘I’m going to start a business, but I can’t start it in Southern Oregon because it doesn’t have X.’ Whatever that X is, we have to solve that. No business should ever leave our valley because we don’t have whatever they need to do it.”
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.