Is Comcast the new AT&T?

comcast lobby email

We all know this stuff goes on. Lobbyist ghost writes letters for elected officials or even drafting legal amendments to try and turn their way towards their clients. But it’s not pretty when you see it in broad daylight like this. The latest exhibit is from Comcast who is using their influence to fabricate support for their proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, creating the essentially the largest ISP monopoly in the nation.

This is what happens when you get a monopoly. Last year Comcast was the new AOL, this year, it’s the new AT&T.

For those of you who forgot what it was like the last time a single communications provider was the only game in town, I present you with Lily Tomlin who, on Saturday Night Live in the late 70s, skewered the then dominant AT&T on a regular basis.

We’re the phone company, we don’t care because we don’t have to.

Privileged information? That’s so cute.

A tale of two incentives

Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital. One reason for this is a quirk of Japan’s famously paternalistic corporations: namely, employers pay their workers’ commuting costs. Tax authorities don’t consider it income if it’s less than ¥100,000 a month – so Shinkansen commutes of up to two hours don’t sound so bad. New housing subdivisions filled with Tokyo salarymen subsequently sprang up along the Nagano Shinkansen route and established Shinkansen lines, bringing more people from further away into the capital.

How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today, The Guardian

It is standard practice for a Japanese company to pay for an employee’s commute expenses. The government will not tax the company nor will the employee be taxed for the cost of their monthly commute pass. In a sense, the government bears the cost of transporting a company’s workforce, which allows them to spend their resources on locating themselves as close as they can to their customers and vendors who are, mostly, in Tokyo.

As the Guardian article points out, this has allowed for a network of “bed towns” to spring up along the spurs of each of the high speed rail lines to branch out from Tokyo supporting further centralization of the city. Think of Tokyo as a the capital of government, entertainment, media, finance, and business all rolled into one megalopolis. The equivalent of Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago all rolled into one. It is very difficult for a business to be located outside of this center and succeed and, with the commute subsidy, very little reason to do so.

The Japanese commute expense subsidy gives incentives for people to use the public transportation industry so, as a result, Japan has one of the best public transportation systems in the world.

Contrast this with how the tax incentives in the United States work. Mortgage interest is by far the biggest deduction you can apply to your income which supports the housing industry and, more directly, the banks. While this has allowed for distributed population centers to pop up around the country where ever people decide to invest in their home but has also contributed to successive housing bubbles.

Which would you rather have? A kick-ass public transit system that efficiently gets you where you want to go or an over-valued ranch house in the suburbs and an hour commute by car each way into work?

SOPA in Plain English

This post is for me to point folks to who are asking about why all those black “Stop SOPA” banners are popping up all over the internet. In a way, editing the DNS infrastructure of the internet in order to disappear sites suspected of pirating is the same as people who wash out their kid’s mouths after they swear. It ain’t gonna clean up their foul language.

Even better, Cory Doctorow posted a great rant on how this is just one part of a larger arc that he’s been following. In the post is a great paragraph that helped me explain SOPA to my 12 year old son.

If I turned up, pointed out that bank robbers always make their escape on wheeled vehicles, and asked, “Can’t we do something about this?”, the answer would be “No”. This is because we don’t know how to make a wheel that is still generally useful for legitimate wheel applications, but useless to bad guys. We can all see that the general benefits of wheels are so profound that we’d be foolish to risk changing them in a foolish errand to stop bank robberies. Even if there were an epidemic of bank robberies—even if society were on the verge of collapse thanks to bank robberies—no-one would think that wheels were the right place to start solving our problems.

It’s worth reading Cory’s whole post over on BoingBoing, Lockdown, the coming war on general purpose computing.

The time is getting short to let Congress and Senate know where you stand on this important issue. To contact your representatives, go to http://www.contactingthecongress.org

UPDATED:

Looks like the tide has turned and the discussion around SOPA and it’s sister bill PIPA has been postponed. For another excellent, plain English intro to these bills, check out Clay Shirky’s talk which brings some historical perspective to this conversation and how this is just the beginning. More to follow.